Paperless newspapers? 

The Fat Lady sang long ago in most cities for multiple, thriving, traditional, daily newspapers. Here in Detroit, she's certainly warmed up her vocal coords as circulation has dropped and more readers head to the Web versions of the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News.

And, according to Metro Times columnist Jack Lessenberry (see Politics & Prejudice, Page 8) there's a plan afoot to make the Freep a daily paper — at least part of the week — in cyberspace only sometime early next year. Rumors have the print edition coming out on Thursdays and Sundays and maybe one other day with an electronic version available all week.

Freep editor and vice president Paul Anger insists nothing is changing immediately but says the industry is looking at "everything" with its products to try and attract readers, advertising and dollars. When one of the News Hits crew asked specifically whether Lessenberry was on target, Anger refused to be pinned down.

One of our sources over at the dailies tells us that some big change appears to be coming, but that managers are being extremely tight-lipped about what it is.

But there's a relatively recent development that could be interpreted as a first step in the direction Lessenberry describes. With little fanfare, both dailies are already offering e-editions, available by subscription. You can check them out at edetroitnews.com and digitalfreepress.com.

Separate from the newspapers' websites, which are available at no charge, the new sites offer electronic replicas of the print versions of the paper delivered to inboxes each day by e-mail. There's a cost, naturally, and they don't provide the round-the-clock updates found on the newspapers' free websites.

But they do provide a traditional newspaper format — broadsheet design, the ability to scroll and turn pages instead of simply clicking on headlines, the complete ads, coupons and photos, puzzles to print and solve — that even savvy surfers may miss having in traditional papers.

Some busy readers prefer the ease of the electronic format, and that means exploring options to blend the best of both old and new, says Janet Hasson, senior vice president of audience development at the Detroit Media Partnership, which manages production, circulation and advertising for the News and Free Press.

Since February 2006 the newspapers have offered some e-version for purchase, Hasson says, including a single day for purchase or a subscription for a month. She declines to say how much it costs the newspapers to upload the print version in PDF format and distribute it.

This fall, the newspapers began marketing a new special: an electronic version every day with home delivery of the print edition on Thursdays and Sundays.

But the e-edition rollout doesn't seem to have been widely publicized. No one here knew about it, and we visit the dailies' traditional websites all the time. Marketing, so far, has been "targeted," says Hasson.

"Your e-edition user is more like your traditional home delivery readers who likes that format and wants the access to every photo, every headline and every ad, where your Web user wants more of a synopsis and a quick look. If they want to dig deeper, they can go in and look deeper," Hasson says.

About 8,500 people have subscribed to the e-Free Press with about 3,000 taking the News. The papers will begin testing Spanish and Arabic e-versions next year.

Hasson expects e-circulation to grow and change the delivery and format of Detroit's newspapers.

"You still have to develop the content for the newspaper. You still have the reporters. You still have the newsroom," she says. "Now it's something completely different even from the Web.

And even further from those traditional newspapers.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com

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