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Pioneer Press owner's goofy print-at-home plan

I literally had to read this story twice to make sure I wasn't being spoofed: PiPress owner MediaNews Group will test a proprietary device that prints a customized newspaper in your home.

The trial, bearing the H.G. Wellsian label "Individuated News" or I-News, will be tested in L.A. this summer. (Yes, PiPress furloughees, this is how Dean Singleton is spending your money.)

The concept, such as it is, would deliver a completely customizable edition to a MediaNews printer in the home. The media giant would save money because it would only mass-print papers on the week's three highest sales days.

This is the current print schedule in Detroit, sans device, and other cities will inevitably experience such pain down the road. So for many readers, it might be I-News or no newspaper news. (And no, I've heard nothing about this happening in St. Paul.)

The I-paper would still carry print ads, which could fetch a premium because they'd be customized to a reader's interests.

As much as I love print, and customization, there are 100 reasons why this is the stupidest idea since CueCat. Nieman Lab's Martin Langeveld has an awesome takedown here. Among his points:

  • The goal of reducing print frequency won’t be accomplished by shifting printing expense to consumers.  The price of reams of paper and printing cartridges will likely outstrip the consumer’s cost of a home delivered paper on newsprint.
  • The system adds inconvenience at the consumer end in the form of printer management.
  • It can already be done with FeedJournal, free, without a dedicated piece of equipment.  Why would readers want to pay for a narrower service that requires another appliance in their house?
  • This method eliminates or minimizes serendipity, which is one of the things print still does better than digital delivery; it’s something consumers like, for both news and advertising content.
  • Newspaper companies should be getting out of the hardware business, not into it, and especially should avoid investing in proprietary, dedicated devices like this.  (Although I’ve said that Hearst is smart to work on an e-reader, which is an entirely different animal.)

Another reason you should click through to Langeveld's piece: There's a great photo of a previous version of this technology ... from 1939.

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Comments (11)

Wow, short memory. When did David join MinnPost? It wasn't THAT long ago that MinnPost produced a printable version of it's "newspaper" every day. You gave up on it about a year ago ... but at least the Pioneer Press is trying something a little different with the customizable stories and ads.

http://printceoblog.com/2008/07/minnpost-drops-printed-edition

So, if it turns out to be a stupid idea, it's only the stupidist idea since MinnPost tried it! ... LOL

Maybe the story should have been pegged as, "Hey, Pioneer Press: We tried this, and it didn't work!"

I think you're a little fixated on the printer part of it and ignoring this statement:

"The printer will format the stories and print them or send them to a computer or mobile phone for viewing later in the day."

Giving the reader a customized news feed and selling ads around it isn't a bad idea for a newspaper to do. Selling ads on RSS feeds has proven to be a huge challenge -- didn't Yahoo or Google just get out of the field because it was difficult and unprofitable? -- but a newspaper may be well-set-up to do it. And telling people they can already do it via FeedJournal is pretty dumb when you consider 99.999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999 percent of all Internet users don't know what FeedJournal is, much less use it. (Go to Quantcast to see how much traffic the FeedJournal site gets.)

Given the price points in the printer industry these days, I'm not entirely sure MediaNews is putting a whole lot of money into a $15 OEMed device that's probably more fax than printer anyway.

Ed -

Notwithstanding the comedy of the MinnPost in print experiment, it's a pretty different beast.

A big thing: there were no MinnPost proprietary printers for consumers to buy and maintain.

We were an online-only outlet who looked to print as a promotional opportunity. This is a print outlet giving customers too little unique value in return for a more labor-intensive, costly version of print, hoping to save their bacon financially.

Kevin -

As print salespeople know, it's not the cost of the device (which, you have to admit, we don't really know yet), it's the cost of maintaining it. I have nothing against a customized, formatted feed, but do you really want *another* thing sitting on your desktop, *another* set of cartridges, etc.

If MediaNews was only formatting a special e-edition for smartphone or home-printer viewing, that would be one (fairly unremarkable) thing. But why do you need the printer to be a middleman for your smartphone.

Clearly, MediaNews wants to reap the economies of online with the premium of print. I don't blame them for that, but that means the printer is not just a sideshow here, even if I find the notion of buying a 2nd (or for some people, 3rd) printer & supplies goofy.

