PaperLater: would you pay to print the internet?

16 Jun 2014

The internet is amazing: it's home to nasty trolls, silly cat photos, and the MailOnline, but it's so stuffed full of wonderful things that it's impossible to read it all.

There are -- of course -- apps to help. By letting me quickly save stories to read later, Pocket has changed my life (and I'm not prone to exaggeration). Install the bookmark in your browser and connect the app to Twitter, and with a quick click you can save the stories behind interesting links to your phone to read offline later, such as when commuting or bored waiting for someone.

Now, PaperLater has taken this a step further. Your saved stories are printed on actual newsprint, which is delivered to your door like your own personal newspaper. It's printing the internet.

While I'm not one of those people who deride ebooks because they're digital and not bound up in paper with a pretty font, there is something quite lovely about having your own printed copy.

There's three issues -- pun intended -- with PaperLater, however, that (for me) make a free send-to-phone app more appealing.
Bad timing
I ordered my PaperLater issue last Wednesday, filling it with stories I'd recently loaded into my Pocket account so I could compare the two services.

My first issue arrived this morning, which is within the three to five day delivery range PaperLater promises, but problematic: I've already read all the stories. Five days is a long time on the internet, and a long time to wait to read something, and it turns out I'm impatient.

Of course, PaperLater isn't racing Pocket; it's assumed you're willing to wait a few days to read offline. I'd happily wait overnight; if I could order an issue Friday morning and have it on my doorstep Saturday or even Sunday morning, I'd be willing to pay.

The service only just launched, so will likely get faster, but ordering one on Monday to arrive for the weekend doesn't have the same appeal. When I wake up groggy on a Saturday morning, I want to read about everything I missed the previous week -- not the week before that.
High price
At £4.99, the 24-page newspaper is expensive. Yes, it's a bespoke print job, but the design is automatically generated. The covers are a pretty grid patchwork, and the copy is nicely laid out, but pasting text into templates, printing the pages on flimsy newsprint and mailing them can't cost anywhere near a fiver.

That's more than most books, and only a pound less than a copy of PC Pro -- this month's issue has 146 pages, and (ads aside) is entirely original content that you can't get elsewhere. Indeed, PaperLater's not paying publishers for a license to print their stories. (Whether it should or not is an interesting debate, and the company lets publishers ask for their content not to be included.)

Pocket, meanwhile, lets me get all the same stories for free. And free is my favourite price.
Formatting
PaperLater does look lovely. However, the very fact it's print means you lose out a little bit -- links are obviously broken, for example.

That's no surprise, but each story only gets one photo -- a shame for stories with multiple images, though understandable for printing costs -- and many of the photos aren't high-enough resolution to look right in print. I've paid for pixelation. Perhaps there's a way for PaperLater's system to limit pictures to a size they look nice at, and run multiple smaller ones rather than one large pixelated one.


On the other hand,  a nice, consistent font makes so-called listicles much less hideous to read, and gives everything an air of quality.


None of these points are dealbreakers, and the service is still in beta, but for £4.99, it'd be nice to have the little details considered.
Intriguing idea
As it stands, my offline reading will stay on my phone, but I'm intrigued by the idea of PaperLater.

Offer me a monthly subscription for £10 and let me get weekend delivery if I order by a certain time on Friday, and you have my attention and very possibly my credit card details. I spend enough time staring at a screen (such as right now, as I type this) that I'd pay to give my eyes a rest.

PaperLater also has potential for gifts. Collate a selection of travel articles for someone going on a trip, or a collection of cheerful pieces for an ill friend who can't leave the house, or gather up your favourite short stories for someone you have your eye on -- it's like a mixtape for readers.

Or, it could be a quick and easy way to make portfolios. Hand one to me in an interview for a writing job, and you'll have my attention.

The most intriguing use for PaperLater could be newspapers themselves. As someone parked in front of a computer day in and day out, I don't bother to pick up a newspaper in the morning during the week; I have more up-to-date information in my Twitter feed. Saturday morning is a different story: imagine if you could save stories from your newspaper of choice throughout the week, and get them delivered to your door on Saturday morning? It could also fill out its pages with a few automated picks from subjects you choose or those it learns you like -- the latest football scores or film reviews, or your favourite columnist, for example.

I'd rather pay £2 for a personalised Guardian to my door on the weekend than have to get out of bed for one that's full of stories I'm not going to read anyway. So while PaperLater might not kill my Pocket use, the company's slogan may well be right: print's not dead.

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