A ‘Compact’ Nexpo Gets Personal in the Big D

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By: Mark Fitzgerald and Jim Rosenberg

Production executives and vendors returned home Tuesday and Wednesday from a Nexpo trade show held during a new season in a new city — with a new sense that big changes are coming in how newspapers will look and be marketed.

For the first time, Nexpo met not in the summer but in March, and not in one of its usual spots — Orlando or Las Vegas — but in Dallas. The change seemed to agree with vendors. At past conventions, exhibitors would constantly carp privately, and sometimes publicly, about this or that shortcoming of the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) production show. This time around, there was almost none of that.

Attendance figures were still unavailable Wednesday, but the consensus seemed to be that it was not quite what it was in Washington, D.C., last summer, but about the same as the 2003 show in Las Vegas. There was wide agreement that foot traffic was well ahead of the show’s recent nadir in New Orleans during the summer of 2002, but nowhere near the boom years of the late 1980s.

There was plenty to keep attendees buzzing.

First, Gannett Co. announced at Nexpo’s opening day, March 19, that it would switch its 36,649-circulation daily in Lafayette, Ind., The Journal and Courier, from a broadsheet to the Berliner format, a compact that is deeper than conventional tabloids and can look like a smaller broadsheet.

The announcement by the nation’s biggest newspaper chain could give exactly the kind impetus that set off the wave of conversions to tabloid or compact formats in Europe that until now had been missing among U.S. publishers. The Journal and Courier will go compact by late next summer, and there was immediate speculation that it would be a beta site for further conversions among the 100-plus Gannett papers.

Then, on Monday, The New York Times hung on hotel room doorknobs of Nexpo-goers brought news that The Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J., would convert to tabloid even sooner — by the end of next month.

NAA made big changes a theme at this Nexpo, which was held under the umbrella title Newspapers ’05, in conjunction with the association’s Connections and Marketing With Classified shows.

Seminars were devoted to the “personalized” newspaper that would target ever-smaller groups and perhaps one day deliver ad messages to a single individual in a way the Internet can do now.

“We don’t know our customers as well as we should,” Brad Robertson, vice president of business development for The Des Moines Register, said at a 90-minute session devoted to Newspaper Personalization.” “We’re not use to that, allowing the customer to talk to us.”

Out on the show floor, though, stood equipment and software ready right now to accomplish many of those targeting goals.

San Ramon, Calif.-based IPIX positioned its AdMission suite of online application as a way the local paper can beat eBay and Craigslist in its hometown market. Its features allow online editions to offer the same kind of e-commerce classified — including eBay-style bidding — while upselling advertisers from the print product.

From Saxotech’s new product for managing online advertising to Icannon Associate’s addition of an editorial system, increasing numbers of software vendors were offering systems designed to handle the digital workflow whether it involves a story on the front page or instructions to insert Kmart ads in the copies going to routes in one neighborhood but not another.

“We’re doing as much as we can mechanically, and now the thing is to get as much as we can from this,” said Prism Inc. owner Rob Weaver, as he slapped the monitors for the ControlPro inserter controls that pairs database information on customers with the ad inserts going to that household or carrier route.

At this Nexpo, mechanical devices were also making something of a comeback.

Printing-press maker Goss International and postpress and packaging giant Ferag AG captured the early buzz with their joint announcement that Goss would become Ferag’s exclusive distributor in North America. The agreement — announced with big “Goss + Ferag” signs at their sprawling booths — adds substantially to the postpress catalog of equipment Goss acquired last year as part of its purchase of Heidleberger Druckmaschinen’s web-press business.

Press maker TKS brought a flavor of Nexpo’s long ago — when big iron dominated the show floor the way Apple and Dell monitors do now — by setting up the press that it will be installing in the new plant for the Salt Lake City joint operating agency.

But even the press makers have been thinking digital, said Noel McEvoy, director of sales for Wifag. “As we move from thinking of the press as a mechanical thing — as this tons of metal — and think of it more as an output device for digital information, we are starting to move some digital into the system,” he said.

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