As for FeedJournal, you're right; it's an ultra-boutique technology. But the concept is strong, and something better will come along, leaving MediaNews buyers with a $15 plus upkeep brick.

In the end, they'll end up trying to sell you the formatting for your smartphone or Kindle or whatever, and the printer will be forgotten.

If MediaNews thinks people want to print their own news, why not some kind of customizable pdf maker instead? Click the topics you're interested, enter your zip code, hit return and download a printable newsletter, with ads.

However, I can't imagine many people going through the hassle. Even print lovers like me.

David --

True enough on the cost of the printer and adding another device to the mix.

I still think the real story here is someone is being practical about monetizing a customized news feed. So far no one has been able to do so, unless you count Google's disastrous purchase of Feedburner, where the guys who launched the company walked away with a lot of money and left the rest of us hanging when Google broke all the feeds.

Dan -- I suspect that's all this is, really. I would not put a lot of credence in the original reporting when it comes to detail.

Why can't they just print a flipping newspaper like always?? Why are newspapers so screwed up? I don't want to read it on a computer and neither do my neighbors. I just want my Strib and PP delivered on my doorstep in the morning....

Sorry for the venting...but the model has worked for 200 years....

I am working with MediaNews on this project. A few points:

- The totality of this service, both in technology and content, is not yet public and will anyway evolve over time. So comparing it to something from 1939, while cute, is not as meaningful as imagining what it may be by 2019.

- The operative concept in I-News is choice. The demand by individuals for choice in media drives innovation and new business models. File-sharing music sites innovated and iTunes made the market. Blockbuster built a video store franchise and NetFlix brought the video store home. Starting with choice and figuring out how best to deliver that is the constant question.

- The critique that this “method eliminates or minimizes serendipity” overlooks the possibility that subscribers could choose a “serendipity” option.

(cross-posted at http://www.niemanlab.org)

Maybe comparing this to 'e-books' is fair. E-books were tried several times starting back in the 80s and went down in flames every time - because display technology wasn't ready. Amazon is now having some success (maybe) with Kindle.

I think the problem here is the same - all we have are clunky, slow ink-jet printers. HP doesn't make money on printers, but it makes tons of money on grossly overpriced ink cartridges.

I'm not crazy about printing ads, either. I get plenty of junk mail now without producing it myself.

If I could print out a paper in a flash AND if it were on cheap, thin, biodegradable paper AND I didn't have to mess with overpriced ink cartridges - then maybe.

Shhhhh! What no one is supposed to know is that the proprietary printers will use "Media News" brand ink cartridges. That's where the real money is.

Newspapers gave up on the Web without really trying. They showed their contempt for it with web sites that are like sand thrown in your eyes. Replace these hideous jumbles with something streamlined and cool, and drop every piece of content that I can get elsewhere. Let the reporters actually leave the office, give them digital cameras, and tell me what's going on in the city. Drop the ads that no one clicks on anyway and offer a paid site at a realistic price. The results might be surprising.

For the life of me, I can't see how this can make money except with a large user fee.

On the hardware front, it's not just the cost of the printer, paper, and ink supply, it's the responsibility and cost of maintenance. Who's going to fix the problem when the printer, or any part of it, is not working properly? (Forgive me, I'll just bet I'm the only one here who's ever had any printer problems.) Who's going to bear the burden of maintenance and its costs (help line, repairs, replacements, shipping)?

Clearly, this scheme could reduce the expenses of producing issues every day, but the means of production will have to be retained and maintained - including whatever professional staff is required. (I am assuming here, and I may be wrong, that the Pioneer Press still produces its own physical paper, rather than outsourcing production to another vendor out of town. If this is incorrect, I withdraw the point.) Will a production staff working 3 days a week effectively produce quality issues? And are the professionals WILLING to work part time easy to find? Can the work be done by easy-come, easy-go low skilled workers?

But regarding revenue, if "customizable" and "choice" means I could print the paper WITHOUT ads (will this be one choice of mine, Mr. Keating?), what will the impact be on ad pricing and the advertisers' willingness to buy? If this is one of my choices, isn't there a risk the advertisers will find out how few people actually read their ads?

Finally, I look at the desk I'm using right now and think of putting another device on it, and I think, "Oy Vey"! To go this route, getting that daily paper would have to be pretty important to me. But for a lot of reasons, including the quality of the local papers...

For the trouble, it's just not important enough.