P-I newspaper boxes. Photo Kurt Schlosser
P-I newspaper boxes. Photo Kurt Schlosser

The economics of delivering a local newspaper to your doorstep just don’t make sense anymore.

The reasons? Declining subscriber counts and increased competition from free content online.

However, as expensive as it is to produce, there are certainly people who would rather consume their news in that traditional paper format.

What if that fixed delivery cost didn’t exist in it’s current form? What if the whole distribution part was instead crowd-sourced to local entrepreneurs who handled it for newspapers?

Fred Wilson’s thought-provoking post on Physical vs Digital got me thinking more about this, especially in light of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos’ $250 million purchase of The Washington Post. In fact, it was a comment from Jim Hirshfield in the piece that really resonated with me:

At the order of magnitude of reported losses for WaPo ($50M/year), I’m going to go out on a limb with a crazy idea: Bezos will back the development of an at-home newspaper printer. He’ll develop some form of gel in a cartridge that the machine converts to “newsprint.” It’s the Kindle Printer. Buy it for $399 and “subscribe n save” on regular deliveries of GelPaper for $49 per month. WaPo comes free.

Then shut down the presses.

I love Jim’s idea, but I see two weaknesses with it.

First, I don’t think the cost of printing a daily paper (or daily anything) is viable at a price point that makes sense. Second, I don’t think people truly want to print something themselves. Or stock a printer with paper. They want a freshly printed paper to show up on their doorstep.  They want convenience.

So I propose a tweak to the idea, one I feel is already viable in today’s market.

How would it work?

  1. Develop a “Kindle Printer” and sell them to someone in each neighborhood who wants to run a printing and delivery business. Charge whatever it costs to manufacture and ship the printers.
  2. Crowdsource the delivery of the printed paper to the immediate community near the location of the local Kindle Printer. We all know there are still kids who would deliver papers for very little money, same as there was 15 years ago when I occasionally delivered papers to cover for friends.
  3. Have a payment built in so there is an incentive for both the printer and delivery person to deliver a great service to their community. Or have the local paper cover the physical costs of paper (since the audience is what makes the advertising model work) and add a tipping aspect on top of that.

Then shut down the presses.

I believe this approach, which falls in line with the sharing economy movement, can make the physical newspaper on your doorstep a reality again without crippling the newspaper industry’s bottom line. This would foster a new breed of stay-at-home entrepreneurs who want to run printing and delivery companies.

And the even larger opportunity? Take on Kinkos and other local printing shops. A peer-to-peer marketplace for local printing, and delivery, is certainly an idea worth funding in my opinion.

What do you think? Would it work?

Note: And, yes, I get that those who manufacture and sell printers would fight this model as it’ll mean significantly fewer people who have printers and instead choose to just pay per sheet to be delivered to their home. But fewer resources being shared is what the sharing economy is all about.

Drew Meyers is the co-founder of Oh Hey World. Global nomad originating in Seattle. Ex-Zillow community builder. Social Entrepreneur. Microfinance advocate. Travel addict. Fan of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Kiva. Find him on Twitter @drewmeyers.

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  • seth thomas

    Just needs to license Memjet technology.

  • Paul Furio

    “there are certainly people who would rather consume their news in that traditional paper format.”

    There were also people who liked to consume their news from the town crier. The rest of the world changed on them, too.

    • http://ohheyworld.com/ Drew Meyers

      lol. i get that.

      but if the whole delivery aspect is crowd sourced and off the companies books, and the end customers who are willing to pay for convenience of a physical version of the news they want delivered to their door — how is that a bad thing?

      • Paul Furio

        It’s _a_ solution. And that’s fine.

        But it’s potentially Community Theater when everyone else has moved to Television. That is to say, I question the financial and long term viability of these solutions. Will a niche market be engaged? Sure. Is that enough to justify a long term invent-and-rollout pipeline? That’s on the newspaper and the end-point printer franchisers to decide.

        • http://ohheyworld.com/ Drew Meyers

          I think what we will end up with, eventually, is p2p local delivery companies. And they deliver everything to a certain geographic “farm” (area). Pizzas, newspapers, food, groceries, packages, tools, etc.

          Who knows how long that will take though. Or even if I’m right or not.

  • Baron Schaaf

    Nice idea but missing two key components newspaper users desire, form factor (that is the traditional size, shape and feel of the paper), and timely “push” delivery at location.

    Personally, I’ve wanted an integration between the Kindle subscribe feature and newspaper pay walls.

    • http://ohheyworld.com/ Drew Meyers

      “timely “push” delivery at location”

      not sure I’m understanding what you are getting at? isn’t a daily paper at their doorstep exactly that? the only thing changing is it’s not a service provided by the paper anymore.

      • Baron Schaaf

        I see. My brain omitted the aspects of hiring kids at piece rates for several reasons:

        o Most kids I know in areas where the people would pay a premium for physical copy aren’t motivated by the low monetary returns likely.
        o Most newspapers today are delivered by adults as kids are not as reliable as people would like.
        o Wages paid to children for such work would likely draw attention and objections, despite it being identical to the traditional paperboy role.

        The physical form factor is actually hard to reproduce and certainly the volume precludes production at any reasonable rate. The form factor is based on the economics of mass production.

        Any form factor which might be economical at lower runs would be not the form factor at the larger ones, precluding a key selling point.

  • http://twitter.com/jimhirshfield JimHirshfield

    Glad to have inspired this post @drewmeyers:disqus – well done articulating and expanding on the idea. :-)

    I think with enough research, development, and Bezos money, an affordable solution (i.e. a technology as yet uninvented) could solve all this. cc @baronschaaf:disqus

    That doesn’t negate the $250M question: whether the market wants it.

    Let’s suspend disbelief for sake of argument – friendly debate, mind you. If the solution can be made cheap enough, then wouldn’t Bezos rather sell more of the machines and paper (or GelPaper, as I call it)? With middlemen, he sells less, and might end up catering to fewer consumers…because, what happens if there’s no one in the boondocks to take up the task of playing printer and delivery boy?

    • http://ohheyworld.com/ Drew Meyers

      Agree — bezos would rather sell more printers if given the choice. I just don’t think people would buy them to print out their news themselves, but I could be wrong.

      Will be interesting which of these approaches works or actually happens. Or maybe neither will work :)

      • http://twitter.com/jimhirshfield JimHirshfield

        Yeah, I get there’s an inconvenience factor in printing your own. But these are the edge case holdouts who choose to NOT read on laptop, tablet, handheld. If printing your own is the only option, then print your own is what you’ll do… Of you don’t adopt digital consumption.

        And that there may be the reason not to develop this…’cause it is likely to force tablet consumption. IOW, buying a tablet is cheaper. Reading on tablet more convenient than printing my own.

  • Sachin Kumar

    Brilliant idea,Now a days many people read news via internet in their laptops or mobile phones so it just a wastage of paper.Thanks for sharing your post with us.
    printing shop

    printing shop

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