Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Printcasting Launches in Bakersfield

This entry was cross-posted on PBS MediaShift Idea Lab. You can read that version here.

This week we publicly launched Printcasting in Bakersfield, California. While our focus is on outreach to the 330,000 people who live there, anyone can now use the site to create an automatically updating, printable PDF magazine. I invite you all to give it a try at http://www.printcasting.com and let us know what you think. The more early usage we have the better. One easy way to get started is to browse through a list of recently updated Printcasts and subscribe to a few.

For those of you who haven't followed the progress of our Knight News Challenge funded
project, the gist is that Printcasting lets anyone participate in niche magazine publishing, and if they do a good job they also stand to benefit from advertising revenue when we begin charging for self-serve ads. It's an admittedly radical idea to come out of a newspaper at a time when many newspapers are cutting back or shutting their doors. As a result, we're starting to attract media attention, with positive mentions in The Miami Herald and Business Week.

But that's all talk. We're launched, so now instead of telling you about it you can jump in and try it out. One fun way to do this is as a Printcasting subscriber. With the permission of Mark Glaser, we've set up a Printcast for this Idea Lab site. Check it out here:



And for members of the Printcasting Community site, here's a widget that promotes a Printcast version of this blog:



The thumbnails above comes from a special blog widget that's available for any Printcast. Click on it to flip through a facsimile of what the printed version will look like. To get a copy to print, click the Download link. And if you want to receive an e-mail whenever a new edition is available (which happens about once a day for the PBS Idea Lab blog), click "Subscribe" and provide your e-mail address.

It's also really easy to get a blog widget to promote your own Printcast, or one that you like. Just find a Printcast in the directory (or your own), then click the "Share" link at the top of the page. Copy and paste the HTML code into your blog template, and your blog or Web site promotes a printable PDF version for those who may want to print it out or read offline. When a new edition is published the thumbnail and link will update automatically.

If you have more time you can create a Printcast using feeds people have already registered, including some very good ones from The Bakersfield Californian newspaper. To get your own site's content into your Printcast or make it available for other Printcasts to carry, simply register your RSS feed. All of these tasks take only a few minutes.

You can also print a few copies yourself and leave them at local coffee shops, bars, your local library, or anywhere that people in your community may be looking for local information. That's exactly how we plan to start local promotion of Printcasting in Bakersfield, starting out with the 3,600 blogs on the Californian's eight social networking sites. In addition, those sites have more than 53,000 public user profiles, which is a good indication of active participants who may take 5 minutes out of their day to register a feed or set up a Printcast.

That's how our outreach will begin, but as with all local products, traditional street marketing is what will make Printcasting a long-term success. Our marketing evangelist Tom Webster -- armed with mouse pads and t-shirts -- is already setting up meetings with places such as the Kern County Library, which after one demo offered to let us use their computers for community training. The library's Web site also has RSS feed content, so we're showing the librarians how they can automatically feed their online content into printable flyers that people can take with them. Tom is also planning a series of blogger brunches to get bloggers on board, and also collect feedback.

Just because our initial rollout is complete doesn't mean that we're finished with development, though. This week we're testing out a feature we call "review and approve," which is akin to the copy editor telling the publisher to give a publication one last edit before it goes to the presses, and we hope to launch that very soon. We're also gearing up to work on something a journalism major like myself never expects to be involved in: integrating e-commerce payment into the ad tool. To be honest, this is something we'd hoped to have finished by now, but we intentionally put it off so that we could give the core product the focus it deserved before launch. (Since we planned to make ads free for the first few months anyway, this doesn't hold us back at all and may even make local advertiser outreach easier -- especially in this crazy economy.)

It's been a big year, and a very big week. Thanks to all of you who have followed our progress and given us suggestions, feedback and moral support. Do us a favor and post a link to your Printcasts in a comment. And as always, let us know if you have any questions or need help.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Printcasting in Business Week

Printcasting is mentioned in a Business Week story about "online experiments that could help newspapers". And the story leads with Bakotopia.com, the social networking site I started for The Bakersfield Californian back in 2005. This is fitting, as Bakotopia's later success with a printed magazine helped inspired the Printcasting concept.

The story also cites other good examples of things newspaper companies are doing to change with the times, including collaboration with Outside.in and Yahoo and the upcoming Plastic Logic e-reader.

