Interactive Newsprint Project Puts Audio on Print
Posted: 12/13/2012  |  By: Nu Yang
You’ve heard of smartphones, but what about a smart paper? Interactive Newsprint is a collaborative project based in the U.K. that is connecting paper to the Internet by using conductive inks and a small computer chip mounted to the paper. The technology comes from a company called Novalia, which specializes in printed electronics, and researchers from three U.K. universities (Surrey, Central Lancashire, and Dundee) have been working with local community members on building a prototype.

One of the first prototypes was a print edition of the Lancashire Evening Post released last September. The issue allowed readers to press a button on the paper to play audio through wireless headphones.

According to Paul Egglestone, digital coordinator at the School of Journalism at UCLan and project lead, the audio clips provide additional content to supplement the printed news stories. For example, he said, a play button on the paper’s front page story about a press conference with Prime Minister David Cameron led to a full audio recording of the event. Another audio experiment is to have the story read aloud in a different language for international readers.

Egglestone said although this interactive experience feels and performs like print, readers also get to experience it digitally.

Another element Interactive Newsprint is working on is tracking interactions, similar to an online analytics service. Egglestone said the collected data can show how many readers pushed the play button, and how long someone listened to an audio clip — elements he said are important to advertisers and editors.

Egglestone said the project is in research mode until the end of January 2013. Meanwhile, he and his team will continue to work on a series of prototypes to address some of the challenges, such as battery life and production costs. He also wants to find a template that can be used for mass production. His next step is to work with community news site Blog Preston during his next round of prototypes to see how journalists can better utilize the product.

Egglestone said publishers are already interested in participating, but he is not able to produce on a large scale until he sees the costs.

“My big vision is for communities to build a new business around this printed model and sell in new ways and arrange editorial in new ways,” he said. “The framework first is to develop the technology and find applications for the product.”

Egglestone said what makes Interactive Newsprint unique compared to a website, tablet, or mobile experience is the reader’s ability to keep a relationship with print. “There is no way to not interact with print,” he said. “It’s about the user experience.”