Professor Detlef Schoder is known to me since years as one of the most active German researchers on mass customization. But he also is an entrepreneur and one of the driving forces behind the idea of a mass customized newspaper – a newspaper that is daily personalized according to each individual reader's personal taste and preferences. His company Medieninnovation.com provides technology and consultancy for custom publishing solutions. In this interview, he reflects about today’s state and the future of custom printing.
Prof. Schoder studied business administration in Germany at the universities of Munich and Passau. He obtained both his PhD and Habilitation (Higher Doctorate) from the University of Freiburg, Germany. Professor Schoder has worked not only in Germany, but also in the U.S.A., Republic of Kazakhstan, and Japan. He was an invited visiting scholar at Stanford University, MIT, and the University of California, Berkeley. In 2003 he became Head of the Department of Information Systems and Information Management at the University of Cologne, Germany.
His teaching, research, and project management focus on the economics and management of telecommunications in organizations, especially electronic commerce/electronic business, mass customization, peer-to-peer, ubiquitous computing, and new media management. In the mid 1990’s, he conducted one of Europe’s largest empirical studies on web-based electronic commerce. In addition, he in an adviser for electronic commerce to the German Parliament and consults the European Commission on research projects conducted under Information Society Technologies Framework Programme. Detlef Schoder holds a patent for “an individualized printed newspaper” (WO03052648).
Detlef, can you share a bit about your activities in this custom publishing business?
Our new cross-media product improo provides a synthesis between online and offline world. improo contains articles from high-quality newspapers, which are purchased for reuse, notifications from agencies and contents from our own editorial staff. Furthermore it includes internet elements, e.g. newsgroup messages, RSS feeds and blogs. New qualities are generated through calendar, forecasts and other information, which the reader can customize and add to his newspaper.
How is this idea different to the customized online versions of, for example, The Wall Street Journal?
First of all, improo is not restricted to an online version, but it is delivered as a real printed newspaper (which customers can take everywhere they want). improo provides information taken from many different sources, e.g. high-quality newspapers (like Financial Times, Wall Street Journal), Weblogs, professional journals, or information service providers (like market letter, newsgroups or notifications from eBay or Amazon). At the same time, a customized edition contains only information which meets each individual reader’s demands.
But why do customers want a personalized newspaper? Is not the element of surprise a major part of the enjoyment of reading the morning paper?
Most people are reading always the same sections of their usual newspaper. Day by day, they are overstrained by information overloads and spend a lot of time for filtering and seeking for the right information. Therefore improo saves time and fits the more individualized lifestyle of today’s modern society where people have several very special interests and hobbies. Furthermore improo still contains “surprising” breaking news and some kind of serendipity for this reason. And imagine, if you have much more news likely closer to your interests, or to the interest of your peer group, than -- I believe -- you will have much more surprising news and effects than a general newspaper can usually provide.
Who could benefit from your innovation improo besides the reader?
There is a clear business case. Not only our own studies, but other studies as well predict a market size of several hundred million Euros just in the German-language region. So anyone interested in becoming part of this great venture is invited to approach me for a joint realization :-)
This sounds like a perfect long-tail-application. Given these advantages, why do we not all read a custom paper already? I believe the technology is not the main hurdle anymore.
Technology is only one hurdle besides consumer acceptance and investment barriers. The improo system is a complex one which has to be developed especially for this purpose. Yet there is no product or system comparable to this. Although consumer demand has been approved by a representative survey, such an innovative product requires rethinking and open mindedness. But since people are getting used to customization through customizable internet online portals and news aggregation services, there is already a lot of acceptance. Actually many people already read customized news and retrieve specialty information via internet. A printed individualized newspaper is just the next evident step.
How do media companies and publishing houses react if you discuss your ideas with them?
In several discussions we discovered a wide interest in our individualized news paper. Especially traditional publishing houses suffer from shrinking markets and competition with e-medias. For them improo offers a chance to modernize their business and revive the media industry. However, it is a risky step to try this innovation and – so far- they do not want to take the risk. Others will…
Are there any other good examples of mass customization in the publishing industry?
First approaches to mass customization can be seen in regional/local editions and in books printed on demand. Also, direct mailings often include customized brochures or booklets. Customization in the internet (electronic editions of newspapers) is also common. But there is no publisher who customizes a printed newspaper for individual readers and delivers it to their homes.
Do you see any upcoming trends with regard to new players, technologies, markets, etc. of mass customization in the publishing industry?
As mass customization becomes more popular, new forms emerge, building especially on customer integrated innovation like user generated content. There is a strong demand for localized, specialized and individualized content with high editorial quality and augmented information with additional value like personal market letters or shopping assistants. There is also a new need for intelligent news aggregation. Just think of several millions of blogs out there. Even if only a fraction has high quality content, you still need filtering and customization to read the best and create a high quality of time spent with news.
Your role in the mass customization community is unique as your main job is that of a professor at one of Germany's leading business schools. So how can you connect your professional activities with your academic research? Can you share any recent results of your academic studies?
Yes, of course. The idea to create such a media innovation resulted from my academic research. Also many students and university staff members contributed to the project. Academic and business contacts combine well and I was able to build up a wide network in the areas of publishing, media and mass customization. The research primarily focuses on the acceptance and explanation of mass customized goods. It is evident that users have to invest time, money, and cognitive efforts.
On the other hand there are clear advantages of mass customized products over standard products. We develop integrated models which explain customer behavior and allow for extrapolation of usage patterns. All this is based on large scale empirical surveys and latest multivariate statistical procedures. Thus, academic insight as well as our market research not only advances science but also help to shape market communications and the effective introduction of such a disruptive innovation in the mass market of printed media.
In general, based on your experience both in practice and research, what questions should managers ask themselves when considering to enter the mass customization market?
Is the product suitable for mass customization? Do customers want and understand the value of mass customization? Is the market ready for such an innovation?
Is there a clear benefit of customization which is more than worth the effort? I think this is a crucial question managers should have an answer. Usually, only a market test campaign (piloting) can reveal the answer!
To conclude: What is, in general, the greatest mass customization offering ever – either one that is already existing or that you would like to get in the future?
This should come at no surprise: A mass customized newspaper. As we hold a bunch of patents in this field, we are at the heart of mass customized printed news. I am very optimistic to hold this innovation one day in my hands!
Contact: Universität zu Köln, Seminar für Wirtschaftsinformatik, insbesondere Informationsmanagement, Pohligstr. 1, 50969 Köln, Germany. Tel.: +49 (0)221-470-5325. E-Mail: Schoder@wim.uni-koeln.de
Information on the mass customized newspaper is available at www.medieninnovation.com