This is great timing for us, as we recently opened our beta site to the public and are putting the final pieces in place to publicly launch in Bakersfield later this month. Here are some excerpts worth mentioning:
"... the independent, family-owned Californian is preparing to take the idea of Web-created niche magazines national. Using an $837,000 grant from the Knight News Challenge and about $200,000 of its own money, it's launching a site called Printcasting.com later in March. The site will allow individuals, schools, homeowners' associations, wine clubs, and the like to create their own digital magazines. 'If we see a magazine that really has potential, we'll print it, place additional ads in there, and distribute it, [first in Bakersfield, then in five other cities as early as this summer],' Pacheco says. The Californian will get a cut of ad sales while spending little on the product itself. 'This is cheap and targeted,' Pacheco explains. 'Even though there's an ad recession, it doesn't mean there're no more ads.' "
And later on ...
"This reinvention is taking publishers such as Bakersfield Californian away from selling ads just for their own news content. 'Our future may be very different from how we started, in newspapers,' Pacheco says. '[Going forward], we are the network that allows people to communicate among themselves.'"
That accurately sums up what we're trying to do with Printcasting. Thanks to senior writer Olga Kharif for good reporting.

Of course the real story will begin once we launch later this month and are able to point to how regular old people are using Printcasting to make their own magazines and newsletters. Our local outreach is already starting in beta, and I can tell that what people do with these tools will ultimately be far more interesting than the tools themselves. The same has been true of Bakotopia and other social-media initiatives -- connecting with people and allowing them to connect with each other is what the user-generated content space is really about.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Printcasting is in Open Beta!

I'm extremely proud to announce that Printcasting, our Knight News Challenge project, is finally in open beta. You can check it out at http://beta.printcasting.com. Or, click on the thumbnail on the right of my blog to see Danzine, the printable magazine version of Dan's Diner.

We're finishing up a few last features before we launch in Bakersfield (more on that here), but the rollout to early adopters has already begun with a post on Bakersfield.com by Tom Webster, the new "marketing evangelist" the site. Then later this month, we will "launch" -- which simply means the URL changes to remove the "beta", and heavier marketing begins.

As a Knight News Challenge project, Printcasting is focused on local news and information. For that reason, during the next few months most of our marketing efforts will focus on outreach to people who live in Bakersfield, with more to-be-determined cities rolling out in the future.

But as I've written about before, we have a lot of people following us from across the world (since I wrote that post a month ago, more than 100 more people have joined our Printcasting social network to bring its membership up to 325). So we invite anyone who has been following us to go to http://beta.printcasting.com and do any and all of the following: register your blog feeds, create Printcasts using your feeds (and those of others), and place self-serve ads. Then share your feedback by posting it online or sending an e-mail.

This is a really big milestone for a project that started over a year ago by me filling out a few forms on the Knight News Challenge site. Since then, we've gone through many iterations of PRDS, designs, prototypes, and now alpha and beta. Many people have made this possible and it's hard to list them all, but I would like to specifically thank the following:
  • The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and The Bakersfield Californian for giving us the funds and other support to make Printcasting happen.
  • Mary Lou Fulton, my boss and long-time colleague and friend for encouraging us to submit our concept to the Knight News Challenge -- and all of the great marketing and outreach ideas.
  • Justinian Hatfield, for helping us fine-tune the proposal, and lending his image and likeness -- as well as his camera and tripod -- to a video we submitted with the proposal.
  • Lead developer Ron Robinson for, well, turning Printcasting from a concept into a working tool ... and then some!
  • Designer Don Hajicek for design, Drupal consulting, camaraderie and wicked funny jokes that continue to keep everyone sane.
  • The good people at Photon Infotech for ongoing development and testing in conjunction with Ron.
  • Tom Webster, our brand spanking new marketing evangelist, for jumping into Printcasting with such fervor.
We are now on the verge of entering the next phase of our project: going out on the street to show how various individuals and organizations in Bakersfield can be citizen publishers. I'll continue to post updates here, on Printcasting.com (which will change to Community.printcasting.com after we launch), and on PBS MediaShift Idea Lab. But it's important to take a step back and be proud of what we've built. Ahh ....

