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July 19 2011

17:30

Knight Foundation expands into investment with an Enterprise Fund

It’s easy to use the word invest a lot when talking about how the Knight Foundation funds journalism and information-needs-of-communities projects. Less than a month ago, we were talking about how Knight invests in media innovation with the recent round of the Knight News Challenge winners.

Turns out Knight now actually is in the business of investing in media companies — specifically with the Knight Enterprise Fund, a $10-million chunk of the foundation’s endowment set aside for early investment in companies that promise media innovation.

In some ways, the Enterprise Fund seems like a spin-off of the News Challenge, but aimed specifically at supporting for-profit companies that are compatible with Knight’s mission. The Enterprise Fund, which was officially approved in December, will be investing $25,000 to $500,000 in individual companies — roughly the same scale as what most News Challenge winners received. And the News Challenge allowed for-profit companies to apply for grants. But the Enterprise Fund comes with the potential benefit of a return on investment — which, if all goes well, could have the cyclical effect of boosting more Knight projects.

By investing in for-profits, Knight hopes to create a pipeline to new kinds of projects.

“God willing, we get a huge winner here and it would expand. If we’re lucky enough for that to occur, we would expand the endowment, which would allow us to make more contributions,” said Juan Martinez, vice president and chief financial officer for the Knight Foundation.

Knight already supports a large stable of projects — not just News Challenge winners but grants to organizations like NPR, the Online News Association, and journalism programs at universities (including, it should be noted, us here at the Nieman Journalism Lab). By investing in for-profit endeavors, they can create a pipeline to new projects and systems that could be of use to people through Knight’s network, Martinez said. The Enterprise Fund also could mean an injection of fresh blood into the sometimes insular media innovation community.

“This allows the program staff to get a view for what new companies are out there and what new innovations are being created,” Martinez said. “I think in the long run this will help us understand those kind of market drivers better.”

It will also allow them to shepherd News Challenge projects into the next stage of their development. The sale of EveryBlock to MSNBC in 2009 is an example of how News Challenge projects sometimes transition from grant-funded to the for-profit world. With the Enterprise Fund, Knight will be able to continue to support these projects and potentially see a return on the foundation’s long-term investment. “Venture capitalist provide networks and expertise needed for those companies to expand,” Martinez said. “So as they transition out of the Knight News Challenge and into a VC space, this is a platform to help expose that process for them.”

An example is BookBrewer, one of the first companies Knight has invested in, which began life as 2008 News Challenge winner Printcasting. (Knight also is investing in Snag Films, a documentary film platform, and OwnLocal, which creates advertising, deals, and shopping systems for news organizations.) The initial idea of Printcasting was to create a platform for low-cost, on-demand publishing. Remade as BookBrewer, their focus has shifted from print and PDFs to ebooks to try and tap into the growing demand for content on tablets and smartphones.

But entering the investment game is not without some risks for Knight, which is why they are not working alone, said Ben Wirz, Knight’s director of business consulting. “We’re not leading these investments ourselves,” he said. “We look for early-stage companies that are mission-aligned, do due diligence, and the business side is done by angels and venture capitalists.”

Martinez said Knight knows they don’t exist in a vacuum, that there is a world of experimentation and entrepreneurship in media and technology that could be beneficial to the people the foundation is trying to help. If they can act as a conduit, hooking up for-profit and nonprofit to help support and sustain journalism, that’s what matters most, he asid. “Ultimately what Knight cares about is impact, that our dollars go towards promoting informed and engaged communities,” he said.

October 18 2010

16:11

BookBrewer Makes Major Self-Publishing Deal with Borders

This has been one of the most amazing, rewarding and surreal weeks of my life.

Borders has chosen BookBrewer -- the first product of my startup, FeedBrewer, which grew out of a News Challenge grant -- to power the engine for its e-book self-publishing service. You can read about our partnership in the official press release, or in media coverage from a variety of sources including Fast Company, Publishers Weekly and PC Magazine.

Bordersgetpublished_small.jpg

We made the announcement at BlogWorld Expo, one of the largest confabs of bloggers and new media enthusiasts in
the world. The response at our booth was enormous and even overwhelming
at times, with people lined up to talk to me, my team and Borders' e-book manager Kelly Peterson about how they can turn their content into sellable e-books. Their response is not surprising, given the explosive growth in e-book sales in recent months.

