How Can We Save Newspapers? Make Them Personal.

In the most recent issue of Monocle there’s a story about the Swiss Post that got me thinking. The first few paragraphs talk about how the Post has teamed up with a start-up called Syntops which “greeted their customers (“Guten Morgen Herr Graf”) and offered an individually tailored mash-up of the day’s stories.” Which led me to this idea: If old school news wants to survive, they need to become personalized.

In my mind there are two big reasons why newspapers are failing. The first is that there’s no reason to pay for your news, not when it’s free online, and the second is that by the time it hits your doorstep it’s already old. But what if your morning paper was custom tailored to just the things you wanted to read, much like the Swiss Post is doing?

For example, when I got to The New York Times website (I don’t read the actual paper) I tend to browse the front page, then head over to the arts section, browse technology, hit up Fashion and Style and end with T Magazine. Sometimes I might even check Food & Dining and Science if I’m bored. But, I don’t own stocks, so I don’t visit the Business section, and I don’t live in New York, so I don’t really care what’s going on there… you get the point.

So imagine a profile page, or something like Google Reader, where you could choose from a list of sections that you’d like to have delivered to you every morning. Take that idea even further and you could create a list of people, places, things that you enjoy that would be pushed to the front of your news. Or on the flip side, you hate hearing about the Octo-mom or Jon and Kate so you exclude them from your news. Perhaps based upon your selections there are articles that are suggested based upon your interests, and even the advertising is sorted to fit your likes.

It could also be interesting if you could add or reduce content to the paper, which in turn would add to or decrease the cost of the paper accordingly. Everyday you could manage the flow of news coming to your doorstep, so while it may be old, it would be exactly what you want to read.

I’ve obviously overlooked the technical limitations of how papers are printed or problems like the newspaper boy delivering the wrong paper to the wrong house, but the idea is far from impossible. This discussion is meant to be about possibilities, not about naysaying, and if print wants to keep going they’re going to need to start innovating.

Bobby

17 Comments How Can We Save Newspapers? Make Them Personal.

  1. Jeff February 22, 2010 at 8:17 AM

    Very interesting idea. I don’t know if print is even worth saving, but this would be really easy to do with news websites. I would be much more willing to go to CNN.com if I could eliminate the Octo-mom kind of gossip. It would help them make their advertising more targeted as well.

  2. Cam Hoff February 22, 2010 at 8:30 AM

    This is a good and feasible idea. They already do personalized digitally printed direct mail pieces etc. Why not do it on a daily basis with custom newspapers? The logistics of it al lwould be quite mind boggling, but it’s an innovative idea that could breathe some life into a dying beast.

  3. Alphonse February 22, 2010 at 9:04 AM

    Interesting.

    The newspaper is a tough one. It survived radio, television, and has battled the internet for a couple decades now.

    What I don’t think it will survive is Generation Z. Nothing may survive that generation though. Hehe.

  4. Paul Balcerak February 22, 2010 at 9:31 AM

    Good post, Bobby. I like the idea of a personalized paper, though as you pointed out, I don’t know if the work involved in a printed product would make such a thing feasible (I’ve worked in newspapers my entire career—trust me, putting out one printed product is hard enough). If you could automate the news somehow—have customers pick out their preferences online and then have a computer mash it all together—that could work, but I still think shipping/delivery costs would make it prohibitive.

    I think the best chance a “personalized paper” has is on a platform like the iPad, where a browser cache, cookies or site profile could be used to store a user’s preferences. Many sites already give people the option of reordering certain elements of the home page (though it has been fairly limited) and the iPad, with its keyboard-less, multi-touch functionality, seems to me the perfect medium to offer a way to personalize the look and feel of one’s news.

  5. Michael [Linefeed] February 22, 2010 at 12:52 PM

    The Guardian iPhone app lets you decide what areas of the paper you want to see on your home screen which is great. A personalised newspaper is an ace idea! I can see it possibly working if it’s tied in with something like http://www.newspaperclub.co.uk/. Could be we all end up as our own newspaper editors.

  6. Kane G. February 22, 2010 at 4:24 PM

    The sooner the better. New York’s state park’s are starting to be closed due to lack of funding? How ridiculous is that. It’s like selling an endangered species to the highest bidder. Just let it grow.

  7. Kane G. February 22, 2010 at 4:25 PM

    them* grow.

  8. Kevin February 22, 2010 at 9:59 PM

    Thought this might be interesting. Tabbloid (http://www.tabbloid.com/) creates a tabloid of things from your RSS feed. Still one step away from print, but on the right track.

  9. Adam Westbrook February 22, 2010 at 11:27 PM

    Agreed, a nice concept, but doesn’t solve the problem of the news being free online or out of date by the time it hits your door.

    However for magazines it offers a chance to stand out from the crowded market. There was a magazine (in the UK I think), which for one issue turned their front cover into a satellite image of each subscribers house.

    So you got the magazine delivered (and I wish I could remember which one it was!) and you saw your own house on the front page. Pretty neat.

  10. ian February 23, 2010 at 7:04 AM

    I love this idea – but it is kind of mind boggling to imagine what sort of design algorithms would go into making the paper look like a paper and what sort of sorting / delivery mechanism would be needed to get the paper to the front porch. Like a real-life-spaghetti version of the internet.

    The whole print-on-demand tech stuff makes me wonder if this isn’t more feasible for a magazine (I only subscribe to the Sunday times as it is…) – I’d love to get just talk of the town, some art stuff and the occasional profile from The New Yorker – and I’d pay full price to receive less…

    In any case, awesome, thought-provoking post!

  11. klav February 23, 2010 at 9:26 AM

    But isn’t one of the point of reading a newspaper to be surprised by topics you wouldn’t actually choose yourself or themes that you are not familiar with? Being proposed something instead of looking for something?

  12. ian February 23, 2010 at 12:06 PM

    Word.

  13. Thomas February 25, 2010 at 3:40 AM

    Bobby,

    Great suggestion, I’ve not read that Monocle article yet, but I’ll look it out this weekend. I saw this recently though: http://www.monocle.com/sections/culture/Web-Articles/The-Digital-News-Affairs-Conference/

    Personally I love the days that a magazine I subscribe too arrives in the post. Its a ritual like process for me when I take my first browse through the issue. There is just something about the crisp feel and smell of a great piece of print.

    Although a daily personal issue is a logistical nightmare, I think a weekly issue is more realistic. That way one can focus on the comment, insight and editorials rather that just the feed from the wire.

    Regards,

    Thomas

  14. Elisabeth February 26, 2010 at 4:13 AM

    Hello

    I found this site by researching my own idea – similar to yours, but yet different. I am planning to start up a personal news site – based on (OK sound weird) news relevant to me and the people I kvow all over the world. It is linked up to the traditional community papers, but since we no longer belong to a typical community, we no longer share any community news. So – the paper will have stories regarding the lives of my friends, their businesses, sports their into, subjects they are interested in etc. Also, there will be the opportunity to advertise your own business at an affordable cost.

    It is so hard to compete with advertising prices, hard to get your company in the paper and to get some well deserved media coverage. Another aspect for this paper is to get publicity for an event that is relevant for this group of people, ex a charity event based on network participation.

    What do you think – worth a shot – or worth a place in the idea drawer.

  15. Pingback: How Can We Save Newspapers? | Superposition Kitty

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