The struggling newspaper business became a little more interesting on Monday with the release of a customized newspaper in Berlin. The new format hopes to resist the growing domination of online news.
Old newspaper subscriptions are set to be replaced by a brand new product on Monday. Niiu is a collated, personalized paper edition delivered to the door with articles from scores of newspapers worldwide.
Co-founded by 23-year-old Wanya Oberhof, Niiu's printing press is tucked away in a remote corner of Berlin. The customization of his new newspaper extends to many separate features.
"Every Niiu is only printed once for every reader. You can also add the logo of your favorite soccer club or something like that," he said.
In effect, Niiu allows the reader to be his own editor, choosing the news he or she wants from the company's website. The price is not much more than the newsstand price of most German papers - 1.80 euros ($2.70).
Oberhof continues: "I can say I want the front page of a regional newspaper, for example the Tagesspiegel from Berlin. And then I can say I want the sports section of the Bild and politics from the New York Times, combined with content from the internet."
Winning back paper customers
Niiu is put together using specially designed software and a high-speed printing press that can print individualized pages on giant rolls of newsprint. Oberhof says that the product is specifically aimed at readers who have abandoned smudgy newsprint for the Web.
Most statistics show that students and twenty-somethings are reading fewer and fewer newspapers, and Margaret Luenenborg, who teaches journalism at Berlin's Free University, is skeptical of Niiu.
"People are interested in getting information the quickest way, the most direct way," she said, "I'm not sure that they want to have it the next day in the paper version when they could have it right now, online, reading on the screen."
Oberhof agrees that people like to read breaking news online, but he thinks that for sports and features, things that people take their time with, many want the information collected in one place to save themselves the hassle of finding it.
"A lot of people have told me, and I feel the same, that getting all these RSS feeds and clicking from one page to another page is not much fun," he said.
Oberhof doesn't have to convince many people to read Niiu to make a living. There's no editorial staff, and Niiu doesn't own the printing presses - it just rents the time from the printing company overnight when the presses are otherwise silent. It is a virtual company that outsources almost every aspect of its production.
"Our business model is based on variable costs, so it's very good to calculate," said Oberhof, "We only produce a newspaper when someone pays for it."
Oberhof believes he needs to sell five thousand subscriptions in Berlin, where the paper will first be launched, to make a profit. He is also convinced he has an efficient advertising strategy.
Niiu can also do something that almost no other print medium has been able to do: thanks to the information users provide when they choose their pages, advertising can be extremely well-targeted.
"We insert about two whole pages of advertising in each edition. As an advertiser you can say I want only ads for women, or only in a special district of Berlin," Oberhof said, "As a next step you can say, okay, this guy's interested in golf so I will add, only here, my golf ad."
Oberhof says advertisers are willing to pay a lot of money for that kind of reach.
If the business models works, Oberhof and his partner hope to expand across Germany and Europe. And they are betting there are plenty of readers who will choose something, well, Niiu.
Author: Brett Nealy/bk
Editor: Kyle James
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