About BookBrewer

So what is BookBrewer? It's a web-based tool that helps you turn content from your blog, or Word or PDF documents on your computer, into e-books that can be sold on your through multiple online e-book stores, own through your own website. After importing your blog, you then add posts and organize them into chapters, edit and enhance content, and push a button. BookBrewer then turns your content into an e-pub that most e-book stores require. You can pay one fee to have it published to e-book stores we work with, or another fee to just get the file to do with as you wish.

This video shows how it works:

BookBrewer Help: Building Your Book from Dan Pacheco on Vimeo.


Some highlights on our partnership with Borders:

  • On October 25 the same technology and user experience will be surfaced on a separate site called "Borders Get Published, Powered by BookBrewer." You can enter your email address on the form on Borders.bookbrewer.com to be notified as soon as the service launches.
  • Books published through both BookBrewer and Borders Get Published will be available for purchase on Borders.com and viewable in Borders-branded apps (such as Kobo), but will also appear in other eBook stores that BookBrewer has relationships with. Those include Amazon.com and KoboBooks.com, with more on the way.
  • Borders will use its marketing muscle to encourage thousands of new authors to get published, and will promote promising new authors in its weekly emails and on its website. This is a huge boon for self-published authors because Borders reaches more than 30 million people per week in emails alone.
boothteam.jpg



Our booth team, from left to right: Todd Levy, Laurelie Ezra, Kelly Peterson, Dan Pacheco.

BookBrewer, which only launched last week, will operate as its own entity. We will serve customers through both sites and will roll out more strategic "Powered By BookBrewer" services throughout the year that benefit our company and partners, in addition to other services for authors and content providers. With one of the largest bookstores in the world on board, we're now shifting our focus to companies with content or content relationships.

Given my news background, I know that a lot of newspapers and magazines have "evergreen" packages or investigative reports that would stand the test of time as e-books. I will be reaching out to some of you about that at the Online News Association conference later this month. And you freelancers/entrepreneurial journalists out there? This is a fantastic opportunity to pay for freight while also building your brand.

Borders' Open Publishing Stance

Some people are surprised that Borders would want "their" e-books to show up in competitors' stores, but it makes sense when you think about  the self-publishing customer. They want their content to be everywhere  that people want to buy it.

I can tell you from spending two days in a booth with Kelly Peterson and talking extensively with others at Borders that they're one of the  most customer-focused companies around. They understand that authors -- a category that now potentially includes each and every one of  you -- don't want their content to be defined or confined based on which service or programs they use to create it. The customer always comes first for them, and with self-publishing the book always belongs to the author.

I heard Kelly put it this way: "If you buy a piece of clothing at a store, you expect to be able to wear it everywhere, not just in the store where you bought it." You can see that evidenced with the wide variety of e-book readers and apps Borders promotes, beyond the Kobo reader the company invested in last year.

I'm also excited to work with Borders because they, and bookstores in general, are part of the fabric of local communities -- that rapidly disappearing third place that has been so important in the history of civil life. Other types of third spaces exist online, but at a local level physical meeting spaces are still important. Digital community engagement is the common thread  in my most meaningful endeavors (Bakotopia, Printcasting and AOL Hometown as just a few examples), and as a previous recipient of a Knight News Challenge grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation I'm a proud  public champion of helping the news and information needs of communities in the digital age. I see BookBrewer and Borders Get Published being strongly connected to those goals.

No Man is an Island

On that note, I want to once again thank the Knight Foundation for its role in the Printcasting project, which evolved into my company FeedBrewer, Inc., from which the Knight Foundation will one day benefit thanks to a voluntary 6 percent gift to the Knight Media Innovation Fund. While the Knight  Foundation didn't provide any funding for our proudly "bootstrapped" BookBrewer (and we did not ask for any), BookBrewer is an example of how non-profit seed funds can light a spark that continues to burn later.

It's my sincere hope that future successes from BookBrewer will go to help fund other startups that help local news and information.

