Could newspapers own the distribution model once again?

Researchers have been working on an interactive newspaper based on “smart” paper that responds to the touch, according to a Journalism.co.uk article.

It’s early days but I’m a firm believer that, as the cost of producing mobile devices comes down, we’ll start to see more of this.

If smart paper could be produced cheaply enough for newspapers to manufacture their own, it would be a step towards news organisations owning the distribution model for their product.

The problem with the iPad or the Kindle is that it leaves publishers in the thrall of Apple and Amazon. Whereas in days gone by they would simply buy or rent printing presses (and in Rupert Murdoch’s case a fleet of delivery trucks), they now have to sign up to onerous conditions imposed by the technology Tsars of Silicon Valley.

Even if a paper had to rent its press capacity from a rival (a business that Trinity Mirror and others traditionally did very well out of), they would pay a fixed rate for the service and then a cut to the newsagent that sold the end product.

Apple and others expect publishers to hand over a whopping 30% of any subscription revenue earned through their device, and keep access to the all-important customer data that can give rise to money-spinning targeted advertising.

If newspapers could be produced on material that is cheap, flexible, WiFi enabled and durable, they would remain an enticing proposition to people who still want the fixed, branded, linear experience of a newspaper but with the flexibility of digital distribution. I suspect that this is a bigger market than many people imagine.

The printed word isn’t dead yet, but when the great printing presses finally go dark across Europe (and they will), the smart money could be on a smart paper give-away with the final copies.

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