High concept

USA Today, beware! Hot-off-the-printer news from home may soon become as commonplace as minibars at hotels around the world.

That, anyway, is the vision of NewspaperDirect Inc., of Vancouver. The company's founders -- CEO Miljenko Horvat, a former investment banker; and board members Anatoly Karachinsky, a Russian entrepreneur; and Esther Dyson, the new-economy guru -- got the idea from personal experience. They missed reading their hometown newspapers while they were traveling and figured others must feel the same way. The question was how to sidestep the exorbitant cost of sending traditional papers across the country and overseas.

The trio turned to the Internet. First they developed software that could format and print digital editions of newspapers and track the editions being accessed. Then they signed up 80 publications -- from the Wall Street Journal to Spain's El Pais -- to participate. The company sells its service to high-end hotels like the Four Seasons, as well as to cruise lines and corporations interested in international news.

Customers purchase NewspaperDirect software and install it on high-speed laser printers, allowing them to print any of the company's 80 papers on demand. When, say, a guest at a participating hotel asks for a foreign paper during her stay, the hotel simply prints it out and delivers it to her room. The hotel may include the paper as a complimentary amenity, or it may charge a $2 or $3 fee for the service. NewspaperDirect pays a royalty to the paper each time an edition is printed.

NewspaperDirect was offered by a few hotel chains and some corporations in early 2000, but Horvat says he's just getting started. "The scale we're talking about is ubiquity," he says. "Any newsstand in the world will have a MasterCard and a Visa logo, and also a NewspaperDirect logo."



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