OK now that that's out of the way, back to the grindstone! The real hard work (and the most fun part) is just beginning.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Turning Print Upside Down and Inside Out

I'm reposting this entry from PBS MediaShift Idea Lab. Click here to read that post and associated comments.

Scripps executive and media consultant Jay Small has a shout-out to Printcasting in his Small Initiatives blog. Here's what he says about Printcasting in a post about decapitalizing printing.

"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.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Day Print Didn't Stand Still

Last week I saw the remake of the 1950s movie, "The Day the Earth Stood Still." It's like The Matrix meets The Terminator, but with worse special effects, less action, more aliens and more philosophy. It's certainly not the best movie of all time, but it does makes you think, as it's about humanity standing at the brink of destruction with one last chance to change its ways.

Of all things, that made me think about the newspaper industry.

If that sounds alarmist, it's really not. This year many U.S. newspapers face such a dilemma, with one large paper in a two-newspaper town up for sale, a major chain filing for bankruptcy protection, and two newspapers in a major city reducing their print editions to three days a week. As this comes on the heels of what we're told is the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, it's safe to assume that we'll be seeing more of this kind of thing in 2009.

My PBS MediaShift IdeaLab post this week is about "Newspaper Armageddon" -- a term I use to describe the collective bad news coming out of the newspaper industry in the last two months -- and how Printcasting and other customized print solutions represent a much-needed opportunity for newspapers to evolve. I also discuss how the value of print media and physical "stuff" in general increases as you focus on smaller geographic communities and niche interests. Read the full post here.

I'm not naive enough to suggest that Printcasting, or any one initiative or movement, is the silver bullet that will single-handedly save newspapers. That's never the case for anything. But I do feel that customized print, and "printable" and portable media, are a big part of the future of news. And the great thing is that with a little thought and effort, all of this can be done now. Rather than dwell on same old boring doom-and-gloom, I choose to look at the larger trends and what they mean for the future of publishing. For those news and information companies that enthusiastically embrace change, this is not Armageddon at all. It's a true second chance to evolve.


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Friday, October 17, 2008

IFRA Flashlight Report on Printcasting


I mentioned in an earlier post that I was interviewed by IFRA magazine, but what I didn't know is that they also published a full spread about Printcasting in their monthly "Flashlight Report". You can download a copy of it here: http://ifra.com/flashlight. Scroll to the bottom to find download links for PDFs in English, German, Spanish and French.

In the report, IFRA puts Printcasting into the broader context of how print publishing is changing in the digital era. It includes an introspective piece by IFRA Research Director Manfred Werfel, and a quote from Kiruba Shankar, CEO of Business Blogging.

Interestingly, Shankar refers to a community in Chennai, India that is passionate about Ultimate Frisbee and may include good target Printcasting publishers. It just so happens that Printcasting is being jointly developed by Chennai-based Photon Infotech. It's a small world indeed!

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A few Printcasting updates

I haven't blogged about Printcasting here for a while, but I have been talking about it in two other places: Printcasting.com and the PBS MediaShift Idea Lab site. I've also given a couple interviews.

If you're following Printcasting, here are some links that may be of interest to you:

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Printcasting's Advertising Implications

Online media pioneer and chronicler Steve Outing has a post about Printcasting and Classifieds on his personal blog, as well as his new venture: Reinventing Classifieds.

I ran into Steve at the Individuated News conference in Denver, Colorado in June, after giving a presentation about Printcasting. He asked me how our tools could be used by businesses, and if there were any implications for classified advertising. I told him that while classifieds per se aren't a focus of Printcasting, self-serve advertising is, and I see a lot of parallels between the two. The posts above are the result of our conversation.

How does Printcasting dove-tail with Classifieds? They both help small businesses market their products and services. A large percentage of newspaper Classified ad revenue comes from commercial customers (basically auto dealers, real estate agents and employers). These businesses are accustomed to writing text ads that are formatted to look good in print. The better tools on the market eliminate most of the design work for the advertisers, and simply accept feeds which are then automatically formatted into nice-looking Classified ads.

At a high level, this is how Printcasting will work, with feeds of variable content flowing into pre-fab publication templates. We want advertising to work the same way. A small business will only have to type in a compelling message about a product or service, optionally upload an image, and choose which publications they want their ad to appear in. After that, we will automatically generate display ads with different dimensions and fonts. They'll be able to see what their ads will look like in different sizes, but they won't have to worry about finding a designer for every ad.