The technology for BookBrewer is all new and distinct from Printcasting, but the thinking, methodology and customer insights evolved from it. In fact, thinking back, the biggest thing we learned from Printcasting was that even first-time print publishers really wanted to be multi-platform digital publishers. They just didn't know that until they got their feet wet. In the space of a few weeks after publishing a PDF magazine, they would start asking us if they could publish the same stories into Facebook or as a blog, and they would tell us that they saw print as only a small part of their future business.

They also started asking about e-books as the Kindle and, later, iPad grew in popularity.

The feedback we're getting with e-books validates that. People occasionally ask us if we can provide print-on-demand paperbacks for their books, but when we say we're currently focused on digital books they're fine with that. Most just want to make sure older readers who don't have e-reading devices, iPhones or iPads to have a print option. (And we will be looking into that, by the way).

What I've learned through this process is that when you have an idea that you're passionate about, people will step in at the last minute to help you out. I think the BookBrewer product engenders a desire to reciprocate after authors see how much it can do for them. We even had the leader of a writer's group in Florida buy an ad in a conference program for BookBrewer with her own funds -- a first in my 15 years of working on digital products.

I also want to thank Jon Nordmark, the co-founder of Wambo.com and founder and former CEO of Denver-based eBags. He facilitated Denver's inaugural class for Adeo Ressi's Founder Institute, an intensive technology and mentoring program. For four months, I would spend every Tuesday night from 5:30 to 9 p.m. with him, other startup CEO mentors, and founders of 17 other companies. We would sound ideas off each other, refine them, give and receive brutal feedback, and delve deeply into the business behind our businesses. While I had a lot of ideas before, I can safely say that without the Founder Institute program I never would have been able to create this product at this time and get it in front of Borders. Nordmark also helped with the Borders introduction.

Fellow Founder Institute graduate Todd Levy, co-founder of BloomWorlds, and his girlfriend Laurelie Lee Ezra also stepped in at the last minute to man our BlogWorld Expo booth and talked to hundreds of people about BookBrewer as if it was their product. I will never forget that, and can't wait to talk more about BloomWorlds once it launches.

Then of course there's Don Hajicek and Andy Lasda, my amazing team of co-founders, who have worked tirelessly on this alongside me with no pay other than generous equity. You learn a lot about people when you're down in the trenches with them, and these two are solid. In addition to their incredible development and product design skills, they've shown incredible faith and dedication. And a big thank-you to our advisors, especially Kit Seeborg from BumperTunes.

Last but not least, there's my family. My wife Kendall Slee and two daughters have given up many nights and weekends with me, and also helped with ideas and feedback. (My 7-year-old Lauren even published an e-book that was for sale in Amazon, and she's now perfecting a second edition.) My mom and dad even pitched in at the end to handle the logistics of ordering last-minute t-shirts for our BlogWorld booth.

Start Brewing Your e-book!

...But I guess you should expect that from a community-focused product. BookBrewer is and will continue to successful thanks to the community of people behind it. Hopefully that also includes you. Start brewing your e-books so we can help you get published and featured by Borders!

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June 21 2010

18:31

FeedBrewer Pays It Forward to Knight Media Innovation Fund

Last week at MIT's annual Future of News and Civic Media conference, I stood on the stage with Knight Foundation CEO Alberto Ibargüen and made an announcement.

FeedBrewer Inc., a new company I co-founded with two other Printcasting team members, is donating 6 percent of its corporate stock to a brand new Knight Media Innovation Fund. Our hope is that our future success can also enable success for others who, just as we did with the Knight News Challenge, will receive grants that allow them to create new innovative media tools and programs. You can read more about our company and the donation on our site and at the Knight Foundation blog.

After the announcement, I got two reactions from conference participants. The dominant reaction was very positive: "Way to go!" "You did the right thing!" "That's awesome."

But there was also another, more pragmatic reaction. A few asked me point blank, "What are you getting out of this?" "Is there any new funding attached?" "What motivated you to do something you didn't have to do?"

What Are Your Values?

The second question is the more interesting one, because I think it speaks directly to the real value the Knight Foundation has created through four years of the Knight News Challenge. this value has nothing to do with money. But just to be clear, the answer is that no, there is no new funding attached to this donation (which would make it a purchase versus a donation), and there is no tangible, quid pro quo benefit.

