“Watch Dan Pacheco’s Printcasting developments closely. My read: This project attempts to cut cost, waste and inflexibility out of producing printed periodicals, while adding customization and speed to market for publishers of most any scale. I don’t know if it will work — Pacheco doesn’t either, I’d guess. But it represents a creative, logical and valiant effort, with realistic chances of success.”
And later …
“I imagine, therefore, that Pacheco’s experiments and others like them may favor new entrants to local economies for printed news and information. Incumbent holding companies might be able to free up funds for capital investment by consolidating printing if they are fortunate enough to have local newspapers clustered geographically in ways that would support regional printing centers. One press rolling off 10 newspapers in a 100-mile radius saves money vs. 10 presses, or even five, printing the same titles. That short-term efficiency might release funds to invest in digital printing that could, eventually, replace even the remaining central press.”
I’m reposting my comments on Jay’s blog entry here, as I think they speak to how Printcasting is primarily about preserving the news and information function of local communities in a sustainable way. Our use of print (or more accurately, printable content) supports that goal, but we’re not intentionally trying to “save print.”
The reality is that the future of print is digital, and there’s no reason to print every single publication people create. We do want to print and distribute the highest-quality publications that come out the other end of this grand experiment, and only where the potential for ad revenue is higher than what those editions could receive from online self-serve ad revenue alone. This approach turns traditional print business model upside down, and also inside out thanks to the way it invites collaboration with people in the local community.
Here are my reposted comments, with a few additions:
I indeed do not claim to know 100% that the Printcasting experiment as currently defined will work exactly the way we except, but thanks to the Knight Foundation (which funds the project via the Knight News Challenge), we will have 15 months after launching to tweak things based on local community response. We will learn a lot during that time, make changes where we need to and end up with something that is more than just a theory, and hopefully a big success. For the record, I do believe it will be a big success — I just can’t point to anything that proves it will be. That’s the nature of innovation. It all comes down to making intelligent bets and staying flexible.
Our objective is not so much to “save print” as it is to find new, sustainable ways to meet the news and information needs of local communities — beginning in Bakersfield, but ultimately serving many different local communities.
Our idea for Printcasting came out of our experience in Bakersfield of creating multiple niche-focused social networking sites. We noticed that the brands that had a lot of user-generated content and printed magazines that locally distributed that content attracted more ad revenue than the sites that had less user-generated content and no print component.
As the business model supporting the general-interest printed product (the daily newspaper) began to crumble, while the business for niche digital-print hybrid products remained steady or increased, we asked ourselves, “what would need to happen in order for this new niche model to replace what we’re losing in the general-interest space?” The answer was that we needed not just a handful of niche sites and magazines, but hundreds or thousands, all in a network that was supported by affordable self-serve advertising. We then submitted that idea to the Knight News Challenge, got funding and got to work.
I also want to point out that we’re not assuming that all delivery of Printcasting publications needs to be via physical printing. And since the focus of our product is democratized publishing, where anyone can be a magazine publisher, we also don’t want that. As with blogs and any type of user-generated content, there will be a wide range of quality and we will only invest in printing those that merit printing. Does this assume that a large quantity will be of low quality? Most likely, yes. Look at the blogosphere. Most of what’s out there isn’t up to the quality standards we expect from The New York Times, but it does have its fans who are willing to apply a different quality standard in exchange for getting the niche information they don’t get from their newspaper.
Another theory we will be testing out is what I think of as the “American Idol” approach to print publishing. After a few months of outreach, we anticipate having a hundred or more Printcasts out there. Most will be subscribed to online so that readers who want to be informed receive an update in e-mail about new editions. They can read the content online — in HTML form as well as in a “pageflip” view of the PDF — or download and print the magazine on their home printers.
We will track each Printcast’s online traffic and PDF downloads, as well as reader ratings, and use that information to identify high-quality citizen publications that we think could attract even more advertising revenue if they were printed in larger quantities and locally distributed.
Here’s just one example of how this may play out. Numerous people at the Californian over the years have suggested creating a local wine publication, but creating that ourselves would be risky. It would take a lot of up-front investment in design, planning, sales outreach and content creation, and it may take many years for such a publication to break even. It could also fail.
With Printcasting, we’d reduce our risk and increase audience engagement by partnering with the community to generate a great new local wine magazine. We know there are people in town who know far more about wine than we do, and some are already blogging about it. Others — such as local wine shops — could write wine columns in their sleep, but they may not be doing it yet because they don’t have an online audience to make it worth their while. We’d reach out to all of these people and get them to register their content (or post it on Printcasting.com), then in 5 minutes make a self-updating wine Printcast that features their content. Others may come along and create their own Printcasts about wine, or use the wine reviews in Printcasts with a slightly different focus. We may print a few thousand copies of our wine Printcast, or possibly even a citizen-produced version, and place additional pages of ads in it.
Meanwhile, the vast majority of other Printcasts may have a good online following of people who print copies from home, and those Printcasts will be supported by self-serve ad revenue alone. Each will each make a little money and reach only a handful of people, and that will work just great for their publishers and readers who are currently getting no compensation for their online content.
Some topics may be so niche that we would never, ever want to invest in printing them ourselves. But no matter — the community is full of people with home printers, and they can use their $60 ink cartridges to print them out if it’s worth it to them. I should also point out that the Printcasting network will take a small portion (around 10%) of ad revenue from all Printcasts to support this activity, so it will be in our interest to foster wide adoption of mostly-digital subscriptions.
The revenue from the self-serve ads as well as the additional ads we sell would be shared with those bloggers. Why do that? We want them to continue contributing high-quality content, and letting them share in the rewards is one way to motivate them. But it will also cost far less to share a portion of ad revenue than it would to hire a writer or two or three to write about those topics — let alone a publication designer, dedicated salesperson, and so on.
As you can see, while we will be using the print medium in some cases, this model is completely different from how print-based media businesses operate today. It merges the best of the Web with the best of print, and throws out all the inefficiency and waste.
I also hope that Printcasting will remove once and for all the artificial, largely institutional barriers that exist between “the print side” and “the online side” at most newspapers. In the Printcasting model, all content originates online, and flows into print where the ad revenue can support it. If not, the content is still printable by millions of home printers where readers think it’s worth the cost. The dividing line between print and online departments, not to mention staff and community, will become very difficult to discern — as it should be. Then we can all get along with the business of serving new audiences, collaborating with them and supporting our efforts with shared revenue.