Tuesday, June 26, 2012

June Observations - The Shipping News, Revisited




also published in Photizo io360 imaging observer



Observations: The Shipping News, Revisited

[June 26, 2012] It was over five years ago, in Fall 2006, when I took a cruise across the Atlantic and reported on my experience with on-demand newspapers (see “Observations: The Shipping News—Print on Demandon the High Seas”). The focus of my attention was an on-board, print-on-demand daily newspaper, provided through the cruise company and NewspaperDirect, a firm based in British Columbia, Canada. So when I cruised across the Atlantic again this Spring, I was curious to find out how the shipboard on-demand-newspaper experience would compare.

Back in 2006, I noted memories of NewspaperDirect from the late 1990’s and my HP days when the two companies partnered around the original business plans to print on-demand, on-site daily newspapers for hotel guests. Because my experience on the cruise was a positive one—getting my own daily custom-printed newspaper (select stories from USAToday, in my case)—ordered through the ship’s Internet café, I followed up after my vacation by making contact with NewspaperDirect, getting a chance to talk to them about their shifting strategies. My Observations column reported on the company’s adaptation of their original strategy into varied forms.

Fast forward to spring 2012, and I am again in the Mid-Atlantic on another Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) vessel (same line as before) and the ship still has its Internet café, with the primary offering of pricey and mostly slow Internet service. However, the idea of a hardcopy news product à la my 2006 cruise was not even a distant memory with the young Internet café manager. He looks at me like I'm a bit crazy, as a matter fact, when I ask about its availability.

For the cruise, I got by news-wise with TV and its rotation of European and U.S. channels, a little Web browsing, and some pre-assigned “correspondents” who e-mailed with news items of special interest. And, of course, I supplemented this was a few “real” onshore newspapers purchased from our various ports once the crossing was completed.

As a footnote, I did learn lots about the change in my own connectivity expectations. For years, there’s been discussion about the move to “persistent connectivity” that goes along with pervasive mobile devices. These days, as one of millions of habitual iPhone and iPad “carriers”, I found the ship’s Internet service too slow and expensive to be considered for “persistent” status, as it remains more-or-less a throwback to dial-up Internet access. And I must say this “cutting the cord” all came as a pretty big shock to my system.

But back to the on-demand newspaper idea. I was curious and decided my 2006 musings should be updated. To that end, a report on what has happened to NewspaperDirect was the number one mission, so once back in the office and on dry land, I reached out. And my quest started with a pleasant surprise—my original marketing/PR contact from the company back in 2006 was still there and better yet, was quick to reply to my e-mail. She also arranged an interview for me on NewspaperDirect’s developing strategy over the last six years withIgor Smirnoff, the company’s vice president of “digital” (my quote marks), that turned into a fascinating discussion. (Many of the details will be part of a future report on companies and their paths through strategic transformations that Photizo will publish in its Digital WorkplaceTransformation Advisory Service.)
To summarize here, a quick look at the screenshot of the company’s recent press releases at (see illustration, from http://www.newspaperdirect.com/about/news/2012/) shows where NewspaperDirect has sought opportunity in 2012, including the firm’s PressDisplay.com “virtual kiosk” for online magazines and newspapers. This solution represents the latest offering in the continuation of the firm’s strategy to provide content from newspapers and magazines, offered across a wide and growing spectrum of platforms, like with the PressDisplay apps for iPad and Android. According to Smirnoff, the hardcopy NewspaperDirect product I enjoyed on the ship in 2006 remains as an offering, and he assured me that the print-on-demand, customized newspapers I remember are still available on at least some of the cruise lines, even if not NCL.

Going back to the cruise for a moment, and missing customized newspaper aside, the environment seems to continue to be a haven for hardcopy. The daily ship activity newsletters, distributed to each cabin every evening, become a lifeline for passengers, especially during those strung-together sea days, and the advertising flyers that accompany the newsletters, whether for jewelry sales, casino deals, art auctions, or the like, appear to be printed onboard with current information (on top of pre-prints in many cases). In fact, this hardcopy seem to be the main conduit for disseminating much of the ship’s information to passengers.

I still have not wangled a visit “backstage” on the ship to see the cruise line’s printing facilities, after thinking I should on multiple occasions. The cruise lines, much like Disney properties, work hard to project a bit of a fantasy aura, and the realities behind the glamour are not open to the public. Plus, after all, I was on vacation, and just plain not trying that hard.