Mar 27, 2009

Will newspapers hit the print button?

Maybe newspapers subscribers really will embrace the concept of becoming their own "editor and publisher" and will gladly print out their customized newspaper at home via a special printer given/sold to them by the local paper (the MediaNews concept).

But that seems about as likely to succeed as a McDonald's franchise that offered to deliver to your home a special microwave and the raw ingredients to make a Big Mac. Customers may like to hear "have it your way," but they also want to be sure the burger they get tastes and looks like a Big Mac and they still want someone else to prepare it for them.

(Yes, I'm comparing customized newspapers to fast food. It seems an appropriate metaphor.)

But what if the newspaper had a massive digital printer that would allow it to customize a paper for subscribers, a paper that would still be delivered to the subscribers doorstep - potentially several times a day - and would still have all the dependable markings and layout of the paper they subscribed to?

The Dutch firm Océ has unveiled a printer that could make this possible. As Martin Langeveld at Nieman points out, this would require an investment by executives who want reporters to buy their own pens and notebooks at a time when conventional wisdom-makers are calling print a dinosaur. It's possible a few of the big companies - NYT, WSJ, WaPo - will give it a try at their local papers and then we'll see if it holds any promise.

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