Can a Customized Paper Survive the Demise of Print?

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The customized newspaper Niiu

As journalists the world over bemoan the state of the newspaper industry amid layoffs and folding broadsheets, two young German entrepreneurs are rushing headfirst into the fray, launching a new paper tailored to the individual tastes of their readers.

The paper, called Niiu, is all about consumer choice: it gives readers the freedom to choose the types of articles they want to read, culled from a wide range of German and international news sources. After registering on Niiu's website,, readers can access other newspapers online and select the pages or sections they find interesting, designing their own specialized paper. But instead of reading it online, Niiu is printed overnight and delivered to the subscriber's door the next morning, just like any other newspaper.

So a reader could get the latest gossip about former tennis champion Boris Becker from Germany's biggest-selling tabloid, Bild, then add political stories about Chancellor Angela Merkel's negotiations to form a new coalition government from the liberal daily Tagesspiegel, a sprinkling of economic stories from the German business daily Handelsblatt and even incorporate a few pages of international politics from English-language papers like the New York Times and Komsomolskaya Pravda from Russia. If the stories seem repetitive after a few days, the customer can go back online and change their paper design, and a new edition will be delivered to their home.

Niiu is the brainchild of two Germans, 27-year-old Hendrik Tiedemann and 23-year-old Wanja Oberhof, who claim that it's the first "customized" newspaper in Europe. "Many people prefer to read a newspaper; they like the feel of paper," Oberhof tells TIME. "Print is the most comfortable medium, as you can read a newspaper wherever you are, whether you're traveling on a train or you're putting your feet up at home." The two are initially targeting younger people, primarily students, but they're hoping to reach out to a wider readership in the future.

Readers will be able to choose stories from 17 German and international newspapers that have struck syndication deals with Niiu as well as pick up content from 500 online providers, such as Qype, a user-generated review site for European restaurants and bars, and kicker, an online German soccer magazine. "It's an individualized paper which has a wide appeal because people, especially students who grew up with the Web, want to get their news from different sources," says Oberhof.

The paper is being rolled out in the German capital on Nov. 16 with a target circulation of 5,000 in the first six months. After Berlin, the publishers are planning to expand distribution to other German cities and European capitals. The daily paper will cost $2.70 (€1.80), but students will pay just $1.80 (€1.20), about the same price as one of Germany's mainstream newspapers, like Süddeutsche. The founders of Niiu say that readers will end up saving money in the long run because they won't have to buy different newspapers anymore.

As other papers struggle to cope with plummeting advertising sales in the economic downturn, the young German entrepreneurs say they're confident they can weather the slump. They say they will rely both on newspaper sales and advertising revenues to turn a profit, and they already have a couple of large German advertising clients lined up. "We've got an attractive business model because our clients can do targeted advertising and reach the readers they want," says Tiedemann.

But is this really what readers want? Critics say the new paper faces an uphill battle with the online media revolution. "Niiu shares the same dilemma of print journalism in the age of the Internet: every paper you read in the morning only contains yesterday's news," says Stephan Weichert, a journalism professor at the Macromedia University of Applied Sciences in Hamburg. "The Web offers news every second and gives the option to link to blogs and other websites. Why would people read and even buy a story or information, which they select on the Internet the day before? It's old-school journalism."

It's old-school journalism, perhaps, but with a twist. And in the age of Twitter and hyper-personalized social-networking sites, the publishers may have discovered a model that could set it apart from the other staid papers in a dying industry.