Posted on February 25th, 2012 1 comment
I’ve been invited to participate in the latest Carnival of Journalism, a monthly blogfest in which journalists are invited to post about the same topic. This month’s question, posed by Steve Outing’s Digital News Test Kitchen, is:
“What emerging technology or digital trend do you think will have a significant impact on journalism in the year or two ahead? And how do you see it playing out in terms of application by journalists, and impact?”
Anyone who follows my user-contributed content experiments can guess my answer, but they may not guess the entire answer.
The most obvious first answer is my mind is “eBooks!” For the last year and a half I’ve run a startup called BookBrewer that makes it easy for anyone to create and publish eBooks. The eBook market has been growing at a 300% annual rate for several years now, and it’s only destined to keep up that rate if not exceed it.
The last study of sales from the International Digital Publishing Forum and Association of American Publishers showed eBook sales generating $120 million a quarter. That was 18 months ago, and since tablet ownership doubled from December 2011 and January 2012, it’s safe to assume that quarterly eBook sales are at least in the $300 million range.
I’ve been urging journalists to hop on this trend since November of 2010 (see my original post about that on this blog). I suggested a few topics that would work well as books, including multipart investigative series, stories about major events, “news you can use” and collections of columns by popular columnists.
But now thanks to Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, I have an even better suggestion. Leverage the intense interest of your local sports fans to create not just sports eBooks, but full-color Print on Demand commemorative editions. And make those available as Print on Demand titles.
Here’s the story of the Post’s Tim Tebow book. If you think about how this could be done at dozens, if not hundreds of other newspapers around the country, the amount of revenue generated could be significant. It may even save a few journalists from getting laid off.
In January, we kicked off a relationship with The Denver Post that allows them to use our services to publish eBooks and Print on Demand. They said they wanted to do something about Tim Tebow, but weren’t sure how the book would end since the Broncos’ season was still underway.
In a previous era they would have waited until the the Broncos season was over (read: the Broncos had lost their last game), and then spent a few weeks editing a book of stories about the season. They’d make a deal with a local printer to print up thousands of copies on offset presses at an average of $30,000 for the run. They’d get a bunch of boxes of books that they’d then have to sell — usually for $30 or more — and when the interest waned, they’d need to lower the price and sell the remainders at a loss.
We told them that all of that goes away with Print on Demand. We gave the Post a URL that allowed them to take money up front as a preorder. This allowed the Post editors to finish writing and editing the story, and creating a nice print layout. Their online teams promoted a splash page about the book from their web site and social media channels.
And boy, did the sales ever start to come in! The actual figures are confidential, but I’m allowed to say that the total sales now are over 2,500 — most of that for the printed book — and the Post will be getting a first check in the high thousands. Unlike in the past when the Post had to put money down which they then scurried to make up, this time they put nothing down and generated a profit from the outset.
You can see how the sales followed the remaining Broncos game schedule here:
In early February, the final PDF came over from the Post, and the first copies were shipped to customers. For those print geeks out there, they were printed on a state of the art HP T300 variable digital printer run by our print partner Frederic Printing (a division of Consolidated Graphics) at a cost to the post of a little more than $15 per copy (or around $4 profit per copy to the Post, given the $19.99 consumer price). Because the orders are printed and shipped as each order comes in, there’s no need to use more expensive offset printers that require thousands to be printed up front. That leads to a lot of cost savings, less hassle and higher overall profits.
From this experiment we’ve learned that the keys to success are:
- A topic that the newspaper knows its audience is interested in.
- Good content, either original or curated into chapters, that reads well in book form.
- Good cover design and visuals.
- High level promotion from the newspapers’ web sites and social media channels.
When all of those stars align, you end up with a great information product that makes readers happy, and also makes money.
And here’s an interesting note on the so-called “eBook revolution.” We also converted the PDFs into eBooks and distributed them to all the major eBook retailers. But for at least this book, the print sales have consistently outpaced the eBook sales by a 3 to one ratio.
Thus, the second trend is one that I never expected. Print is far from dead — it’s just going through a wardrobe change. You never know if someone will prefer an eBook or print book, but the common denominator between them both is on-demand publishing.
Posted on February 20th, 2009 No comments
I’m reposting this entry from PBS MediaShift Idea Lab. Click here to read that post and associated comments.
“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.