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.


February 22, 2010