Posted on April 20th, 2010 No comments
About two years ago, I wrote up an idea for how to leverage standardized Web content to create locally-targeted publications with less time, money and software than ever before. The technology and content would be digital, but the output would be optimized for physical distribution as printable PDF magazines. That concept became Printcasting and it earned us a Knight News Challenge grant.
We’re still extremely busy with Printcasting and are working on multiple tracks over the next six weeks before our grant ends. We’re finishing up version 2.0 of the Printcasting system on Drupal 6 and preparing to open-source everything, including the Drupal 5 version that powers the existing site. And we’re also helping partners, such as Temple University’s Philadelphia Neighborhoods in Philadelphia, which just printed 500 copies of its Printcasts and distributed them to the urban neighborhoods it serves. (Read more about what they’re up to here).
We’re starting FeedBrewer out with a small bootstrap team, with me as the CEO, Printcasting designer Don Hajicek as the COO, and Drupal developer Andy Lasda as CTO. Learn more about FeedBrewer and its mission.
In addition to maintaining the free Printcasting.com service, which has been acquired from The Bakersfield Californian by FeedBrewer Inc. in exchange for an equity stake, FeedBrewer will expand Printcasting’s democratized-publishing approach to apply to more than just print. We’ll be adding additional outputs for smartphones, starting with the iPhone and Blackberry, and tablet computers, including Apple’s new iPad.
The FeedBrewer Approach
FeedBrewer is a publishing approach that works with almost any standards-based online publishing system. It can best be described as Publish Once, Distribute Everywhere:
What exactly does that mean? Here’s what we say on the FeedBrewer.com home page.
“FeedBrewer is a one-stop shop for designing, publishing and distributing your content on multiple platforms — including e-readers, mobile devices, e-mail and printable PDF magazines. You can even use it to redesign parts of your existing Web site. You don’t need to change how you publish content now to use FeedBrewer. Simply provide the RSS feed from your blogging tool or content management system, choose a design scheme, and we’ll do the rest.”
In other words, by simply providing an RSS feed and checking off some boxes for the outputs you want, FeedBrewer will let anyone become a multi-platform publisher in just five minutes.
Rethinking Print as Mobile Content
Sounds a lot like Printcasting, doesn’t it? It should, because we’re simply expanding the concept of print publishing to portable publishing. In our new thinking, printable content is subsumed under the mobile meme. That may sound like a stretch to some, but it makes sense if you think of print as the original mobile / portable format.
In addition, Printcasts already work on mobile devices that display PDFS, such as the iPhone and iPad. They’re purely digital products that exist solely in The Cloud up until someone decides to send them to a printer or view them on a mobile device.
To prove this point, here’s a picture of a Printcast on an iPad, which I brought up by going to Printcasting.com, clicking into a microsite, and clicking a “Download PDF” button. You have the same experience whether you look at the publication on a tablet like this, or by reading it on paper.
FeedBrewer will use many of the same Drupal modules we created for Printcasting for feed aggregation and designed output. We will simply build additional FeedBrewer modules that can plug into a basic Printcasting installation that will enable output for different mobile devices.
The fact that we can do this speaks to the highly-structured nature of the new Printcasting 2.0 system on Drupal 6 which, once open-sourced, will be able to be used by anyone in this way. We know that we will be one of many different parties using the opens-source Printcasting tools, and as the maintainer of those modules we look forward to seeing what other developers can do with them.
Our Business Model
Since FeedBrewer will be for-profit and no longer grant-funded, its business model will rely on paid services. Starting June 1, we will begin building customized installations of Printcasting and, eventually, FeedBrewer for premium customers. (Interested parties can send us a note via our contact page). But please note that we do plan to continue to maintain free services on Printcasting.com, and eventually FeedBrewer.com. At a future date, we will begin to offer paid upsells for a monthly fee.
This new “software as a service” approach is a departure from our experimental business model for Printcasting, which relied on taking a cut of self-serve advertising revenue. While we will continue to experiment with new advertising revenue models, we see more near-term potential in providing value-added services to publishers who are trying to publish in an increasing number of channels with limited or shrinking resources. They will be able to monetize their publications using their existing ad networks, which is what Printcasting partners have been asking us to do from the beginning.
On the financial front, we are also beginning to reach out to investors. Anyone interested in being a financial partner in FeedBrewer’s future can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, through our contact page, or by phone at (303) 945-3827.