But we feel we are definitely getting something out of this. We're showing with our actions that we want to remain a partner with the Knight Foundation and its community of media entrepreneurs in writing the story of innovation -- whether or not they're writing us more checks.

Empowering Publishers, and Future Innovators

Just as we've used Printcasting to empower new local publishers, and will use FeedBrewer to expand that mission to mobile and eBook publishers, we hope that we can one day say that FeedBrewer's financial success helped empower new innovators. And in the spirit of open source, we also know we may benefit from their contributions just as they may with ours (Printcasting code was open sourced on Drupal.org this month).

I think this is a really important thing for future media entrepreneurs to understand, because ultimately it comes down to values.

I've been going through a tech entrepreneur training and mentoring program called The Founder Institute in Denver, and every Tuesday night we hear presentations from successful CEOs and entrepreneurs. I was struck by what Bruce Dines, a principal at venture capital firm Liberty Global Ventures, recently told us.

"What is your culture, and what are your values? Make sure your behavior is consistent with your values," he said. "You are building a corporate identity that is consistent with your brand. Everything impacts your brand. It is a precious thing that can be destroyed in a minute."

I found it interesting that this was coming from someone who manages an investment portfolio for the purpose of getting a hefty financial return, which for VCs is typically five to 10 times their initial investment. What this says is that values are important even in the context of making money, and that bad values can hurt your bottom line.

I wish more newspapers had paid heed to this over the last 20 years. Falling circulations led many to capitulate on core values -- for example, the now widespread practice of charging for obituaries that were previously seen as a core community service. Values and brands are tightly connected, and once you lose your brand, you're toast.

How Equity Works in Incubators

I'm learning a lot of great lessons through the Founder Institute, just as I did through the Knight News Challenge. The Founder Institute also has its own "pay it forward" concept. If I proceed to graduation in two months, I and my board will sign a document giving the institute a warrant to take 3.5 percent of FeedBrewer stock in the event that we receive significant future funding.

That isn't unique to the Founder Institute. Most tech incubators, such as Y Combinator and TechStars, require some sort of equity in exchange for funding, training and connections. However, the Founder Institute is unique in that every graduate also shares in a pool from that 3.5 percent.

Up until very recently, the Knight Foundation required nothing in terms of equity, etc. in return for the grants it gave out, but it is moving in that direction with the Knight Media Innovation Fund. I think that's a good thing, so I'm glad to support it up front with this first, non-mandatory equity donation.

FeedBrewer's Road Ahead

So what's ahead for us with FeedBrewer? Riches? Fame? Glory? Not initially, if ever, but there will be a lot of hard work as we strive to achieve our vision for simple multi-platform publishing solutions. And if we succeed in that vision, whatever else comes after is icing on the cake. We're running a startup because we think we can do a better job achieving our vision than if we were operating in a large company, not because we anticipate an immediate windfall.

The other thing I've learned through the Founder Institute is that I am a hair short of insanity for starting a new business. My co-founders and I are already bootstrapping our path to the future, taking on consulting projects that leverage our expertise while keeping a percentage of our time free to work on our own concepts (such as BookBrewer -- more on that later!)

Contrary to what you may think, the vast majority of startups do not attract enormous multi-million dollar investments or acquisitions. They work project by project, sale by sale, and some result in sustainable businesses. (Shameless plug: yes, we have room for more consulting projects. Learn more about that here).

The Real Value of the Knight News Challenge

The bottom line is that without the Knight Foundation's support, I would never have had the time to study and learn what I have through Printcasting, and FeedBrewer simply wouldn't have been possible due to lack of confidence. I also wouldn't have had the opportunity to share my thoughts with the large audience that this Knight-funded Idea Lab blog provides, or present my wacky ideas at countless conferences around the world. And I doubt I would have had the honor and privilege to be part of such a fun and inspiring Knight News Challenge community.

So I want to thank the Knight Foundation and its late creator John S. Knight -- who it turns out shared my birthday -- and all of the innovators past, present and future that emerged as part of his legacy. That community is the real value of the Knight News Challenge. I'm looking forward to seeing more projects pay it forward like we have done.

