Bellatrix’s Smart-Rak+ Circulation System Taps into Cashless Transactions
Posted: 3/14/2013  |  By: Nu Yang
According to a September 2012 Pew Research Center study, 45 percent of American adults own a smartphone. With this rapidly growing market, publishers are exploring new ways to reach out to their mobile audience, including how to get readers to buy print through their mobile device.

Founded in 1986, Bellatrix Systems, Inc. is a technology company based in Bend, Ore. that designs, develops, and manufactures outdoor lithium-battery-powered electronic technology for newspaper racks and single-copy sales. According to chief executive officer Steve Morris, the company helps 500 newspaper companies across the globe maintain around 400,000 electronic coin mechanisms for singlecopy newspaper-vending machines still in service.

Morris said about six years ago, Bellatrix created a Card- Trax system that allows customers to swipe a credit card at the machine to purchase a newspaper. Data is read from the customer’s credit card magnetic stripe by the Card-Trax reader and transferred to the newspaper through a secure and private line. Each transaction is also transmitted via a secure Internet link.

Gannett Publishing Services vice president of national distribution Tom Kelly said USA Today has worked with Bellatrix for 25 years and has used its services through several transitions, from coin mechanisms to credit card transactions.

Kelly said when the newspaper’s price rose to $1, the newspaper purchased 70,000 mechanisms from Bellatrix and the company was able to deliver, even with a tight deadline. He acknowledged Bellatrix as a “good partner” that provided training and “current day technology.”

Last year, Bellatrix started talks with USA Today to build a prototype that would allow customers to purchase a newspaper with their smartphone. This transaction can take place at a newspaper rack or indoor display. Called Smart-Rak+, the prototype should be ready for testing by May, Morris said.

Smart-Rak+ works via a smartphone app that reads a bar code on the newspaper rack. The Smart-Rak+ sensor communicates with the phone (without requiring additional software), completes the transaction, and opens the rack. The technology works with any smartphone.

Morris said Bellatrix is currently in discussions with Amazon to help facilitate the payment-processing end of the system. Smart-Rak+ can be set up in an already-installed Card- Trax reader to enable both credit cards and smartphones. It can also be added as a stand-alone unit on any indoor display. Morris said the primary benefit for publishers is to be able to identify who single-copy customers are and where they buy their papers. Another value is in the potential to reach younger consumers who are accustomed to purchasing items with their smartphone and rarely carry cash.

The outdoor lithium battery is a particularly attractive feature. “It has a 10-year shelf life, and it pretty much maintains itself,” Morris said. In addition to newspapers, Bellatrix’s technology has been implemented by FedEx and agricultural applications.

For more information, visit bellatrix.com.