We start this week with Tom Taylor, co-founder of and technical brains behind The Newspaper Club. Already known for their small-run newsprint service, they have just announced a print-on-demand service, the Newsagent. Tom looks ahead at his week as they launch their own one-off publication, Things Our Friends Have Saved on the Internet, to promote and test the Newsagent.
Where are you today?
I’m in the Newspaper Club office in London. We’re on City Road, in London’s trendy Silicon Roundabout. Our office is opposite a castle and next to a strip club. (No, really)
We’ve got a little cluster of desks in a space we share with Berg. There’s some Caravan Club bunting strung up, that someone got from a car boot sale ages ago.
My desk is a bit of a mess, I’m afraid to say. I’ve got a selection of Friday’s coffee cups that need washing up. There’s always a pile of newspapers: faded old favourites and crisp new prototypes. There’s a computer piled on a cabinet which we use as a Google Hangout screen with our team in Glasgow and Mike, who works remotely.
What can you see from the window?
I’ve got a direct line of sight to Broadgate Tower, something I’ve had from most of my desks around Shoreditch over the last few years. I don’t think much of the architecture, but I love how it changes with different light.
Are you a morning or evening person?
I’ve become a morning person over the last few years. At first because my fellow Newspaper Club founders, Russell Davies and Ben Terrett, would often kick off the day with breakfast at 8am, so they could be done and home with their kids by 4. And then, more recently, because of a son of my own. The unofficial Newspaper Club Engineering Dept motto is: have fun, do work we’re proud of, and get home on time.
What’s your favourite newspaper this morning?
We’ve just got our copies of Things Our Friends Have Faved On The Internet 2014 through the post. It’’s the follow up to Things Our Friends Have Written On The Internet 2008, both designed by Ben Terrett. But because no-one blogs anymore, it’s a collection of faves and likes collected through Stellar.
This is exciting because it’s the first paper that we’re selling directly to customers, printed on demand and sold through The Newsagent on our site. So while it’s a great paper, it’s also a test, designed to flush out any oddities with our print-on-demand process. We’re going to be we’re offering this service to everyone over the next few weeks, so we need to make sure it’s really solid.
The Newspaper Club partners with newspaper printers to use downtime on their presses. Did printers welcome your concept with open arms or did they take a while to win over?
It definitely took some time to get them warmed up to the idea, but now we have, we’ve got a great relationship with them. And we’re no longer just using downtime – we’ve got regular slots and make up a good chunk of their work.
We’ve tried using printers in the US before, but the market seems to be really different. The quality is pretty variable, it’s quite expensive, and they’re not as receptive. That might be because so many of the newspaper presses over there are still owned by a single newspaper, and they aren’t as interested in doing other jobs. If you’re a US newspaper printer who thinks otherwise, we’d love to hear from you!
The publishing industry continues to struggle bridging print and digital, something the Newspaper Club manages effortlessly. How do you describe what you do – print, digital, something else?
Robin Sloan talks about the “flip-flop” – the act of moving something from physical to digital and back. I really like that.
We’re digital through and through. I like to think we’ve got a good website. We know how to talk like real humans online. We’ve been on Twitter for ages.
But the future is complex and weird and muddled. It’s not just going to be all glowing rectangles made of glass. People pick the right tool medium for their circumstances, and there’s advantages to each. And they want to be able to move things back and forward between them both.
You can’t wave a blog post outside a hospital that’s being threatened with closure, or leave it on the bus for someone else to pick up. And equally, you can’t share instantly share a newspaper with 10 million people for nearly free.
We’re just trying to bridge the gap a little bit. If we can make it as easy to print a newspaper as publishing a blog post, we’ll have succeeded. I’m not sure we’re not there yet, but we’re trying hard.
Who uses Newspaper Club? Do you see regular patterns and ongoing shifts in the types of publication using the service?
It’s amazing looking through through the featured papers in The Newsagent. There’s a brilliant selection of stuff: from architecture to zines and everything in between.
When we launched Newspaper Club, we had some preconceptions of the types of people who would use it. We thought we’d see portfolios and things for events, but we didn’t expect to see stuff like wedding papers, for example.
Because you can start off with just a single copy, we’re seeing lots of people give it a go and then come back for more copies when they find it’s working for them.
One of my favourites is the Bedford Clanger, a brilliant arts and culture newspaper for the Bedford area. They started with 500 copies and now print 25,000 with us! It’s brilliant that people are building little empires on top of Newspaper Club.
We’re hoping the new print-on-demand bit of The Newsagent will help with this too. Now you need no capital to start selling a newspaper, so I’m excited to see how people take advantage of that.
What are you most looking forward to this week?
We launched The Newsagent at the end of last week, so this week is going to be all about ensuring the printing runs smoothly, fixing a few small bugs and starting to scale it up.
We’ve got a bunch of publishers lined up to go live over the next few weeks, and I’ll be talking to those, getting them set up and ready to start selling their papers.
What are you least looking forward to this week?
In the rush to get the Newsagent out the door we had to cut some corners in the code that runs the site. It’s not terrible, but now we’re launched we’re going to have to pay back some of that technical dept and unpick the tangle.
What will you be doing after this chat?
Sitting down with Ralph (our designer), Frankie (our developer), and an A3 sheet of paper, to plan out some improvements to how we organise papers in The Newsagent. Making it easier for people to find the kind of papers they’re interested. Getting something like this launched is just the first step. Now the hard work begins!