April 20 2010

20:44

Printcasting Plans Mobile Expansion With FeedBrewer

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). Here's a picture of PhiladelphiaNeighborhoods co-directors Linn Washington and Christopher Harper proudly displaying their first print editions.

PhiladelphiaNeighborhoods.com Printcasts

But we're also planning ahead for what comes after Printcasting. So today, I'm very excited to announce the formation of a new for-profit company and future product called FeedBrewer.

FeedBrewer

We're starting FeedBrewer out with a small bootstrap team, with me as President/CEO and Product Manager, Printcasting designer Don Hajicek as the COO, and Drupal developer Andy Lasda as CTO. Learn more about FeedBrewer and its mission on our site.

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 website. 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.

A Printcast on the iPad. 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 news@feedbrewer.net, through our contact page.

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.

April 02 2010

19:48

What Kinds of Experimental Ads Are Local News Sites Using?

In the search for new business models for community news sites, many experimental advertising platforms have been used. MinnPost has its Real-Time ads widget. Printcasting is trying out MediaBids. And Spot.us is planning something called Community-Centered Ads, where people could view an ad or fill out an advertiser's survey in exchange for credits they can use to pay for original reporting. So here's a question to Idea Lab bloggers and readers: What other experiments have you seen in local sites running advertising that's beyond the norm? What is working and what has failed? Share your thoughts and observations in the comments below, and hopefully sharing intelligence will help all involved.

March 09 2010

19:54

Printcasting Adds Partners in Philadelphia, Puerto Rico and Perú

Do niche print magazines still have a role to play in the digital age? Media outlets in five different cities around the world are using the Printcasting publishing network to try and answer this question.

We've added three partners in two weeks. They are:

These new local tests will accomplish several goals, not the least of which is to learn how best to use printed and printable content to bridge the digital divide. All of these partners have seen the same paradox that we initially saw at The Bakersfield Californian after making significant investments in online media and user-contributed content: Namely, that the value of hyperlocal content increases exponentially when it is distributed physically in printed form. By contrast, when a niche local content brand doesn't have a physical presence, you end up missing out on a lot of readership and potential ad revenue.


About Our New Partners

So who are these new partners, and why did we choose them? Here's a short introduction of each.


La Repubública is a relatively young, innovative and independently-owned political newspaper in Lima, Perú. It has a history of empowering and engaging citizens, which it does currently through its innovative print edition and Drupal-powered website. It also backs its words up with action. In 1992, La República was a staunch opponent of Peruvian President's Alberto Fujimori's coup, and has been an important defender of freedom of speech and democracy at a time when most other local media was controlled by the
Peruvian government.

In addition to using Printcasting locally, La República will also be co-developing with us, thanks to the fact that they use the Drupal content management system.

El Nuevo Día is the dominant newspaper in Puerto Rico, a U.S.-owned commonwealth of 3.9 million people. It also operates an edgier tabloid, Primera Hora, which has been well received since its creation in 1997. Based on its success with Primera Hora, El Nuevo Dia is planning to create even more niche products, and it will be experimenting with Printcasting as one cost-effective way to do that. We first started talking to El Nuevo Día after I spoke on a panel with the editor of Primera Hora at a SIP-IAPA conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina and we both realized that we share many of the same ideas about where local media is heading.

Along with La República, El Nuevo Día will be translating everything in the Printcasting system into Spanish so that we and they can launch Spanish versions. This will help us learn how to serve Spanish speakers everywhere. I expect they'll show that Printcasting is also a good fit for Spanish speakers in the United States.

According to the U.S. census bureau, there are 34 million Spanish speakers in the U.S. -- a large and growing proportion of its 304 million residents. That's a huge number that's hard to ignore (although plenty of media companies do, to their peril), and now we'll have partners to help us plot our Spanish strategy.

Philadelphia Neighborhoods is a hyperlocal journalism site tied to the capstone course at the Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab of Temple University. Each year, Temple assigns 160 reporters from its 700 undergraduate journalism majors to 25 underserved neighborhoods. The demographic makeup of these neighborhoods is very diverse, including African Americans, Hispanics, Koreans, Polish and other ethnicities. The quality of their student-reported stories is extremely high, with one Philadelphia Neighborhoods journalist recently beating out the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News for an award.

Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab co-director Chris Harper told me that a lot of the people in these neighborhoods don't have reliable access to the Internet, so they're not always able to read the stories about their community that are online. Many have been asking for local print editions of the stories that Temple's students are writing. For this reason, I have a feeling that Philly will be the most ambitious local test of Printcasting yet. The local community there is asking for it.

Our HP Print App Project

Finally, there's our little side project with HP.

At February's O'Reilly Tools of Change in Publishing conference in New York City, I gave a sneak peak at an upcoming "printer app" for HP's TouchSmart Web-connected printers. It will let users sign in, view and print editions they have created or subscribed to by simply swiping their fingers across a touch-screen. Imagine a little iPhone screen perched on the front of your printer with content that you want to access and print quickly.

hp1.jpg

hp2.jpg

I think HP is on to something with these devices, and they could be the start of a complete reinvention of home printing -- something that replaces the printer's connection to a desktop computer with "the cloud." You can use a TouchSmart printer app even if you don't have a computer, as they go directly online to fetch content based on your input. Think of it as a kiosk that can be placed anywhere in your house, or even at a public place like a shopping mall, to create instant prints from digitally stored content.

The best part is that HP has given us permission to open source the code we write to create the Print App interface. Along with the Drupal modules that we open source, future developers will have everything they need to make print-on-demand services that are able to interface with HP printers. (Note that the software we'll open source will simply help you build an interface for their touchscreens. It's separate from the HP server-side software or anything proprietary to the HP printers themselves).

Who Will the Next Partner Be?

Interested in using Printcasting locally? We have an opening for one more partnership. If your organization is interested, send an e-mail to partnership@printcasting.com or fill out this online form. We're looking for organizations that have local information needs for which printable content is a good fit, but are also nimble enough to do something before June 1.

Also remember that anyone can use Printcasting without making a deal with us. Just go to http://printcasting.com and click the Create Publication button on the home page.

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February 01 2010

21:15

On-Demand Publishing Opens Up Magazine Industry

Publishing a magazine independently used to mean spending a lot of money ordering hundreds or thousands of printed copies, and then hoarding the unsold inventory in dusty boxes in your garage for the next decade.

The new pioneers in on-demand magazine publishing hope to save aspiring publishers from this expensive and cluttered fate.

Online services that streamline the magazine publishing process are making it possible for anyone who can create digital content -- in the form of a PDF, an RSS feed, or even just text in a word processor -- to shape that content into a print magazine that readers can order online. This process, which is free for publishers to use, enables a wide variety of individuals to enter the magazine market, and might even be a new distribution method for existing publications facing financial difficulties.

Moving Beyond the Advertising Model

Bruno Bornsztein, founder of the website Curbly.com, is today a magazine publisher thanks to one of these on-demand services. Curbly focuses on interior design and home décor, and while it had become a relatively successful ad-supported site with an active user community, Bornsztein wanted to diversify its offerings.

"There's nothing wrong with the advertising model, and it's worked well for us in a lot of ways," Bornsztein said. "But it seems unreliable. You never know where advertisers will put their money, especially when you're not huge. We wanted to hedge against that, and to explore something where we create content, sell it directly to the readers, and cut out advertisers as the ones paying for the content."

Bornsztein and a group of the site's regular contributors developed a slickly designed PDF booklet of instructions for a selection of home projects, and posted the PDF to the site MagCloud, an on-demand magazine publishing service. The printable PDF can be downloaded from the Curbly site for $9.99, or a printed version can be ordered via MagCloud for $18 plus shipping.

MagCloud: Niche Content Direct to Readers

magcould.jpg

MagCloud, an offshoot of HP Labs, is a magazine self-publishing service that allows anyone to post a PDF to its website. People can then order a paper copy of the PDF that's only printed when an order is placed, meaning there's never excess inventory and no paper is wasted on unwanted copies.

The cost to a publisher for the MagCloud service is zero, and publishers receive whatever markup they choose to charge beyond the base cost of 20 cents per page that MagCloud charges the buyer.

