Many pundits and experts would have us believe that the demise of the newspaper as we know it is at hand and that newspapers are a weakening market segment for printing in the U.S. There’s no denying that the shuttering of papers like the Rocky Mountain News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the daily edition of the Christian Science Monitor posit a profound change in the newspaper industry. But it does not necessarily follow that all newspapers are an endangered species. What it does mean, though, is that the traditional model of newspaper publishing is changing –many would say broken– and that newspaper publishers must create new models for their industry. And digital printing can help.
There are several ways in which digital print can help transform newspapers. The one that’s most often rolled out is customized content at an individual level. This can foster creation of hyper-localized papers, especially weeklies, with links to deeper articles on the web along with web-based discussions that foster local communication. The future is cross-media newspaper publishing combining the best of both print and the web.
Already there are condensed versions of several international newspapers, digitally printed and distributed primarily to hotels and airlines. On long flights, the newspapers being read often contain the stories that will be in the morning paper in the destination cities, helping business travelers stay current. That’s admittedly something of a niche market, but let’s take it a step further.
Imagine you’re from Manchester, England and vacationing in Tuscany. You pick up a copy of the Guardian and while reading the latest about Manchester United you find many of the ads to be primarily for Tuscan eateries, tour guides and other businesses that can make your trip more enjoyable.
Or maybe you’re a printer in the United States. You know there are neighborhoods in your city peopled by immigrants from Romania and the Czech Republic, all hungry for news from home. So you work with the newspapers to obtain the digital files and produce the paper for local distribution— with ads for local businesses.
There’s no question that ad pages are dwindling, yet newspaper advertising is still a relatively low-cost way to reach a wide audience. But suppose ads and free-standing inserts were based on zip codes and demographics? Newspapers have long had sections targeting specific circulation areas, replete with ads for local businesses. But imagine such targeting being based on clusters of zip codes so that ads vary based on where the paper was sold or delivered. Improved targeting can make it even more effective if used, for example, in conjunction with a cross-media campaign that points readers to web landing pages that enable tracking and follow-up. Yes, this ads complexity and requires advertisers’ marketing departments to think differently, but it makes newspapers a richer resource and adds value to them as an advertising medium. It means that newspapers and advertisers alike have to change the way they think, but it’s hardly an insurmountable barrier or insoluble problem.
There’s no question that newspapers are going to change. And there’s no doubt that many in the U.S. are going to fail. But if newspaper publishers join the 21st century and change how they think about their business, they can revitalize their operations and redefine their enterprise. Digital print, both toner and inkjet technologies, combined with an array of readily available software, can help make this a reality. Newspapers aren’t dead, or even dying. But many need an injection of imagination and digital technology to reinvent them as a 21st century media.