Posted on September 4th, 2009 2 comments
It’s always interesting to get a Google alert about how something you worked on is getting killed — especially when it’s not.
That happened yesterday when I got an alert about a story on PaidContent.org claiming that The Bakersfield Californian is shutting down its community web sites, including Bakotopia.com and The Bakersfield Voice. This was news to me, and it didn’t jibe with what I’d heard during a trip to Bakersfield a week ago. And after about 15 minutes of internal reporting I learned that it was not only inaccurate, but the exact opposite of the truth.
Just to be crystal clear, those sites and brands are not being killed, but they may be transformed in response to accelerated change.
For background: I got many of those sites off the ground starting in 2004. While I gave up management of them when I started working on Printcasting, I always feel emotionally attached to them and want to see them succeed.
It turns out that the report was based on a misinterpretation of what another Californian VP told the AIM Group. I sent the link to Logan Molen, my current boss who is also a senior VP and COO at the Californian. Here’s what he posted on his blog last night:
… Both Bakotopia.com and BakersfieldVoice.com remain at the core of a strategy we’re set to launch in the coming weeks and months that will truly – and finally — leverage the collective power of our local network of community sites and social connections.
But he also said that they are evaluating the return on investment of the associated print editions for those brands:
In deep recessions, any smart business would evaluate whether it makes sense to continue funding money-losing products, no matter the reputation. That’s why the print versions of fabled publications like Portfolio, Sporting News, TV Guide, Newsweek and others have either been shuttered or scaled back this past year.
The important thing to note there is that they’re evaluating the print editions, but no decisions have been made about them yet. And even if they were to stop printing weekly or bi-weekly magazines featuring the best content from those sites, the investment in the brands and online communities that define them remains intact.
Also, I’d like to point out that any decisions about those biweekly print editions have no bearing on what we’re doing with Printcasting, which is a “bottom-up” niche publishing engine. We’re focusing more than ever on promoting and integrating Printcasting in the Californian’s sites.
Ironically, just before I saw that PaidContent post, I’d set up a Printcast that features the latest music and movie reviews posted on Bakotopia. It’s called Bakotopia Spotlight and it may soon be promoted on the Bakotopia.com home page. You can see it here:
And earlier yesterday, we added this standing Printcasting widget to the Bakersfield.com home page:
We’re working on other local promotions for Printcasting for advertisers that will go out in the next couple weeks.
The larger lesson here is about semantics, and how different people interpret rapid change. To some, big changes are always seen as a move away from one thing and toward another, and to them that means death. In the last year, the chorus of people who talk about newspapers dying has reached shrill proportions. Their argument is overly simplistic: that people are dropping print products and moving to the Web. You can see that mentality expressed here by Paid Content, which confused a statement about two print editions possibly ending with the idea that the Web sites are being “shuttered.”
But there’s another, more accurate and much more positive way to look at this. The way the Californian delivers content from these niche brands is transforming in the heat of rapid external change.
I personally think that the concept of Printcasting makes more sense than ever in this economy. For example, if it turns out that it’s too expensive to print copies of a Bakotopia niche magazine for everyone to read (and that is a big IF), a series of Bakotopia Printcasts can be made available online with little to no ongoing effort. People could subscribe to them and print them at home, and the Bakotopia editors could still print a few hundred copies — versus a few thousand — to make available at local establishments and hand out at local events.
That’s not death, it’s metamorphosis. Let’s stop confusing the two.