As a magazine publisher himself, Derek Powazek -- a consultant who works with the MagCloud team and holds the title "Chief of Awesome" to cover his varying duties -- wanted to help other aspiring publishers accomplish their print projects with minimum effort and investment, while also streamlining the distribution process.

"There are a lot of people online who have audiences and content, but have never published anything in print because they thought it would be too hard," Powazek said.

Powazek calls MagCloud an "elegant solution" to the basic problems of magazine publishing, including the expense and waste of copies that are never purchased or read. Publishers can also locate advertisers for their MagCloud publications, and MagCloud is developing strategies for helping publishers connect with advertisers through the service.

Bornsztein said Curbly had a good response to its print endeavor, and he and his collaborators will continue creating on-demand magazines, with the next project slated for March 2010. He said the MagCloud service is good for "really niche content targeted at a certain group of people that wouldn't be financially viable to a larger organization; but for someone small, it's possible. People can get served with good quality content by the people producing the content."

Printcasting: Ease of Use for Diverse Publishers

printcasting1.jpgA similar service is offered by Printcasting, a project initially created through a Knight News Challenge grant. Printcasting has its roots in Bakersfield, Calif., but is now increasingly an international enterprise. Printcasting takes any RSS feed and uses web design frameworks to lay out a formatted document that a publisher can print and distribute. It's also possible to copy and paste text into the Printcasting interface and manipulate its layout. Because no PDF is required, the Printcasting production method is somewhat simpler for novice publishers, or those without design software.

Dan Pacheco, who blogs for Idea Lab, MediaShift's sister site, is the founder of Printcasting. Pacheco said over 500 publishers have used the site to create over 2,000 Printcasting editions. The Printcasting project was initially intended to attract "grassroots" publishers who would create local publications and work with local advertisers to make their publications profitable. However, although many local publications have been created with Printcasting, the concept also appeals to larger-scale publishers.

"Printcasting is built for anyone to be able to use it, but we keep getting calls from large companies and organizations," Pacheco said. "It's supposed to democratize the print publishing process, but [these larger groups] can also use it internally to lower their costs in terms of publishing."

As the technology attracts larger customers, it's also moving towards some of the least accessible audiences in the world. Pacheco described the interest Printcasting has attracted in Latin America, where newspapers could begin using the service to combine national news with small-town news from hard-to-reach rural locales. They would then print geographically targeted editions for each locale.

"They can't deliver newspapers to little towns up in the mountains, but people have broadband access, so newspapers could use them for distribution," Pacheco said. "They would use Printcasting to write about things that are super hyper-local, and combine them with content from the newspaper."

Integrating Advertisers

Printcasting is also considering new ways to integrate advertising into local publications. Pacheco said it's been difficult to recruit small businesses to advertise in Printcasting products in the current economy. One approach might be to have advertisers pay only when an ad accomplishes its goal of generating new business.

"For example, we could put an 800 number or a URL in the ad, [or] some kind of action that the reader performs, and then the advertiser pays because they have a new customer," Pacheco said.

Whatever the business model, these evolving online tools for magazine publishing mean new publishers of all sizes have a choice of strategies for their projects -- and established magazines might also find fresh life through on-demand publishing. These online services can enrich and diversify the world of print, rather than threaten it.

"I don't think that computers and the Internet make real people's need for real physical media go away," said Powazek of MagCloud. "There's content that deserves to be archived in print and some that doesn't. For moment to moment updates about news, the web does that really well, but longer-lasting community-based niche content will still have a home in print. I hope that some magazines that have fallen on hard times will find their way to MagCloud and publish their whole back catalog there."

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Mass Communication and Journalism Department at California State University, Fresno. Her research focuses on magazines and media communities. She also blogs at sivekmedia.com, and is the magazine correspondent for MediaShift.

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19:11

Printcasting 1.5 Boosts Design for On-Demand Publishing

A funny thing happens when you win a contest like the Knight News Challenge. Suddenly, what was once just a wacky idea that you threw into a web form becomes a long list of things you have to do. And those of you who are lucky enough to be filling out a full Knight News Challenge proposal this week for the second phase of the competition should take note: If you win, you have to do all of it.

If you haven't seen the list of features we originally promised to build into Printcasting, let's just say it was pretty darned long. So it's with great satisfaction that I can say that, 18 months after our Knight-funded Printcasting project started, we have finally completed all of the features we promised.

