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March 26, 2009, 11 a.m.

A giant digital copier: individuated news, Océ-style

oceI pointed out a few weeks ago with some puzzlement the plans for “individuated news” announced by MediaNews Group.  Because that scheme involves requiring readers print their own newspapers on special printers to be supplied by the publisher, the idea seemed to me and many others to be a non-starter.

But there’s another way: Dutch document management firm Océ has unveiled a new digital web press, the JetStream 2800, capable of printing full color, individually customizable, 600 dpi newspapers at a web speed of 130 meters per minute.

A narrower-web version of the same press, the 2200, is being set up at Imcodávila, a newspaper contract printer in Spain, with a planned May start date.  The basic idea is to couple this machine with a standard offset  press, using the Océ to feed a micro-zoned or even “individuated” web into the mix.

This system is one of those “holy grail” ideas that has been talked about for decades — I recall mention early in my newspaper career (that would be late 1970s) — to the effect that one day, the press would be “a giant Xerox machine” that could be heavy on sports for one reader, and heavy on financial news for the next-door neighbor.

Océ’s vision is basically that concept: a customized newspaper printed and delivered to the customer, not by the customer:

Yet even beyond targeting, the growth opportunities in micro and geo-marketing are huge. “Imagine an online portal where subscription readers can assemble their personal newspaper,” says [ Océ VP-Graphic Arts] Peter Wolff. “Readers simply choose the subjects that interest them most — local sports, for instance, cultural events in the region, special pages for young people. Alongside the main part of the newspaper, readers then get a totally individualized newspaper delivered to their doorstep two or three times per week.”

U. S. newspaper firms, these days, have a hard time with the idea of investing in a new pencil sharpener, let alone a new press, so rapid adoption is unlikely.  And in truth, the Océ solution would not handle a metro-sized paper very easily — at 130 meters per minute, the 2800 model could supply just one web (four pages) of customized content for less than 15,000 standard broadsheet copies per hour.

Although one web could be enough to supply customized content and individually-targeted advertising, that’s not a solution for a 100,000-circulation daily — unless that daily evolves into an online-first news operation with once- or twice-weekly print, which allows more time in the production schedule.  And especially, if production is outsourced to a contract printer able to invest in the necessary technology.

Jim Magrone of Océ-USA tells me that the price tage on the narrower-web 2200 model is “between $2 and $4 million,” and that the price on 30-inch 2800 is not yet available, but obviously more.

POSTED     March 26, 2009, 11 a.m.
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