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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 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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