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The latest ain’t the greatest in new publishing models

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Printcasting.com has launched the latest in an all-out salvo to find a business model that works for media in the digital age.

It’s community-based publishing. Here’s how Printcasting describes it:

If, like us, you’ve always wanted your own publications but you didn’t have the time, technical expertise or talent — no problem! We’ve made it as easy and fast to start a magazine as it is to start a blog…  We do this by separating apart the three primary roles  that exist in any magazine or newspaper: the publisher, the content and the advertising. Instead of one person or organization needing to be responsible for all of that, anyone can participate in any one role.

More specifically, if you’re a writer, you can have your blog’s RSS feed picked up by Printcasting as available content. If you’re a publisher, you can choose any subject  you like, pull content from people who have written about it, punch it into a template and you’re done.

You don’t have to sell any ads, according to Printcasting, because, “We’ve built an extremely simple self-serve advertising tool that makes it as easy for a small business to advertise its wares as it is to write an e-mail. Because Printcasts are niche, the ads are extremely affordable, starting at only $10 per ad.”

Printcasting is supported by a grant of more than $800,000 from The Knight Foundation, which puts a lot of money into media projects of all kinds, and which is especially interested in development of new media models. But that doesn’t mean it’s an idea that’s going to fly.

I’ve said to a lot of people, since the day I first tried to sell content online (1996), that if the Internet is going to prove one thing over time, it’s that people need editors. At the most basic level, that’s what Printcasting is all about. It’s about giving would-be editors the opportunity to practice their craft: identifying content around a theme, pick the best of it and packaging it for like-minded souls.

Here’s what’s wrong with it:

  1. The content is just repackaged from stuff that’s already available if anyone is actually looking for it.
  2. Being able to amass enough credible content to empower the would-be publisher of super-niche topics will be an obstacle.
  3. Printcasting’s view of what publishing is all about is simply wrong. Stating that there are 3 roles to a magazine — content, publisher and advertising — is like saying the principal components of water are ice and a heat source. In Printcasting’s world, audience doesn’t matter; publishing becomes a vanity that is all about picking up someone else’s words, plunking it into someone else’s template, running a few ads (maybe) that someone else sold, and getting to put your name on top of the masthead. The website says it benefits publisher, writer and advertiser alike. But that’s only if a large number of players in all three groups play their roles exceptionally well.
  4. And speaking of advertising, the message I’m getting here is that the problem with advertising is that it’s been too expensive and too hard to buy. So if you can knock down the price to almost nothing and make it self-service, businesses that have never advertised before will suddenly start. Nobody who has actually inhabited the world of advertisers — large or small — could actually believe this.
    Especially if the products they have to choose from are a bunch of magazines that haven’t been through the painful and fundamental process of creating an audience and demonstrating its desire for a publication.
  5. And finally, the ad rate is fixed, no matter how many or how few copies of a publication get printed. That’s a contradiction that can’t be overcome: Publishers need to develop an audience to prove the publication is wanted and read; but they have every incentive to print as few copies as possible, because they can’t recover printing expenses with an increased  rate base.

There is some nuance here. Printcasting could add value — as The New York Times describes it — at the hyperlocal level where a more traditional publication could never offset its costs. The local softball league, for instance, could have its own publication.

But is this new? Or is this just a slicker package around the same  newsletter that the softball league already publishes — with sponsor ads from local bars and the guy who won the trophy concession.

Maybe Printcasting.com will prove viable over time. But if it does, it won’t be as a serious media model or as a meangingful marketing outlet for advertisers. At best, it will be a success in the spirit of those websites that let you design your own greeting cards. It may serve a certain purpose for a certain number of people, and it is one more interesting idea of the Internet Bubble 2.0.

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About the Author:

Bob Rosenbaum is founder and principal of The MarketFarm, a content-oriented strategic communications firm.

Comments

  1. Dan Pacheco  July 21, 2009

    Hi,

    I’m the founder of Printcasting. Interesting opinion piece, and thanks for writing about us. You did however get a few things wrong. Namely:

    – The content is not pre-packaged and readily available *in print*, as bloggers and news providers must explicitly register their content feeds (or blog on the site). We do this because printing peoples’ content without their permission would be illegal according to international copyright law. In that sense, the more content providers opt in to Printcasting (which we think they will because they will share in ad revenue), the more valuable the network becomes for everyone.

    – Printcasting ad rates are not fixed. Only the minimum is fixed (currently $10). Every publisher can mark up the ad rate when they create the Printcast, or by editing settings later. This is precisely so that they can recoup some of their printing costs as they provide more value through more printing and distribution.

    – And finally, our Knight Foundation grant is for $837,000, not $800,000.

    The rest of your post is really a strong opinion, which you’re entitled to. You do have some good points about challenges (we are funded by the Knight News Challenge afterall), and we’ll be working over the next year to tackle all of those and more that come up as we carry out this grand experiment. Thanks to the Knight Foundation we have about a year more to fine tune the features based on how people use Printcasting and what they ask for, and for that we’re grateful.

    And good idea about the sporting leagues, too. We’re hoping to try that out with kids’ soccer teams this Fall, in both Bakersfield and the Denver area.

    Feel free to come over to Printcasting.com, register your feed, make a magazine with it, print and distribute it at your local coffee shop. Then tell your local businesses that they can place an ad in 5 minutes for less than the cost of a grande mocha latte. That’s really what Printcasting is intended for. It’s extremely hyper-local and very, very grass-roots. If your blog is national or topical in nature with no local componets, Printcasting may not be the best fit for your needs. But we’re always surprised to find out how people are using it. That’s what makes it a fun project.

    – Dan Pacheco, Founder of Printcasting.com

    reply
    • Bob Rosenbaum  July 22, 2009

      Dan,
      Thanks for the note. I respect your effort and have also linked to Printcasting on my resource page — because I think there will be people who find creative uses for your platform.
      To defend my accuracy:
      I stated that the Knight Foundation grant was for “more than $800,000” — imprecise on my part, but accurate.

      More important, I did not refer to content as pre-packaged, but rather as re-packaged — which it is, since original content is offered by bloggers and the like as a way of extending their online visibility. Subjectively, I’ll be surprised to learn of any whose content gets leveraged through Printcasting users in a way that actually earns them enough to buy that grande mocha latte you mention.

      I’ll accept the slap on the wrist about the ad rates. I didn’t really misunderstand that publishers can set their own rates higher — but I did exclude that point and perhaps shouldn’t have.
      Why’d I do it? Because my experience at many levels (including my current experience working extensively with a not-for-profit hyperlocal news effort with print and online components — The Heights Observer — tells me advertisers are going to be the weak link of your model. At a national level, it’s not where they want to be; at a local and hyper-local level, even $10 is too much for self-service. I’m more in line with Kurt Anderson’s thesis — free is completely different from almost free.

      In the end Dan, we’re both playing at the same thing: a hyper-local media model that works. Printcasting could almost compete with the content management system we use if it added some editing and collaboration functions. But the real trick is covering the cost of printing. If the goal is to cover this cost with revenue from sponsors or advertisers, then I’m certain it will fail unless the publisher has someone who is willing to take the risk of knocking on doors and doing some old-fashioned belly-to-belly selling.

      reply

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