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Summer 2010

Here’s something I didn’t expect; I think there is just a chance that we may be about to see the revival of daily printed journalism, which has recently been suffering from (and wilting under) a sustained attack from the internet and TV.  What’s more, the saviours will be the internet itself, coupled with a printing company.  That might surprise journalists and newspaper readers of the Oldie generation, who will remember just how hard the printing industry made life for newspapers 25 years ago or so.  It seems an age ago now, but in those days newspaper printers and publishers were not speaking to each other; now they could be the saving of each other, courtesy of the internet.

The story so far: in the face of uncompromising competition from broadcasters and news websites (especially the BBC) sales of serious daily newspapers have been dwindling for years.  Few make any real profit these days, and certainly nothing like enough to justify the huge expense of running news organisations, together with the increasing cost of printing, distributing and selling the physical papers.

Publishers have fought back (rather ineffectively, so far) with their own websites, and some are experimenting with charging us to look at them, but it seems undeniable that serious, printed daily newspapers, in their current form, are doomed.  They have become too expensive to buy (my monthly paper delivery bill is well over £50, and that’s just one national daily and a local weekly) and by the time we see them, barring the odd sensational scoop,  the news they carry has long been overtaken by the online news.

There is, however, a paradox here; the fact remains that most people, of all ages, still prefer to read from paper than from a screen – especially anything of any length.  That’s why less time-sensitive paper publications, like The Oldie, continue to do well.  Book reviews, proper articles and so forth are the sort of thing you want to sit down with, study on the train, or read over your porridge.  I bet that if you ever read even short articles on a website, you are tempted to push the Print button, and if it is much longer piece you almost certainly will.

 We are still more comfortable with paper than screens, and if there were an easy way to get up to the minute news that way, at a sensible price, many of us probably would use it.

Now, enter the White Knight who is going to resurrect the newspaper industry: giant printer manufacturer Hewlett-Packard (known as HP).  They make as many printers as anybody, and have had a very bright idea.  HP have started equipping all but their very cheapest printers with an email address (and you can be sure the cheap ones will get it soon).  This will mean that all you have to do is plug the printer into your internet connection, and then printed material can be emailed to it from anywhere, and it will print out there and then.

In other words, you can print your own newspaper.  What’s more, if the publishers get themselves organised, you will only print the bits that you want.  It might be The Daily Telegraph, for example; perhaps you would pay for UK and foreign news, the leaders, cricket results and the obituaries – and maybe your favourite columnists.

Then at the time you decree, perhaps breakfast time, or when you come home from work, it will automatically spout out the very latest versions of that content.  Some of it may only have been written minutes ago. 

So, at a stroke, HP has breathed life back into the newspapers.  The cost of distributing the newspapers will drop like a stone, making news gathering profitable again; the information you receive will be bang up to date but in far more detail and easier to refer to than the TV and radio can ever give you, and the cost to you should be much less than the cost of newspapers.

It won’t do the shops that sell newspapers any good, of course, or our paper delivery lady, but my bet is that they will begin to do a roaring trade in printer repairs and the ink to go in them instead.