Page last updated at 16:14 GMT, Sunday, 14 March 2010

Media tycoons wanted: Make your own newspaper

By Kabir Chibber
Business reporter, BBC News

Newspaper Club
Newspaper Club has been voted one of the designs of the year

So you want to be a newspaper baron?

(Haven't you heard that print is dead?)

If you insist - well, you could do work experience (for nothing) and hopefully get a part-time job at the paper. Then, after a few years, work your way to a staff position, if you're lucky. And spend decades navigating office politics to eventually become the chosen one to run the place.

Then, with all your power and influence, you can shape the news agenda and be courted by some of the world's most powerful politicians - if newspapers still exist then.

Or you could just go online, now, and print your own paper using the Newspaper Club.

'Surprisingly cheap'

This new London-based start-up allows anyone to print their own 12-page newspaper.

"It doesn't occur to people that they can print their own newspaper, and you find out you can, it's kinda cool," says Russell Davies, a former ad executive-turned-blogger who is one of those behind the venture.

"We thought a lot of people would think the same."

Printing presses
The Newspaper Club uses printing presses during off-peak hours

Mr Davies, designer Ben Terrett and a group of software-coding friends - who formed a collective called the Really Interesting Group - decided to print a newspaper of their friends' best blog posts and photos in 2008.

Large commercial printing presses - for daily newspapers such as The Sun or the Daily Telegraph - are not used for most of the day while the newspaper is put together.

Mr Davies and his colleagues negotiated a small print run for their paper - called Things Our Friends Have Written On The Internet - and, surprised by the cost, realised others might want to do something similar.

"We've been web people all our lives, and then we accidentally found out through a friend how cheap it was to print," he says.

Among the Newspaper Club's first clients were the BBC, Wired UK and Last.fm. Penguin used it to debut a preview of the fifth chapter of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, written by Eoin Colfer.

Over the last few months, the venture - funded by 4iP, Channel 4's venture capital fund - opened to the wider public.

Fanzines

Ben Hammersley, editor-at-large at Wired magazine, calls it a "stupidly exciting" project that brings the benefits of the web - seen in everything from blogs to broadcasting on YouTube - to paper.

"It takes the world of online publishing, where the practical barriers to entry are very low, and transports it to a medium where it was virtually impossible to do that before.

Most will stay obscure or hobbies - but one or two will become huge
Ben Hammersley, Wired

"Newspapers are like the last bastion of old media, they are almost the last thing standing.

"This creates a new industry, almost from the ashes of the old one," he says.

Have a burning issue in your town that you want to share? Worried about the upcoming election? Always fancied yourself a food critic?

Frustrated writers everywhere can now self-publish on newsprint - a format that still holds a special place for readers across the world.

Among the first publications printed using the service was 2Halves.

This one-off magazine was written - half and half - by Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur bloggers. They printed off 3,500 copies last November before the last north London football derby and distributed it at the game.

Mr Davies said the idea was successful and the group behind the fanzine plans to make another issue.

A weekly literary night in Soho, called The Book Club Boutique, also recently printed a paper featuring 25 of its best writers.

Digital future?

The irony is that this comes at a time when many fear for the future of the printed word.

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center showed that online news has become more popular than reading newspapers in the US.

Newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic have been going through difficult times as advertising slows and more readers migrate to the internet.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer was among many that closed last year, while the Chicago Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle have gone through huge job cuts. In 2009, the Daily Mail and General Trust cut 1,000 jobs at its regional arm, which publishes more than 100 newspapers.

Many are putting their hope in new technology such as smartphones and the iPad, Apple's new tablet computer that launches next month, to entice people into paying for content online.

But Mr Davies does not believe that print is dead.

"People make an error in conflating print and print businesses," he says. "The business models that are attached to print may be broken, but that does not mean that print itself is.

"It may not be the dominant technology in 10 years, but it will still be here. Television did not kill radio."

Small publishing

With the growth of book self-publishing services such as Lulu, the Newspaper Club is the next obvious step.

But large publishers should not get too worried that their oligopoly on the printed word is being challenged by its users.

Mr Davies says his goal is not to find another Rupert Murdoch or challenge big media.

Last.fm newspaper
Last.fm was one of the companies to use the service

"The things that have me most excited are things like a couple who called us up because they wanted a newspaper of the wedding," he says.

The couple wanted to collect all the photos, speeches, Tweets and so on for a special issue to give to guests.

The print run? Two hundred copies. The Sun sells about 3 million copies a day.

"We will see a lot of interesting failures, a lot of experimentation," Mr Hammersley said.

"Most will stay obscure or hobbies - but one or two will become huge."

In fact, the first testers of the site were given visual examples of what they were ordering - "This amount is as big as a two-car garage" - because people were unprepared for the sheer amount of paper that was to arrive at their homes.

American expansion

The Newspaper Club charges different amounts depending on the size of the print runs. It is about £330 (or £1.10 a copy) for 300 black-and-white issues of a newspaper, for example.

For colour, that drops to 30 pence each for 5,000 copies.

"We try to keep it as affordable as possible," Mr Davies says.

The Newspaper Club has a tool called ARTHR that allows you to design your own newspaper to a decent standard.

But those with some graphic design skills can upload their own versions using PDFs.

In the future, they plan to add more functions, such as a widget that allows readers of blogs to request a printed version shipped to them.

The website has won praise for it has accomplished already.

The crown jewel so far has been winning in the graphic design category for the Brit Insurance Design of the Year awards.

"We didn't really expect to win," Mr Davies says.

"It was thrilling.

"It's the judges recognising that it's not simply print versus digital, but that the future is going to be much more nuanced."

For now, the Newspaper Club does not deliver internationally due to high shipping costs.

But the team is heading over to the hip SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas, to float a possible US version of the site.

Soon, there might be local versions of the Newspaper Club all over the world.

Page three girls and blowhard columnists not included.



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Google addresses newspaper woes
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