Student newspaper iPad edition blazes a trail

As many publications struggle to adapt their offer for the download era, students in Yorkshire have provided an object lesson in creating digital product.  Leeds Student, the award-winning weekly tabloid serving Leeds University, has become the first student newspaper with an iPad edition.

The weekly download comes out a couple of days after each Friday’s edition and contains around half of the usual 48-pages of content.  Available in Apple’s Newsstand, it is free, as is the paper’s printed edition.

Lizzie Edmonds is the editor.  “When we upgraded the version of Quark that we use we noticed that it included a lot of iPad tools, so we thought that we would give it a try”, she explains.  The package – Quark 9 – made their work very easy, says Jack Dearlove, the paper’s digital editor, who did much of the work on app.  “The package is very design-focussed.  Putting the iPad edition together is a ‘drag-and-drop’ exercise”.

The current edition, and well as the news and features one might expect, includes a live blog, audio interviews the candidates standing for election to be the next editor of Leeds Student, and impressive galleries of sports photography.

There have been iPad versions of the past five weekly papers, and editions have now been downloaded by around 1,000 users, more than 600 of whom are in the UK.  The paper variant of the title has a print run of 5,000 and is thought to be read by around 15,000 of Leeds university’s 35,000 students and 8,000 staff.

“It is the more well-off students who tend to have iPads, at the moment”, concedes Dearlove.  “You do see the devices around campus, but they are not as common say, as mobile phones”.

The aspiration for the iPad edition was partially to create something that is still about in five or ten years time, and part to make their content accessible to ‘older students and staff’ who are more likely to use Apple tablets.  Edmonds and Dearlove both cite The Times digital edition as an inspiration and would like to include more multi-media content, if they were able.  They are dismissive of publications that offer readers ‘a pdf version’ of their print edition. “They totally miss the potential of the iPad”, says Dearlove.

“I don’t see us abandoning print anytime soon, though”, says Edmonds, who receives a salary to edit the newspaper for a sabbatical year.  “Students still enjoy the paper edition and most are able to come into the Union to pick up a copy.  A time might come, though, when we go entirely digital.”  They also say that the potential to raise advertising revenue from the iPad edition has not yet been realised – but as the paper relies on such revenue, that will be a focus in the future.

Around 40 students work on producing each week’s edition of the paper.  Dearlove and Edmonds alone adapt it for the iPad, a job which takes them six or seven hours a week.  With an ‘educational’ licence for their version of their software, they pay Quark a £25 fee for each iPad edition they create.  A commercial venture would pay around £250 per edition.  It was with this software that they created their ‘app’, which had to be submitted for approval to Apple, who took something over a month to give the students the thumbs up.  Each week, the upload a single file of content to a server, from which it is distributed.

Edmonds, 23, who has now graduated in English and Classics and Dearlove, 21, who is in his third year of a degree in broadcast journalism, would, with more resources, like to see the iPad edition come out simultaneously with the print edition.  Android, Kindle and other platforms are also aspirations, albeit ones dependent on software making the creation of multiple editions less time-consuming. For the time being, both are content to bask in the glow of their memorable first – and hope that it provides a useful springboard for the careers to which they aspire in the professional media.