If our advertising approach is successful for small businesses, I can imagine it being applied to larger commercial customers, as well as consumers. Forget about how things work in newspapers now, and instead think about the fundamental need for everyone at one time or another to get the word out about something. That applies to everything from garage sales to white sales, and everything in between.

Newspapers have a lot of different tools and terminology for different types of ads, but in the end they all boil down to the same thing: "Will you buy my apples?"

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Pimp My Newspaper!

I thought Medill student Brian Boyer was supposed to be a programmer-journalist. That's true, but apparently he's also into muscle cars and MTV's Pimp My Ride.

In response to my Media Shift IdeaLab post about Brian's insightful comparison of Printcasting to Moo Cards, he's expanded on the idea. Printcasting, he says, is like the custom El Camino, with each one looking a little different. The vanilla newspaper is more like a beige Toyota Camry.

I like this analogy because the truth is that everyone has an opinion about the car they drive. Some people really love Camrys, while others won't be caught dead outside of a gas-electric hybrid. Still others require a little extra fender here, a little more chrome there. It's like the "Dude, Where's My Car?" media model. I want my car, not yours.

The analogy I often use to describe the Californian's admittedly strange local media model is built around boats rather than cars. Think of every daily newspaper as a big, beautiful cruise ship cutting through the deep blue sea. The people on that ship have been floating out there for decades, content with whatever the chefs have on the menu and the 5 activity choices the captain has chosen for them for that evening. Some are fine with that, but others want more.

One day as the cruise ship is approaching an island, someone spots something different. A group of fun-loving natives comes out in hundreds of little boats to greet them. The native on one boat is selling fruit and tie-dye clothing. Another is a music boat, with the pilot strumming a totally new kind of instrument nobody has ever seen before. And still another offers rides in his little boat for a few U.S. dollars.

That night at dinner, the captain realizes that 10% of the cruise population is missing. No problem, it turns out they're out having fun with the natives on the little boats. The next day, that number increases to 20%. And the next, 40%. What's happening? Is it the end of the world!

To the captain and his cruise ship, maybe it is the end. He can choose to stay out there in the same old ship operating the same old type cruise in the same old way. Eventually he will have no more customers and he'll need to shut down his business. But there is another way.

He can start throwing out some life rafts so his customers can more easily float around in the little boat world they prefer. Instead of being in the cruise ship business, the captain may discover he's in the flotilla business. Some people may move between boats in the flotilla and the cruise ship, and some may choose to float in the same little boat forever. And yes, some will never leave the comfort and convenience of the cruise ship.

But one thing is clear. If newspapers are going to have a long, bright future, we need to operate more like the flotilla and less like The Love Boat.

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Monday, June 30, 2008

How Technology Agnosticism Fuels Innovation

Steve Yelvington has an amusing post today titled "Dan Drinks the Kool-Aid," a reference to my decision to build our Printcasting tools on the Drupal framework. In the inside-baseball game that is the blogosphere, there's a story behind this that I think other media innovators can learn from, and in my opinion it's all about how important keeping an open mind is to building a culture of innovation.

Ever since the Californian started experimenting with social media after the launch of The Northwest Voice and Bakotopia, we've stayed in close contact with Yelvington and his team at Morris Communications. Very early on, people at both companies noticed that we had similar ideas and approaches to engaging audiences. The differences between the consumer experiences on the Voice, Bakotopia.com and Morris' Blufftontoday.com are very slight.

But there are some very large differences in our back-end technical approaches. Very early on, Yelvington's team started building its social media sites on the open-source Drupal platform. The Californian started its sites first with a vendor, and then partly out of the frustration of that experience, moved in the other direction and began building our own stuff.

There are some good reasons behind this. Compared to Morris, which has 13 daily newspapers, 33 radio stations and magazines in multiple states, the Californian is tiny. When my boss Mary Lou Fulton started the Voice, the Californian didn't have a single software programmer or system administrator on staff. Our complete lack of dedicated technical support staff made modifying an open-source tool difficult. We couldn't do anything on our own and had to rely on vendors and outside contractors to guide many of our decisions.

