We’re underway with alpha testing for Printcasting, our Knight News Challenge-funded project at The Bakersfield Californian. It’s great to see everything coming together! The alpha period will give us feedback on how well we’ve done in presenting the basic functionality of the product. But even if every single thing about Printcasting is perfect, that won’t mean it will be embraced. The secret sauce for all online self-expression is inspiration — why would you want to become a Printcaster, anyway?

Getting people to try a new online product is an uphill battle, given how many web sites and social media tools are competing for our attention. To improve your odds, you need to have a clear idea of who you think will use your product and why. Printcasting is a complicated product because it aims to “unbundle” a number of roles that exist in traditional media. So in order to be successful, we need to attract multiple audiences, each with a different motivation.

The first people we’ll pursue are what we call the Contributors. These are the people and organizations that create original content in the community on their blogs and web sites. We want them to put their content in the “hopper” for use in Printcasts that will be dreamed up by local Publishers (more on this in a minute). Because the Printcasting model aims to share revenue with Contributors whose content powers successful Printcasts, one obvious motivation is money. We also hope the financial motivation will help to improve the quality of content. The Printcasts with the best, most interesting content will attract the greatest audience, so the better your content is, the more likely you are to profit from it.

Of course, Contributors are not solely motivated by money. We’re excited about the idea of getting community organizations and schools involved in Printcasting. While I’m sure they wouldn’t turn down the revenue, they also want to keep the larger community informed about what they are doing. They want distribution, and Printcasting can help them get into the local information ecosystem in a new way. To get the word out, we’ll be doing lots of presentations in the community – to schools, nonprofits, churches, volunteer organizations – and explain the benefits of being part of Printcasting.

The next group we’ll target are Publishers. These are people with a Big Idea for a new local publication. Their motivation is both creative and financial. They will pore over the content from Contributors, selecting topics and articles that fit the theme of their Printcast. Once they have selected the content and template, all the articles and pictures will automatically be turned into a PDF, suitable for online distribution or printed out for physical distribution. If they want their Printcasts to be successful, Publishers will need to think about their own marketing plan. Who would be interested in their publication? How will they recruit subscribers, and where are the best locations for physical distribution?

Last but certainly not least, we will target Advertisers, specifically smaller businesses that have a targeted customer base. We’ll provide them with an easy, low-tech way to create an ad online, and make the pricing simple and affordable, say $5 or $10 per ad at the start. They can select one or more Printcasts and be good to go. Their motivation is the easiest of all – they want customers! They want the phone to ring, or the customer to walk through their door, or a purchase to be made from their web site. The difficulty here is in getting the word out to them, because small business owners are notoriously busy and usually focused on serving their customers rather than thinking about marketing. So we will work through established business organizations in the community – our Small Business Development Center, local chambers of commerce and other networking groups — to tell them about this opportunity and offer hands-on training in how to get started.

OK, so let’s put this all together. Say that I am a would-be entrepreneur who is attending a training class at our local Small Business Development Center. As part of the marketing section of that class, I hear a presentation about a new local marketing opportunity called Printcasting. I love Mexican food, and after this presentation I’m inspired to look into creating a Printcast for all the people who love Mexican food in Bakersfield (and there are a lot of us!)

I go to the Printcasting site and I choose Food as the topic for my Printcast, which I call the Taquito Times. I find several Contributors whose content would be a great fit. I come across a local cook who blogs about her Mexican recipes. She heard about Printcasting through a presentation at her church. I find reviews of local Mexican restaurants first posted on Bakersfield.com. I encounter a blogger whose passion in life is trying every single chile verde dish served at a Bakersfield restaurant. And I have a few things to say about Mexican food myself, so I include my own blog in the mix, too. So far, so good.

I publish the Taquito Times and start getting the word out to my friends. I also print out a few copies of it and ask if I can leave them at my favorite Mexican restaurants, where they know me and are glad to do me this favor since I eat there all the time. A few weeks later, as I am refreshing the content in my Printcast, I see that two advertisers have created coupons that would like to have included. Of course, the dollars are small, but every new business has to start somewhere. And now that I have a little traction on this, I’m thinking of starting another Printcast about Thai food called the Curry Chronicles.

That’s how it all gets going. But it takes good old-fashioned community outreach — dare I say community organizing? — to paint the picture of all the possibilities and inspire others to become a part of it.