A revolution is underway in the small French town of Avesnes-sur-Helpe as publisher Sogemedia hits its stride.
Not much more than a year after a digital printing system based on Kodak's Prosper 6000C inkjet started to roll, the project is delivering hyperlocal print editions which offer new hope for the industry.
Instead of a single version of an 8000-circulation weekly, Sogemedia now offers geotargetting to advertisers and content choices to readers of its L'Observateur series of newspapers, in what president Jean Pierre de Kerraoul calls "an exciting era of personalised print".
Advertisers get distribution which is more relevant and attractive: Instead of competing with numerous car dealers in neighbouring towns, for example, a local dealer has the opportunity of making an exclusive pitch to readers in their immediate vicinity.
Readers too, can choose the components they want in their newspaper - from a standard package which includes sports and general news, they can opt to have horoscopes and lifestyle, or gardening and arts pages, with or without the sport and general news - in a choice of four options.
Behind this freedom is a dedicated print operation which trades under the name of Digitaprint, anchored by an integrated web print and finishing system built by Kodak and manroland web - which makes the FoldLine folder which is linked physically and digitally to the Prosper inkjet - installed in late 2015.
Since then there have been a variety of tests and preparations, with the first variable content being produced a year ago.
With production of Sogemedia's titles switched from an old Harris web-offset press to the new line, the number of editions has grown from 13 to 50, and that's not counting the hyperlocal, micro-editions. De Kerraoul says most readers have already indicated their content preferences, and advertisers are benefitting from better communication.
At Digitaprint, 18 staff members operating in shifts through the middle of the week are responsible for production of about 90,000 newspapers and other products, each typically between 32-40 pages.
The whole project is supported by INIgraph, which Hubert Péderand runs for a partnership of the French government's industry department and print unions, with the aim of preserving the country's print newspaper heritage.
There are risks involved - another pioneer, Walliser Bote in Switzerland, has recently reverted to offset - but the digital adventure creates opportunities and new hope in a market segment which had been shrinking.
Pictured: Jean Pierre de Kerraoul with four geotargetted editions which offer content and audience options for readers and advertisers
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