When I started in 2004, before the Californian had any niche products or technology to speak of, I wasn't satisfied with using vendors and I started playing around with various open source tools. We launched Bakotopia on an open-source platform called Noah's Classifieds. It was a great one-trick-pony platform for simple Craigslist-list style listings, but we wanted to do a lot more than that. In the end we saw that it had to be modified so much that we faced two choices: build a bunch of new functionality around a core to make it do something it wasn't designed to do, or spend an extra month building a new core that was a better fit for our long-term needs.

Before investing in a fully custom solution, we looked at other open-source tools, including Drupal. I liked the way it was structured, but found that it had stability issues and just wasn't all there yet (I used it on my blog for a good 4 months before it crashed and took all of my postings with it). The Californian couldn't wait for the perfect open-source solution to emerge and I didn't want to risk staking the future of this 140-year-old media company on a promising, but at the time still adolescent, technology.

So we started "rolling our own" and, to our amazement, ended up with the award-winning Bakomatic platform. That was the right thing to do at the time, and we will continue to use and enhance the system. It still has some unique functionality and experiences that don't exist in Drupal -- for example, the Inside Guide business directory and a Facebook-like Personal Inbox. And in some respects we can innovate faster with it because we don't have any external dependencies on other projects.

However, we don't have any strong religion about proprietary technology, or any technology for that matter. Whenever a new need comes up we think first about the end-user and specific business goals, and then see how different technology solutions meet those needs. We're technology agnostics.

Printcasting is unique for us in that it needs to work really well in Bakersfield, then be quickly adopted by partners in five other cities, and finally made available to anyone under an open-source license (read more about the three phases of the project).

Building the features on our own proprietary platform was one solution that would have required releasing some or all of our code to the open source community. We briefly considered doing that, but then realized that technology was only half of the picture. We also needed an open-source community. We decided that the project would have a bigger overall impact if it was connected to an existing open-source movement versus trying to start our own competing movement.

Four years after our initial evalutation, Drupal is well out of its adolescence and is an ideal launching pad for almost any social media tool. By making modules for the consumer-facing pieces and tying them into PDF generation on the back end (which by the way would not be done by Drupal, but the end-user will never know or care), we know that thousands of existing Drupal sites, and many more thousands to come, will experiment with what we build. Not only that, they will take what we do and make it better. That's perfectly aligned with the goals of the Knight News Challenge.

Will the Californian use Drupal for more projects? Maybe, or maybe not, depending on the project. We're also now using Ning sites as a low-cost way to serve smaller niche audiences. If they show promise, we invest more resources and move them into our larger network. If not, it's really easy to shut down a Ning site. Ning didn't even exist when we started down the path of social media. In another four years who knows what else will be out there?

Drupal is looking really good now based on our current needs, and it may continue to look good in another four years. But if there's one thing I've learned it's that innovation relies on flexibility and open-mindedness. The minute you put a stake in the ground, you're cutting off your options and your rate of innovation slows down.

One thing that has bothered me since I re-entered the newspaper industry after nearly 7 years away is how it's always looking for one silver bullet. Perhaps that's because the industry relied on one solution (the daily printed newspaper) for its entire existence up until now. But times have changed, and one solution to every problem is no longer feasible.

Innovation requires the opposite of silver-bullet thinking. It's an ever-evolving process that requires constant experimentation, evaluation and change.

Or put another way, feel free to drink someone else's Kool-Aid, but make sure you buy the variety pack. Today's Black Cherry may be tomorrow's Blue-Dini or Purplesaurus Rex.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Printcasting in the Blogosphere

The word about Printcasting is starting to spread on the blogosphere. Here are a few recent posts mentioning the project -- for which we are very grateful.
  • Fernando Pizarro of the Honolulu Advertiser puts Printcasting in the context of a larger trend of reverse publishing. Many newspapers, like the Advertiser but also The Bakersfield Californian, now publish content online first and then feed it into print publications.

    I think the big difference with Printcasting is a) that we give total publishing power over to regular people, b) we allow it to happen automatically, c) we don't require printing and distribution in order for people to read, as they can also subscribe to receive PDFs in e-mail, and d) there's a significant self-sere advertising component that is not dependent on a sales person for every ad.

