MediaNews Group: Print your own damn newspaper

It looks like MediaNews Group’s top secret Project X has been revealed. I’ll admit I’m seriously underwhelmed by the “individuated news” or I-News concept, and apparently so are Denver Post readers; one finds only chirping crickets in the online story’s barren comment section.

Essentially, the master plan is to make readers print their own newspapers with a special patented MediaNews Group device. This would allow the media giant to reduce publishing to Thursday, Saturday and Sunday — the big-revenue-generating advertising and coupon days.

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.

Ads will be delivered as well. Where possible, the ads will be matched to each reader’s choice of stories. For example, a reader who selects high school sports stories might receive ads from retail sports stores, or skiers might receive ski-related ads.

Count Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab as another skeptic of the I-News proposal. Nieman notes a similar concept was attempted as early as 1939 by a radio station owned by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch with a home facsimile device that printed radio signals.

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?

Unless Dean Singelton’s papers are cornering the market on ink-cartridge sales made from the blood of union-busting kittens, I suspect they believe I-News offers a lucrative money-making enterprise by shifting the paper-producing operation to its readers through sales/leasing of the unique MediaNews printing gadget.

Nieman continues:

It’s difficult to imagine a lot of enthusiasm greeting the i-News concept. Among the grounds for skepticism:

* 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.)

Former Politics West editor Stephen Keating, who’s now working on the MediaNews project, valiantly weighs in on the Neiman blog comments, defending I-News as a boon to … wait for it … reader choice.

– 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 glaring problem is that the success of iTunes, NetFlix and others has much less to do with “choice” than ease of use, convenience and the quality of their products.

I’m not sold on the idea that printing out the daily “Family Circus” cartoon and the fourth re-write of an Associated Press story will compel Denver Post readers to stick with I-News but stranger ideas have happened.


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