Saving newspapers with 'print-at-home' and custom PDFs

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Denver and LA, get ready for "individuated" news. In an effort to reduce the cost of delivering a printed newspaper everyday, MediaNews Group, the fourth-largest newspaper company in the US, is rolling out a print-at-home system of delivering user-selected news content.

Dubbed "Individuated News," or I-News, the system is aimed at delivering only the content that interests a reader. From the Denver Post:

The "individuated" stories selected by each reader are sent to a special printer being developed for MediaNews that each customer would have at home.
The printer will format the stories and print them or send them to a computer or mobile phone for viewing later in the day.

Targeted ads will also be part of the package, the paper says.

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If I-News is a success, MediaNews Group could stop printing its newspapers a few days a week, further reducing costs.

But the Nieman Journalism Lab's Martin Langeveld pokes some holes in the plan, most notably that this model has been tried before – in the 1930s.

Why on earth would MediaNews want to try this all over again? Sure, there are some fresh bells and whistles in this version: the home printer could send the stories to a computer or mobile phone, according to [MediaNews executive V.P. for sales and marketing Mark] Winkler. But wait, I can already get stories on my computer or mobile phone. And with an RSS feed or other tools, I can customize those stories to my interests. Why do I need a MediaNews-supplied device in my house as intermediary?

The print-at-home model, Langeveld points out, also shifts maintenance and supply of the printers to the consumer – a major pain. And where, he asks, does serendipity go when a user is signing up for areas of interest? How does one sign up for "that cool story I didn't know I wanted to read until I saw it on the front page of the Arts & Culture section"?

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Business Week points to another publishing innovation that's making the best of the advertising recession. It chronicles the success of the Bakersfield Californian, a local paper that's publishing a biweekly magazine comprised of the most popular content from a local social networking site it set up. The plan is turning a profit.

That's cool, but the real "why didn't I think of that" moment is what it has planned next. Starting this month, using a grant from the Knight News Challenge, it will launch Printcasting.com, a site that will let anyone design, edit, and publish a custom digital magazine and distribute it in PDF form. If a publication has enough of an audience, the company will put it on dead trees, add ads, and ship it out. From the Business Week article:

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