  • Kristen Taylor from The Knight Foundation is publicizing our screencast of early User Interface concepts.

  • The AFP's MediaWatch site is including a link to my MediaShift Idea Lab post.

  • Fellow News Challenge winner David Cohn posted this impromptu video of a demo I gave him at the MIT Future of Civic Media conference. (I reluctantly link to it, but not because of Dave, who rocks. I really hate videos of myself. So focus on the ideas and not on the bumbling, talking head :-)

    Speaking of Dave, check out his own News Challenge project Spot.us, which will take the idea of community-funded reporting to new levels. If there's a story you want to fund, you'll be able to drop some coins in a tip jar -- kind of like Barack Obama's approach to election fund raising. Very cool! Hopefully one day every Spot.us reporter can have an instant Printcast, too.

  • And finally, 2007 News Challenge winner Lisa Williams says she can't wait for us to build Printcasting so she can have an instant magazine for her blog. Music to my ears!

    Speaking of Lisa, she and Susan Mernit are now in a partnership together for a new company called Peoples' Software. There aren't many details available yet about what they plan to build, but I've talked to both and I can see the light in their eyes. It will be fun to see what these two smart innovators cook up! Susan is also also running the Knight News Challenge for its 2007/2008 round.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Making Print Part of Web 2.0

For the next two years, I'll be posting thoughts and updates about Printcasting on the PBS MediaShift Idea Lab blog. My first post is titled, "Making Print Part of Web 2.0." It explains some of the thinking behind the idea -- especially with regards to the digital-print hybrid activity we've seen in Bakersfield -- and examines some of the roadblocks people have to new print models.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

My Reality Check for Steve Ballmer

I'm cross-posting this from something I sent on the Online-News list today in reaction to a Washington Post interview with Microsoft's Steve Ballmer, who basically said there would be nothing in print 10 years from now. The exact quote:
There will be no media consumption left in 10 years that is not delivered over an IP network. There will be no newspapers, no magazines that are delivered in paper form. Everything gets delivered in an electronic form.
All I can say to that is, really? Print is dead? Just last week I received a postcard in my mailbox from Microsoft urging me to upgrade to Windows Vista.

Ballmer's statement is overly simplistic and completely disregards other trends that are not directly connected to "the daily newspaper" or general-interest magazines. Here are just a few:
  • Increased niche print products, especially hyperlocal ones. Larger newspaper circulation may be decreasing, but in some cities -- like in Bakersfield where I work -- there's a net increase in total number of eyeballs reached with niche print products.

  • The hybrid online-print synergies observed in such niche products.

  • Home printing. I like to tell the story of a local pastor I know who receives e-mails all day, but prints them out and carries them in a folder. At the beginning and end of the day, when he has time, he answer them.

  • Direct mail, circulars and flyers, and anything that can be stuck on your windshield or door (like that Microsoft postcard!)

  • Anything that can be printed out as a Kinko's and left in a coffee shop or bar. I urge everyone to go to your local copy shop on a Thursday or Friday night to observe all the bands painstakingly creating and copying "hand bills" for their gigs to leave around town. Not only does it show that print isn't dead, but it's being used by the young generation we're all told is tuning out print. Something is getting lost in translation there.
Technology is fueling more personalization and direct-to-consumer delivery in all of the above print distribution channels, which is the subject of the Personalized News conference in Denver next month.

I've been trying to track down what the net difference in print is when you factor in these other sources, and also figure out how you would measure it. Just like the broken "pageviews" stat for Web sites, total copies doesn't seem to make as much sense as total audience reach. If you have some relevant data, please send it my way!

My suspicion is that we're all individually receiving more personalized messages in print from these personal sources, and less so from general-interest publications. It's part of the larger trend that we see with information in all mediums.

And of course I'm working on something in this area called Printcasting via the Knight News Challenge that seeks to bridge the gap between online UGC and local "citizen" print publishing.

There's a lot of life left in print. But just like everything else, what it looks like tomorrow will be very different from what we and Steve Ballmer see today. And technology is fueling that shift.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Why Print, and Why Now?

It's been more than a week since the Knight News Challenge winners were announced, which included our Printcasting project and many other cool ideas. It's been really interesting to learn more about all the projects, many of which are about new delivery mechanisms for local news and community.

