Great Idea #63

by Maria on June 2, 2008

You know when you wake up in the middle of the night, having dreamt of a great idea. And maybe you wake up on a plane, with your chin and a fair bit of drool on your chest, and, waking, you still think it’s a good idea. And then, the next day as you disembark you think to yourself, ‘wow, that’s a good idea’. You’re probably just jetlagged and waiting for your soul to catch up with you, as William Gibson would say.

Here it is; a transitional use of technology until those instantly downloading paper-like tablets intersect with the demand curve.

When you wake up on a plane after your pretend night’s sleep, and you’re eating the rubber omelette or the semi-defrosted muffin, you don’t want Internet connection and crumbs in your laptop (and the expectation that you’ll do work). What you really want is your morning paper.

In Brussels where there’s a big market of expats you can buy a locally printed version of your home newspaper. The publisher sends an electronic version of the day’s paper to a local printer and it gets delivered to the shops along with the national papers. It’s not on newspaper print, but it’s a more or less identical paper version of your daily comfort. It’s kind of an umbilical cord, and a good bit cheaper than the air-mailed version you get the next day.

Well, why not have this on planes? Stick one of those printers somewhere in the galley (where there’s loads of room…) and let passengers pay a premium to order their paper in advance and have it delivered with their rubbery breakfast. Then you get to read something a bit more timely than the in-flight magazine and get off the plane fully up to speed on the markets, international news and celebrity gossip. How cool would that be?



joseph duemer 06.02.08 at 1:58 am

Yeah, great idea, except that when you’re in the cattle business you don’t really give a crap what the cattle in your boxcar might like. And would the cattle really be willing to “pay a premium”? I doubt it. If you’re thinking about Americans traveling in coach, well, most of them don’t read the paper at home, so it’s doubtful they’d want to read it when they wake up after a long flight.


Chris Dornan 06.02.08 at 1:58 am

Why not just provide an internet connection. Far more useful! (Though I must confess I gave up on papers a long time ago. Far, far too unreliable.)


Righteous Bubba 06.02.08 at 2:19 am

Yeah, great idea, except that when you’re in the cattle business you don’t really give a crap what the cattle in your boxcar might like.

Gee whiz, on my last flight bunches of people asked me all sorts of questions about what I might like.


John Emerson 06.02.08 at 2:33 am

I’ve been talking about a printable political website for two years or more. Some sort of daily aggregate of the net, except laid out for a printer so that newsprint versions could be routinely produced at multiple sites (Kinko’s?) everywhere.

I thought of this as being a political outreach tool, given that only about half of Americans are wired and fewer than that spend much time on the net.

There was no interest, because my function is not the provision of new media concepts, but telling people to fuck themselves.


tom s. 06.02.08 at 2:34 am

Lighten up joseph duemer! (Unless you just got off a plane, in which case I excuse your grumpiness.) It’s a fine idea.


Ozzie Maland 06.02.08 at 2:56 am

The daily, undelivered price of _The San Diego Union-Tribune_ increased 50% this week, from 50 to 75 cents. I didn’t have enough for the machine, so I came home without the paper. My wife and I each have cps and internet access, so I suggested we read the paper online. After a foreseen crisis, I’m now back buying that overpriced rag to satisfy her addiction and save our marriage. Should we be subscribing to the paper? The problems there stem from our frequent travels — either (1) papers will pile up, tipping off wannabe house thieves; (2) we have a friend pick up the debris and thereby incur a disproportionate indebtedness (trust me, there’s no satisfactory reciprocity); or (3) we call the paper to temporarily stop deliveries — but experience informs us that the callee’s friend is probably a house thief. I’d rather go on paying the 75 cents a pop and cursing the invention of hard-copy newspapers. [The Sunday edition only went up 14.3%, from $1.75 to $2.00 — more in line with my idea of an acceptable rate of inflation but still excessive.] Pah.

Aloha ~~~ Ozzie Maland ~~~ San Diego


abb1 06.02.08 at 7:37 am

It better be in the tabloid format.


Mikhail 06.02.08 at 7:44 am

You’ll never justify the expense. The weight of such a printing kiosk with paper and such is about the weight of one person + about the size as well. A trans-atlantic ticket costs, let’s say 1600 USD. Three are, lets say, 250 people on board. If a third of them (which is a LOT) ordered papers, they’d have to come in around 20 bucks a piece… Buy one? I don’t think so! Especially since you’ll get it shortly after disembarking in another couple of hours… :)


nick s 06.02.08 at 8:22 am

They have this in a newsagent / newsstand at Atlanta airport — or had it when I flew through there a while back — though its printing of the Graun Europe onto tabloid-sized paper wasn’t ideal. Cost about $5. Having a real crossword on the plane made it feel less extortionate.

(Mark Pilgrim took a photo back in 2004. The kiosk was b0rked.)

