Richmond Company at the Fore of Digital Newspapers

A screen grab from PressReader.

PressReader is the market leader for online news content, serving more than 12,000 libraries, hotels, airlines, corporations and cruise ships. Now it plans to target consumers directly

When Sylvia Buss, the deputy chief librarian for New Westminster, went looking for material that new immigrants might like to use from the library, she hunted down books on learning English, children’s stories, software and literacy manuals.

The trainers she was working with were sort of interested in all that. But the thing that made their eyes really light up was a feature on the library website called PressDisplay. That online gadget allowed people to read newspapers from around the world, in their own languages, and see the newspaper exactly as it appeared, page by page. “They loved that,” says Buss.

But there was something that surprised her even more. When a group of people from the company that produces PressDisplay showed up to do a demonstration of a new app at the library two months ago, she discovered that the company—which serves 12,000 libraries, hotels, airlines and cruise ships around the world—was born in and continues to operate only a few kilometres away in Richmond.

“We had no idea,” says Buss, who is a huge fan of the app herself, frequently downloading entire newspapers to read later in the day.

PressDisplay is one piece of a company now called PressReader (also known, somewhat confusingly, as NewspaperDirect until last year) that is a mostly secret local success story. The company started as NewspaperDirect in 1999, printing individual copies of newspapers. In 2003, Gruntsev and two other of the company’s employees helped the original founder build on that with a digital arm. Today it provides the technology for publications such as The Globe and Mail, the New York Times and Washington Post to create a digital version of their newspaper that looks like the print version—a popular service in hundreds of libraries around the world.

PressReader—which has 130 employees, and needs to hire 10 more right now—plans to continue growing by focusing on consumers, not just corporate customers, with its service that allows readers to have access to hundreds of publications through a single, low-cost app.

“We are working on ways so that you can consume papers any way you want,” says Alex Gruntsev, the company’s chief innovation officer.  It has developed technology so that the newspaper can be read out loud, like an audio book. It translates articles. And it has developed techniques to help readers read digital copy more easily in the way they’re used to in standard print.

If there’s any group of people who believe in the future of journalism, it’s Gruntsev and everyone else at PressReader. “”There is huge traction for this. People want quality news.”