The Future's Newspaper Rack Is Here
The digital revolution is finally coming to the newspaper rack.
Next week, about a dozen retailers in South Bend, Ind., will see the traditional, single-copy sales racks for The South Bend Tribune replaced by backlit, wood-framed units over five feet tall, crowned with a 9-X-16-inch digital display. That screen will run a combination of the newspaper’s headlines, tweets, live radar, video and other content, punctuated by advertisements.
RedPost itself launched in 2007 as a software company that evolved into running its own digital display network. For its part, it saw the partnership benefits of tapping into Schurz’s sales and marketing resources with the new endeavor. Schurz, in turn, found a partner that had already built a software foundation to upload content into the displays, and the media company now holds a minority ownership stake in RedPost.
If Oslund and Kanagy have their way, the RedPost racks, built from the earliest prototypes in Oslund’s garage, will rapidly expand from their South Bend beta test into wide adoption at indoor retail spaces across the country. The RedPost racks would replace the industry’s old metal wire racks with a kiosk that’s endlessly updating in real time, promoting content elements from inside the paper along with updates and social feeds from its newsroom, not to mention a new slate of ad units.
And if the racks take off, an ad network is in the offing, too.
To one who sees the RedPost for the first time, the juxtaposition of old and new media can be incongruous. After all, the rack’s digital element is essentially promoting sales of a print product that publishers now widely acknowledge has no clear expiration date, despite earlier predictions of print’s imminent demise.
“We’re literally building a digital product on top of the legacy product,” Oslund says.
If that digital product takes off, it could mean yet another new revenue stream for publishers – the new digital ad units – in what is essentially becoming newspapers’ reconstruction era. It could also give a demonstrable, quantifiable lift to single-copy sales, as well as send an important daily message to both consumers and the merchants housing the racks: Newspapers have stepped squarely into the 21st century now all the way down to the retail level.
To ease the transition into retailers, Oslund and Kanagy designed the inside-only RedPosts to have the same footprint as older newspaper racks. The 50-pound units are 65 inches tall and 15-by-15 inches wide and deep and they’re modular, so they can go two or three racks wide if merchants want to sell a higher volume of papers. A simple plug powers the RedPost, which Oslund says won’t be a problem for retailers already well equipped with outlets for coolers (in fact, many of the first beta retailers have upgraded placement of the racks in their stores to a more optimal in-store position, he notes).
The display is vertical, “like a poster,” Oslund says, and receives content via a 3G or 4G network directly from a newsroom. There are no buttons on the unit.
On the back end, “the screen itself is running inside Firefox,” Kanagy says, “so it’s one big webpage.”
That webpage is controlled through what Kanagy describes as a simple, self-service software dashboard and can integrate with different sources – from a paper’s content management system to Twitter or Vine, for instance, via APIs. That software’s complexity will evolve as RedPost scales, he says.
But even now, Oslund notes, the programming can be customized to each individual RedPost, allowing advertisers to target individual retailers or parts of a market.
Very early testing has shown that live weather radar is particularly engaging for shoppers, he says. But he also sees headline promotion, section content teasers and even items like winning lottery numbers and hospital emergency room wait times as strong potential content.
While the RedPost can run video – and Oslund says short Vine posts are a particularly good fit – the two elected not to have an audio component. It’s too annoying for the merchants, given that they recommend the best programming for the RedPost as a two-minute content loop with eight-second advertisements, a prescription that comes out of the average three-minute visit to convenience stores, where all of the initial units will drop.