Interview with Gregor Elias Dorsch, PersonalNews
Gregor Elias Dorsch is managing director of Syntops GmbH (Project PersonalNews)
Landsberg am Lech, Germany. www.individuelle-zeitung.de
About two years ago, Gregor Elias Dorsch with his start-
A pilot test is scheduled for mid-
newspaper techniques: Could you explain the business idea of PersonalNews?
Gregor Elias Dorsch: The basic idea is very simple. With PersonalNews, the customer can compile his own individual newspaper from complete pages or section from international newspaper titles.
For example, you can say: I would like to have the politics section from The Washington Post, the sports section from a specific sports newspaper and the local section from my local newspaper. Syntops assembles the lot, prints it digitally and delivers it to the customer by the normal newspaper delivery channels by 7 a.m. on the day of publication.
nt: What is the target audience for your individually compiled newspaper?
G. Dorsch: There are several:
A promising target audience is that of the “heavy users”, i.e. persons who read several newspapers for professional or private interests. These frequently include international titles to which today they have no or only limited access. In many cases, these newspapers are not obtainable on the day of publication and are in addition very expensive.
Another target group we refer to as the “teddy bear users”, i.e. readers who value the personal approach, the emotional components of an individualised newspaper.
And finally the young readers who have major information needs but do not feel that the traditional newspaper is for them. Warren Buffett once said: “Newspaper readers are on the way to the cemetery, while newspaper non-
With PersonalNews, we hope to tap into a reader potential that has been neglected to date.
nt: If a reader wants to subscribe to PersonalNews, what would be the precise process from the time he places his order until his holds his personal newspaper in his hands?
G. Dorsch: The process is as follows: The customer inputs his individual wishes via an Internet portal. To do so, he must once invest about 10 minutes of his time to define what his personal newspaper should contain. Changes to the selection can be made anytime up to 10.00 p.m. (for the next day’s edition).
The customer’s wishes are then stored at our end in the customer database. At about 11.30 p.m., newspaper publishing houses send us their newspapers as PDFs that are then stored in the content partner database.
Expressed in a simplified way, PersonalNews marries the customer database to the content partner PDF database. From there the individual customer files are produced and sent via the Internet to the digital printing centres, where the newspapers are printed out and made available for delivery.
nt: So the customer finds a list of the titles and the various sections of these newspapers on the PersonalNews portal in the Internet from which he compiles his personal mix?
G. Dorsch: Exactly. First of all, there is a list of the available newspaper titles that our customer can arrange in alphabetical order, by country or language. By clicking on a newspaper title, he calls up the table of contents including the individual sections.
Something that is very important for the publishing houses, only full pages in the original layout are offered in order utilise the recognition value and brand of the newspaper concerned as quality characteristics (scaled to the printable size: 48 x 33 cm). Included also is a small footnote with indication of source (title, section, day of publication).
nt: Which software do you use, are the processes automated?
G. Dorsch: Core of the entire process is the syntops software that is able to manage the entire process – from the customer order via database upkeep, up to assembly and transmission of the individual customer files for the printing centres.
nt: What technology will be used for the production of the PersonalNews? Which capacities must the digital printing press offer?
G. Dorsch: Digital web-
Our cooperation partner, Digitaldrucke Bayerlein, a pioneer of newspaper digital printing, has such a press. However, our software is independent of the press that is used and can run on any machines. This means that we can still use it when a new system comes on the market.
There is a lot going on right now in digital printing, and that is also one of the strengths in our concept: While we are continuing to develop further, the market also develops in parallel, and naturally that is much to our liking.
After printing, the newspaper is trimmed and folded. Finishing is the bottleneck that slows production. A print sheet is 66 cm wide and 48 cm high, therefore a little larger than the tabloid format. PersonalNews looks and feels like a normal newspaper.
nt: What is the situation with printing centres that have digital presses offering the required facilities? A prerequisite is surely that they should be available in sufficient numbers.
G. Dorsch: At present, their number is somewhat limited in Germany, perhaps 10 suitable presses.
For our pilot project, initially one press will suffice to serve one city or region. Later on, we want to print locally, i.e. distribute first and then print (not the other way around). Therefore, a newspaper that is subscribed to in Munich will also be printed in Munich.
The printing centre will be selected on the basis of the postal district code of the subscriber. We hope that the digital printing market will have developed further by the time that we launch our offering.
nt: Can the reader decide whether his edition contains ads? Are there plans for personalisation here also?
G. Dorsch: Because full pages are taken that also contain ads, to begin with the customer will have no influence here.
Consideration is being given later on to offer selective advertising, not in “push” form, but as a type of content offering.
