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

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.

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"?

Your PDF here

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, 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:

"If we see a magazine that really has potential, we'll print it, place additional ads in there, and distribute it, [first in Bakersfield, then in five other cities as early as this summer]," [senior manager of digital products Dan] Pacheco says. The Californian will get a cut of ad sales while spending little on the product itself. "This is cheap and targeted," Pacheco explains. "Even though there's an ad recession, it doesn't mean there're no more ads."
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