So now that the dust has settled, it's a good time to address the unspoken question that I know is on many peoples' minds.

I'm someone who has been involved in digital media innovation for 13 years, and one of the early people in the newspaper industry to bring user-contributed content and social networking into the fold. I know that online social media is redefining the entire media business model, and have even done my part to accelerate that.

So why in the world am I supposedly leaving online media to go back to print, which many techies (and not just a few traditional journalists) consider a dying medium? And why at a time when every month we see new reports of falling newspaper print circulation?

And the answer is that I'm not. On the contrary, I'm seeking to bring all of the energy and excitement of social media into the world of print, and make local print distribution of online content an integral part of the fabric of Web 2.0.

In all the justified euphoria surrounding the emergence of the social Web, I fear that the newspaper industry has developed some unhealthy biases about its native print medium that are based on the assumption that the print-to-digital transition is a zero-sum game. As a result, we see continued innovation around pure-play online content (good) and almost no true innovation in the print model (bad!)

Yes, there are plenty of redesigns and creations of new niche print publications, but those don't count as true innovation of the model in my opinion. Just as we've done with user-contributed content, we need to think about fundamental changes in how print products are produced, and by whom, so that print is part of the social media revolution.

Arianna Huffington, the Huffington Post editor who spoke at this year's Editor and Publisher Interactive Media Conference, put it best in her keynote speech. Said Huffington, "I don’t believe for a moment that print is dead. I think newspapers, and media in general, have a tendency to think about everything in terms of the delivery mechanism."

And lately, in terms of innovation, we seem to be focusing mostly on the Web, a little on mobile and not at all on print.

I suspect this bias is partly to blame for why most newspapers still have "print people" and "online people" after more than a decade since the advent of the consumer Internet. With a few exceptions, anything new and cool tends to be focused 100% on the Web and completely ignore print. Newspapers seem to increasingly hire people who are focused on digital media, and lose people who focus only on print -- which is a shame since both of those camps can, should and must come together.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the social networking forum that is either getting lost in the new-media hubbub, or intentionally ignored. While we see more and more activity in local online social networks, all of the real revenue growth is still in print. And it's coming through the back door in new niche print products which contain content that's submitted online by local consumers.

The concept of Printcasting really started in 2004 after the launch of The Northwest Voice, the first so-called "citizen journalism" product created by a U.S. newspaper. This is the now-familiar approach of letting people write stories about their neighborhood, which are then reviewed by an editor and placed in printed publications that are delivered to everyone on the block.

We see this with the Voice, others like it such as the Denver Newspaper Agency’s YourHub.com and magazines like New West and 8020. All of these work because they have print editions.

There are two reasons for that. First – and I know that this will shock some of the digerati – average people love the idea of seeing their content printed and locally delivered. That's the primary reason they spend time writing their stories. I have no way to test this, but I would bet that the quality of content in citizen media products that include print editions is higher because people know that once it's printed, everyone will see it and it can't be changed.

And second, local advertisers also like print when they can afford it. When you see that newspaper advertising is faltering, it's not because local businesses are saying they don't want to advertise. They're saying that they can't afford the high rates required to print 70,000, 120,000 or 200,000 copies of the same ad in the hopes that it will reach the much smaller number of people it was intended for. Because we have not solved this problem, they increasingly avoid the newspaper and turn to more targeted local delivery mechanisms, such as direct mail (hello – a print medium!) which costs less to get a message out to locals who are more likely to want their products.

The bitter irony for newspapers is that of all industries, we have more experience around creating and delivering local news and information in print than anyone. And yet, even the U.S. Postal service, with it’s snazzy Click2Mail service, is doing a better job than we are at delivering customized information and advertising in print. Let me restate that for emphasis: an institution that is part of the bureaucracy-laden federal government is doing more around personalized print delivery than newspapers.

With all due respect to the post office, that's just pathetic.

At The Bakersfield Californian, we've had a lot of success with local niche-focused social networks that include print editions. We're very good at identifying an audience with unmet information needs, creating a publication and Web site, and leveraging peoples' online contributions for printed magazines. And we’re getting better at selling ads in those publications.