For example, a customer could specify that he wants the ads of the local supermarket or offers of insurance companies. That would be very valuable advertising for corresponding service providers.
nt: How is the copy price for the individual edition for the reader calculated, and how much do the newspaper publishing houses earn?
G. Dorsch: The subscription is very flexible. The reader only pays for what he has ordered. The price is calculated from a basic charge of 80 cents (for delivery and commission) plus the individual prices for the pages or section of the selected newspaper pages.
There are no standard prices, each publishing house stipulates what price it wants for the individual sections and we pass on this price (with a surplus charge for printing) to the customer.
The front page appears in the layout of PersonalNews. It contains the table of contents, copy price, delivery address, an individual welcome and, of course, the portfolio of content partners.
An important point in our concept with the pages or sections is that the newspaper character is preserved. The surprise effect is retained.
nt: Must the newspaper publishing houses not fear losing subscribers due to such a selective offering?
G. Dorsch: We expect to be able to prove the opposite. Presumably one or other customer who today buys a complete newspaper will tomorrow, with PersonalNews, only buy several sections.
However (according to our small-
nt: Does the individual newspaper brand not disappear in the package?
G. Dorsch: Quite the opposite. PersonalNews makes the brand stand out. Readers who compare several newspapers and know different newspaper titles possess newspaper brand awareness. (…) PersonalNews makes comparison simple.
The profile, the positioning becomes clear: For example, I could read the pages of Die Welt as well as those of the Washington Post or Abendzeitung München and see for the first time what one or the other newspaper does differently, what makes it stand out, what it stands for.
nt: Who are your cooperation partners so far?
G. Dorsch: We have been working on the project for about two years now and in the beginning it was very difficult. In the meantime, however, a lot has happened in the market and publishing houses now also approach us.
Unfortunately, with the exception of The Washington Post and Washington Times, I cannot yet reveal the names of the newspapers because negotiations are continuing. But they include major German and international publishing houses.
We will start with about 20 newspapers, including special interest titles that are becoming more popular and whose target audiences can be addressed ideally by PersonalNews.
nt: You have already conducted a field test? What next steps are you planning?
G. Dorsch: There was no field test yet – we underestimated several aspects in the software development. (…) The core application is now ready, what we are still working on is the user interface.
The interface should be as simple to use and customer-
The next milestone is the market test that we plan to start in mid-
For the duration of the test, the content partners supply us with the pages free of charge, and in return the publishing houses will be informed in detail about the test results. For the publishing houses, this is practically a free research project, for which we provide all the labour resources and financing. To that extent, the publishing houses bear no risk.
As regards the test location, we have three options. Important criteria for the selection are the make-
Vital for us is that we get sales data. We hope in the way to obtain knowledge concerning the market potential for such a product – to date there have only been good studies, but no results validated by buying decisions.
nt: When is a concrete offering expected to follow from the project?
G. Dorsch: That depends mainly on the results of the pilot test. Our expectation is that the green light for the market launch will be given directly after the test phase, or even during it.
Our plan is then to give the software to the publishing houses, as we believe that it makes more sense for the newspapers themselves to offer the service with own content and content obtained from us as a complement to their portfolio.
nt: Do you think that the concept of the newspaper as we know it today will be finished in 5 or 10 years’ time?
G. Dorsch: I do not think so. I am convinced that newspapers will still be around in 5 years’ time. And I believe also that circulations will not fall much more. But the trends are clearly towards digital printing, specialisation and personalisation or individualisation respectively.
There is an increase in the number of special interest newspapers.
PersonalNews will start out as a niche product and perhaps later reach a larger audience, but initially it is intended for the high-
The decisive point is that the needs of the users should be satisfied. And in this respect there will be an increasing splitting into many possible offerings: already now I can listen to the newspaper with a MP3 player, then there is ePaper …, these are all areas in which a lot is happening. There will simply be more possibilities to satisfy information needs.
There continue to be a need for a printed newspaper. One of its advantages is its availability at all times and in all places: No one wants to read the newspaper on the laptop at the breakfast table or in the underground train. But the newspaper as such, also the general interest newspaper that you buy for 1 euro at the kiosk (for even less in subscription), will undoubtedly still be around in five years’ time. And a printed newspaper, in whatever form, will still exist also in 20 years.
This interview was conducted by Charlotte Janischewski, senior editor of newspaper techniques.
Gregor Elias Dorsch
Syntops GmbH (PersonalNews Project)
Landsberg am Lech, D
Page first published: 15.12.2006