Print's niiu dawn?

A new made-to-order, hand-delivered newspaper is looking to transform the way we get our news – and perhaps even beat digital at its own game.

The future of the media industry lies in the digital revolution. And as Mark Scott, managing director of the ABC, said earlier this week, only the innovators can survive.

Back when the internet was gaining ground, when newspapers were only thinking about migrating content online, a few companies invested in using the technology that would carry on the printed press.

One of the most well-known companies to take up the technology was PressPoint, which printed and distributed ‘on-demand’ daily global editions of news services such as Bloomberg News, The Times in London and The Miami Herald. The idea was that they could be printed from anywhere in the world by newsagents (most commonly at airports) using specified press printers.

However, the service failed miserably, perhaps because it was before its time, or perhaps it was because the web audience was much less sophisticated than it is now. After all, who would have thought you would one day be able to carry the internet around in your pocket?

Almost 10 years later, the idea of on-demand newspapers has been revived in the form of ‘personalised newspapers’. The revival comes at a time when the internet is wreaking havoc on advertising revenues and the debate about paid-subscriptions is being fuelled by the Murdoch empire.

Niiu, from the German company InterTi GmbH, launched this week offering a personalised newspaper which allows readers to select stories and specific content they are interested in from a collection of some of the world’s biggest newspapers, including The New York Times and the Washington Times. Content will also include blogs and RSS feeds that readers can select through a web-based platform, which is then produced on a digital press, transformed into a newspaper and delivered the following morning.

Wanja S. Oberhof, the co-founder of niiu, believes that young people prefer to read news on paper. The concept seeks to take the time and effort out of sifting through dozens of different websites. Oberhof believes the product will "bridge the gap between web and print” by letting the reader pay only for the news they are actually interested in. But can it work?

As Alan Kohler said last month, some media companies are still managing to make money online, despite the advertising downturn. But protecting profits and staying relevant to readers, when thousands of new sites, ideas and technologies are launching every day, is a challenge. Competition is fierce, and those who want to stay in the game will have to work hard to maintain their attractiveness, as many sites fall victim to the ‘fad’ culture of Gen Y.

Furthermore, consumers are increasingly disloyal to brands and people are not going to want to pay for news brands and mastheads unless they believe they are getting something unique – that is, by reading a certain publication they are adding value to their lives.

But despite this, audiences are still hungry for news and entertainment. More people read news – whether it’s online or in print – than they ever have before. That is one thing we know for certain that won’t change. But the way we consume media will continue to change, even beyond the current debates. What niiu has shown this week is that there are alternatives beyond the big media players.

As the ABC’s Scott said on Wednesday, these are "desperate days”. Is niiu a desperate idea or is it revolutionary? And should the mainstream media be worried or seek to get on board? An extra distribution channel could be exactly what they need. Now all niiu has to do is convince the world that the web and print can live together, side by side.

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