But that doesn't mean we're finished. If anything, we've made our list even longer thanks to constant feedback from people who call us up to say, "Printcasting would perfectly fit my needs if you could just add this one extra thing..."

Introducing Printcasting 1.5

To those of you who have been asking for more control over publishing and design -- pay attention. This week we'll take a huge step forward by rolling out Printcasting 1.5, which is all about giving more control to publishers. You can see a quick preview of some of the 1.5 features here:


The elevator pitch for those who don't want to watch the video is that Printcasting 1.5 has much more professional-looking templates, more options for how text and pictures can be arranged on a page, more control over fonts, and some really cool design features for header images.

We call this a "dot-five" release because it's really an incremental step toward the even more ambitious Printcasting 2.0, which will be a complete rewrite in Drupal 6 that will be more usable by the open source community. (We will also open source the Drupal 5 version once we're satisfied with where it's at).

We say that this release is all about publishers because, until relatively recently, we were still working on an extremely complicated self-serve advertising system. It was important to get the advertising system to work (and it was an important part of our Knight News Challenge proposal); but, to be frank, we haven't seen a lot of interest from the small businesses it was designed for.

One reason is the economy. Many of those businesses either cut their marketing budgets or flat out went out of business in 2009. You could say that it was the second worst time in American history to launch an advertising tool, with the first worst being the Great Depression. I continue to be a believer in the idea of "democratizing" print ad publishing, but it will take more time to get the features just right, and attract interest from time and cash-starved businesses.

Surprise! Businesses Need Democratized Publishing, Too

While we haven't seen interest from businesses in buying ads, we have seen a ton of interest from companies and organizations that want to use Printcasting, or utilize the democratized workflow that's behind it. The common thread with these large organizations is something we never anticipated but which now makes sense: They need help spreading the work of publishing within their own walls, democratizing from the inside out.

These organizations run the gamut from publishers (including but not limited to newspapers) to membership organizations, and their needs seem to increase as the economy forces companies to do more with less. We hope to be able to work with some of these organizations as partners.

We also continue to get attention from the tech community. MIT included us in a list of Research to Watch, and O'Reilly will include us in a session at their Tools of Change in Publishing conference, along with our friends from RIT's Open Publishing Lab and Spot.us.

Looking Ahead

So where does this leave us for June 1, the first day after our Knight News Challenge grant runs out? When we're not designing and coding, we're also thinking quite a bit about how to keep Printcasting.com going. We also want to make it do even more, and have been working on ideas. I naturally can't get into details about those plans, but they're exciting and I hope to be able to talk more publicly about them after they firm up.

In the meantime, we'll maintain laser-like focus on the user experience. Among our top priorities are:
  • Launch Printcasting 2.0 on Drupal 6. My challenge to the development team is to complete this by the end of February.
  • Roll out more partnerships We've inked one to-be announced partnership with a Latin American newspaper, with a second in the wings, and are deep in discussions with a well-known membership organization. We also hope to work with some smaller non-profit news organizations that have reached out to us. Think your company and organization could make for a good Printcasting partner? Fill out this form and we'll get in touch with you. (On a side note, we've had many discussions with U.S. newspapers, but sadly most have stalled as most of those papers deal with collapsing business models).
  • More promotion in Bakersfield through our sponsor / partner The Bakersfield Californian. After Printcasting 1.5 launches, the Californian plans to seriously ramp up marketing of the service in both print and online. We've already seen some increases in usage from some test promos.
  • Experiment with e-book formats starting with ePub, which is what Apple is using for the recently announced iPad. I was really excited to see Apple adopt this open standard, rather than promote a new proprietary format. Those of you who think Printcasting is all about paper may be surprised to hear that we're thinking about e-books, but the truth is that Printcasting has never been just about print. It's a digital technology platform that creates content that is designed to be read in your hand. The more visual e-readers become, the more important layout and design will be. We hope to make our service an integral part of the e-book and e-publishing ecosystem.

So that's what we're up to. Please give Printcasting 1.5 a try this week (we'll post an update on our Twitter feed when it's ready), and get ready for more fun stuff in the future.

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