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:
- The content is just repackaged from stuff that’s already available if anyone is actually looking for it.
- Being able to amass enough credible content to empower the would-be publisher of super-niche topics will be an obstacle.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.