It means that on the overnight flight from the US to Europe you’ll get the departure day’s paper – having the arrival day’s paper would mean having the internets on the plane, and it’s hard to justify the expense of a printer if passengers can go to the webiste.

(I can imagine them printing off the FT for biz-class, though.)

Buying the paper is generally the first thing I do after hitting the arrivals lounge on one of those arrive-half-dead eastbound flights: it puts change in your pocket, helps ground you in the place you’ve landed, and gives you something to read if you’re taking public transport out of the airport. I’m not sure if I’d want to change that ritual.


bad Jim 06.02.08 at 8:57 am

Eh. One of the perks of travel is stepping off the treadmill of the news cycle. Implicit in emplaning to Europe, z.B., is the immediate cessation of involuntary demands on one’s attention. Lousy Verizon cell phone doesn’t work over there; don’t call me, I’m in another century.


ajay 06.02.08 at 9:49 am

mikhail:The weight of such a printing kiosk with paper and such is about the weight of one person + about the size as well.

What??? All you need is an A3 laser printer, not some sort of enormous hot-lead press. I think your maths is off.


abb1 06.02.08 at 10:39 am

Terrorist threat should be considered – paper cuts can be nasty.


Sk 06.02.08 at 11:43 am

Given that this only works on ‘long’-i.e. transatlantic, flights, and given that, as we all know, such flights are the absolute worst thing for the environment that an individual can do (you should drive an SUV for a year before you take one transatlantic flight, n’est pas?), and given that the only people insensitive to continue taking transatlantic flights are Rethuglicans (after all, we are facing the end of civilization if we don’t CHANGE within three years, aren’t we?), well, doesn’t that mean that the only paper that would engage in such a business, selling to Rethuglicans, is the Wall Street Journal? And do we really want to expand the reach of the Wall Street Journal?



Peter 06.02.08 at 11:44 am

In the early 1990s, the EC sponsored a series of brainstorming forums to identify future technologies in different industries, called Eurinfo. The Publishing/Media Forum specified a newspaper much like the one you describe. The results of these forums were published, and 16 years have passed. There has to be a good reason why no company has run with this idea in the meantime, perhaps insufficient demand, the logistics of supply, or opposition from powerful entities in the existing media distribution channels.


bicycle Hussein paladin 06.02.08 at 12:49 pm

I think it’s a great idea. Except, instead of putting the printer on the plane, just have them near the gates and charge a couple bucks or whatever for it there.


HH 06.02.08 at 1:24 pm

Putting more pulp into the waste stream makes no sense in an era in which every airplane seat has a digital display on it. The green solution is to make your local newspaper available on the screen in front of your seat. This can be done using software called a “web browser.”


foolishmortal 06.02.08 at 1:52 pm

Or, instead of putting a printer on the plane, install Kindle clones on the armrests. And instead of selling newspapers, sell selections from the Library of Congress, or such subsets as are available. You’d make money doing that.


foolishmortal 06.02.08 at 1:54 pm

You go to smoke a cigarette and someone has to pwn you. Put some kind of anti-pwning device under the seat cushion, too.


joseph duemer 06.02.08 at 6:17 pm

@5: Tom, my last flight was a couple of months ago. I’m still suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.

@3: Bubba, you fly first class? I’m an academic, so that curtain has never parted for the likes of me.


flubber 06.02.08 at 6:18 pm

Even laser printers give off some VOCs like toluene, xylene, etc., and fine particulate matter.

The reduced atmospheric pressure at altitude (pressurized to the equivalent of 8,000 feet) makes VOCs more volatile, liberating them at a faster rate. The cabin air “turns over” much faster in a commercial airplane however, compared to your standard office building, which will flush the bad air out pretty fast.

I still wouldn’t want one on an airplane near me, but I’m admittedly a bit of a nutter.


Mikhail 06.02.08 at 11:18 pm

#14 – They do do that – have newspaper kiosks in airports and other places. Print any of the 500 newspapers in 28 languages on offer. But this concept for some reason has never really taken off. The economics must be wrong, or we are becoming a less reading people, or both. :) Unless you expect this as a free perk from the airlines, this ain’t happening. And given the state of airline business these days, I wouldn’t count on it.


HH 06.03.08 at 3:40 am

What am I missing? A modern passenger jet has a broadband network connecting flat panel displays on the back of each seat. The aircraft can be easily be equipped with satellite-delivered Internet service. A touch screen browser interface can make available the content of any newspaper in the world that is available through a web site. Problem solved.


Cryptic Ned 06.03.08 at 3:41 pm

What am I missing? A modern passenger jet has a broadband network connecting flat panel displays on the back of each seat.

I have…never seen anything like this on the twenty or so planes I have been on in the last three years. By “A modern passenger jet” do you mean “Singapore Airlines”, or “The first class section of a modern passenger jet”, or something else entirely?


engels 06.06.08 at 12:00 am

I don’t think this will take off.

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