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Print is dead, long live the printer

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Comment Hi, Annabel Fancy here. A time-slip mailing - I haven't got time to start this company here in the second decade of the millennium, so I thought you might like to try it. It's an internet printing business. You can use it; just mark me down for one per cent of share equity in exchange for royalty-free use.

Here's how it works.

It's 2012, London. You leave home in the morning, in something of a hurry, and at some point, you walk past a newsagent. But, of course, you don't buy anything there, because - well, why would you? The newspapers are targeted at rednecks and tree-huggers. The magazines are aimed at teenage boys of 28 with a toy fetish and an endless appetite for chest cleavage. And you don't smoke.

Instead, you head to the ticket office at the station. Or the car fuel station. Or the coffee stall.

"Hello, Ms Fancy!" says the concessionaire. "Your latte, and your paper!"

The paper is made of paper - A3 size, colour. Front page headline: "Fancy A Winner at Levy's Heel Bar!" - story says that Ms Fancy can have a free shoe-shine at the heel bar inside the station. Next story: "Agenda for this morning's pre-meeting" - an email from your boss.

On the next page, an in-depth analysis of education reforms, aimed at the specialist training manager. That's your job. Well, it's pretty much what you'd expect - the RSS feed from www.specialist-training.tv is one of your top priority syndics. Below that, a list of five URLs from a search you did on the web last night, with one-par summaries. All are new stories since your last search. There's a photo-sequence from the Pakistan-vs-Australia women's hockey match that was played in Melbourne last night and a five-par summary of the game (you're hockey mad, but didn't want to stay up). Also, below that, an error message from your personal video recorder saying it ran out of disc space before recording the game.

Inside, a hot-off-press analyst report from your boss for the team. Next to that, new blog entries from your colleagues. The Sudoko game you half-finished at the PC last night is there, with your entries in grey, and the "given" numbers in black. There's a quarter-page advert from Amazon, listing books you didn't know you were interested in. There's also a note from your dentist offering a cancellation appointment and a 25% off "white filling replacement" offer for that amalgam which was looking dodgy last appointment. And finally, a selection of your favourite columnists and bloggers on news of the day in subjects you are most interested in.

"No, thanks," you say. "I'll pick it up at the supermarket."

The interesting points:

1) the paper was printed in the 30 seconds it took once you walked around the corner into the street with the kiosk. Location information from your cellphone and historical data on your purchases (using the phone for small amount micropayments) and Adsense data on your personal interests came together to pick the content and collect it into one 16-page publication.

2) you don't have to have an e-Page device (a tablet with e-paper display). Oh sure, this is 2010, and there are several rather nice 100-Euro pads on the market, but you don't like carrying yours around in public. Your colleagues think paper is messy. You prefer it.

3) The cost of producing the tabloid is low enough that the vendor could print it on a chance. He gets to include a free advert for his services towards the cost of the ink

4) It's just as well the syndicate which set this business up had it financed, deployed, and earning before now. Trying to revive a paper industry product now that e-paper is so cheap and such good quality, would challenge the resources of even the slickest venture-capital firm.

5) You don't care about the free Lottery ticket you'd have got if you'd accepted the copy. But the syndicate does; they get 10 per cent of the winnings of any readers towards their costs; which includes their share of the Lottery electronic network used to funnel all the data around.

6) Yes, you're an eco-fan, but the paper used isn't an issue. Compared with the amount of junk mail you used to get for pizza parlours (you're allergic to wheat) and other irrelevant rubbish, the newspaper is a tiny amount - and it's all based on data from your shopping habits, your reading preferences, your music fetishes, your credit card details, your loyalty card records, and your surfing secrets.

7) Privacy? Intact. The system knows you, better than your mother does - but no human gets to see the data which tracks you. It's all done on heuristics.

8) No moving pictures? Well, no. Doesn't matter: you'll walk past a dozen Adshell booths before you get to work, and each one will display stuff of interest to you, as you come into view. That'll probably include things like the goal in the hockey match... and an advert targeted at you and your tastes, of course.

9) Is this a Rupert Murdoch operation? Probably. It might have been co-owned by a different bunch of startups, had they spotted this Register piece back in 2007, but sadly, they had utterly swallowed the rubbish about "print is dead".

Print isn't dead. It just needs re-inventing to live with the Internet age. ®

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