Looking Ahead, and a Big “Thank You”
What’s next? We will begin building out the FeedBrewer tools in June and hope to begin alpha testing this summer. You can enter your e-mail address into this form to be notified as soon as our alpha is ready. And you can stay up to date by subscribing to our blog and Twitter feed.
I would also like to send out a huge Thank You to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, whose initial funding of Printcasting made future things possible — including our new company, but also many other projects that will use the Printcasting code in the future. We recognize the role that philanthropy played in our development, and while we will operate as a for-profit company we feel our future mission is still very much in line with the goals of the Knight News Challenge. Our objective always has been, and will continue to be, to preserve the news and information function of local communities. Mobile is an increasingly important part of that.
We’re also thrilled that we’ll still be able to work with The Bakersfield Californian, where I started Printcasting in my previous role as Senior Manager of Digital Products. In addition to being a shareholder in FeedBrewer, the Californian is also signing on as our first paying customer. In my six year as a Californian employee, I’ve been privileged to be allowed to play a critical role in its evolution from a single-product, print-centric newspaper to a multi-platform cross-media information company. My hope is that through FeedBrewer, we can help them and others in the next big transition to portable “anywhere” content.
Posted on April 19th, 2010 No comments
A couple months ago, Printcasting struck a partnership with a visionary hyperlocal journalism site called PhiladelphiaNeighborhoods.com. Managed by the Temple University’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab, it uses college seniors in Temple’s journalism program to report on 25 neighborhoods that are largely ignored by mainstream media, apart from the occasional crime story.
After several years of operation, the lab realized that members of these communities weren’t reading the online stories as much as they wanted them to.
The Philly Neighborhoods team discovered Printcasting and began feeding select stories into the system to create targeted magazines. They then took the additional step of printing and distributing a few hundred copies in community centers and libraries.
The initial feedback from the communities has been extremely positive, and also surprising to the Philadelphia Neighborhoods staff. They immediately received calls from people who had read the first editions and wanted to know how they could get more copies. And perhaps even more interesting, some people asked how much additional copies would cost. The Temple staff didn’t charge for copies and doesn’t intend to, but the mere presence of this question is an indication of the value people place on hyperlocal printed products.
Co-director Christopher Harper also told me that the student-run staff was surprised to get such immediate feedback. Residents knew that Philadelphia Neighborhoods reporters were in their communities shooting videos and making interviews, but he said they didn’t quite realize the content was intended for them, rather than simply being about them.
As students Anna Hyclak and Sherri Hospedales wrote about on their blog,
“Because of the lack of news coverage in the area, everyone we talked to while distributing Printcasting newspapers of our work in this class seemed very excited to see finally see the word ‘Mantua’ in print. Libraries and community centers were eager to display the newspapers, and people we passed kept asking for copies. They would then stop to read the paper right then and there.
We were surprised, because we didn’t expect such a strong and immediate reaction – but I think the people in the neighborhood were even more surprised than we were. Though they’ve seen us around, taking notes and conducting interviews and shooting video, I don’t think they ever realized that we were trying to produce content for them, not for ourselves. Perhaps this will be the start of a new news-gathering tradition in Mantua.”
My own take on this is that by seeing its own printed newsletter with the name of the community right at the top, residents feel a sense of pride and ownership of the paper, and they more closely relate to the content and brand. The Printcast makes content that was previously available online seem more relevant to where they live.
Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Philadelphia Neighborhoods and learn more about their program.
The next step, says Harper, is to get Temple students to start creating their own niche publications using content from the individual reporter blogs they’re required to keep as part of the program. This has the potential for even more high-touch hyperlocal coverage.
Another piece of promising feedback came from the printer Temple uses. After printing the first editions, the printer asked about how easy Printcasting was to use. “Do you think that this is something other clients might find useful? We often have questions from people who do not have access to designers or design software,” wrote the printer. I’ve heard this from other printers as well, so maybe there’s a larger opportunity there.
I can’t overstate how thrilled we are about how well things are going with PhiladelphiaNeighborhoods.com. It’s exactly the kind of test site we always hoped for. But we’re not done yet. We have one more local partnership slot to fill before our grant ends. If you have a good idea for a local community that could benefit from Printcasting, please contact me and let me know how you plan to use it. Your experience and feedback will ultimately feed back into the tools that we open source in June.