But the challenge is that for every audience we identify, there are 100 others that we miss and may never identify, and even if we did we could never hire enough people to manage those publications and Web sites. That's the nature of todays fragmented media world, where less time and more choices naturally eat away at traditional aggregation-centered media models. That's where automation and citizen publishing tools come in – the very heart of the Printcasting concept. We want to, and really need to, tap into peoples’ passions so that they can create new niche publications all on their own which local advertisers can afford.

If this idea sounds interesting to you, I hope you will join our growing community of interested individuals at our Web site: http://www.printcasting.com. It’s a place to review our ideas and participate in discussions that will help ensure this project is a success. And I hope it also has another effect of breaking down the self-inflicted, anti-print stigma that has developed over the years.

The attitudes about print aren't all bad, by the way. Over the last few months I've been happy to discover that there are many people and companies out there that are orbiting around the same basic ideas. Thanks to MediaNews Group’s Peter Vandevanter, there’s even a global personalized print conference (in which I'll be a participant). Thanks to the convergence of good ideas and promising new print technologies, we may be at the beginning of a new global movement around personalized print creation – the child of the Zine explosion of the 1990s. It couldn't come at a better time, or a moment too soon.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Printcasting story in Rocky Mountain News

The Rocky Mountain News has a story today about Printcasting, a tool we'll be building that will let local people aggregate RSS feeds and local advertising in personalized print publications (through PDFs). Printcasting is one of 16 winners of this year's Knight News Challenge. Thanks to Janet Forgrieve for doing a good job with the interview and final story.

And with that -- even though I can get this online, I'm off to a coffee shop to pick up a copy in print for my scrapbook. Print still matters! :-)

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Saturday, January 01, 2005

About Dan Pacheco

Dan Pacheco is a pioneer in online media and community with a 13-year record of achievement in consumer-focused digital experiences. His background has proven invaluable in understanding the impact of social media on traditional media models.

As of June of 2008, Dan is managing The Bakersfield Californian's Printcasting product. Printcasting is a two-year, $837,000 project proposed by Dan and colleague Justinian Hatfield in the Knight News Challenge, and is one of only 16 winners chosen from 3,000 applications worldwide.

The Printcasting product will let anyone create a self-updating, printable PDF newspaper, magazine or newsletter using content from RSS feeds and local self-serve advertising.

The team will later market the tools in Bakersfield, then reprint and locally distribute the best publications. The theory is that this will be a more scalable way to grow local audience and revenue around niche interests in print, a medium that local advertisers prefer but can't always afford. In the last phase, they will sign up organizations in 5 other cities to do the same. For more information, see http://printcasting.com.

Dan has been involved in online community and community publishing since the days of dial-up BBS's in the mid 1980s. But he got his feet wet at Washingtonpost.com, where he was one of their first online producers. He helped launch The Post's first web message boards and launched its first business and technology sections.

He later joined America Online and spent 6+ years working on mostly web-based community products. Dan held key content & product leadership roles for AOL Groups, AOL Hometown (personal home pages) and AOL Pictures, among others.

From 2004-2008, Dan has served as Senior Manager of Digital Products at the independently-owned Bakersfield Californian newspaper, where he and longtime colleague Mary Lou Fulton applied the concepts of citizen publishing and social networking at a local level. The Northwest Voice, the first U.S. newspaper citizen journalism initiative in 2004, and Bakotopia.com, one of the first newspaper-run social networks, are the Californian's two most well-known initiatives.
In December 2005, the Newspaper Association of America selected Dan for one of their prestigious “20 Under 40” awards for Bakotopia. The "Bakomatic" platform that emerged from Bakotopia earned a Knight Batten Award in 2006, and Bakotopia won an NAA Digital Edge Award in the same year.

Since then, Dan's team has extended these concepts to the core newspaper site Bakersfield.com and a total of 11 locally-focused community brands, all of which are awash in social media activity. Many of these features can also be found on the sites of companies that have licensed the Bakomatic platform, including The Sacramento Bee (see Sacmomsclub.com and Sacpaws.com), The Arizona Republic, The Victoria Advocate and others. Learn more about them on Participata.com, the Californian's licensing venture that sells the Bakomatic platform.

Dan holds a degree from the University of Colorado School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and currently sits on its advisory board. He telecommutes from his house in Broomfield, Colorado (right outside Boulder).

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