Newspapers: Party Like It's 1939

In a further sign that the editorial boards at newspapers just don't get it, MediaNews Group announced earlier this week they want to revive a failed idea from the late 1930s -- customized newspapers.

That's right ladies and gentlemen, for a nominal fee MediaNews Group will place a printer in your home to spit out some dead trees with stories customized to fit your needs!

Apparently they did zero research before announcing this groundbreaking idea. I guess they didn't know the service already exists for free, using a home printer. Oh, and the minor fact that it failed in the 1940s and the 1980s, you know, before that small little thing called the Internet.

MediaNews argues:

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.

And that once it catches on, the idea could slash home delieveres:

Our greatest expense is printing and delivering a newspaper,” [MediaNews executive V.P. for sales and marketing Mark] Winkler said. “Eliminating it four days a week would be significant.

Neat. Except everything you just said can be done with about half a dozen mouse clicks. It's called an RSS feed.

Harvard's The Nieman Journalism Lab mocked the idea on Monday saying it was further evidence of the disconnect between the editorial idea monkeys and the real world of technology. Check the full article (it's chock full 'o great info about why this didn't work in the 1940s, failed again in the 1980s and how it would never work today).

Here's some highlights:

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.)

Party like it's 1939 baby, yeah!

Photo courtesy ReadWriteWeb.com.

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