Your Blog in Print

The New York Times covers a new daily news provider called The Printed Blog that’s building a new model based on what it hopes to be the best of online and offline distribution. As its name implies, this will involve the production of daily print publications with content taken from blogs.

Many questions come to mind, such as blog content’s immediacy versus a print production/distribution cycle. The idea is first met with skepticism but some aspects of the model make sense.

  • Content is free, pulling from existing blogs. This eliminates newspapers’ biggest expense: reporters (rev share of advertising is offered to bloggers).
  • Papers are free to users, relying on ad revenue. This is not only the new paradigm of the Web, but free dailies are also the only form of newspaper seeing any revenue growth.
  • Ad sales costs are cut by offering self-service ad management on its Web site (this could have its own set of drawbacks).
  • Ads can be hyperlocally targeted based on the paper’s ability to design different layout, content and ads based on a given neighborhood. A city like Chicago will get 50 different versions of the daily paper.
  • Centralized printing and distribution costs are curbed by installing printers nearer to distribution points (paper format involves three or four 11-by-17-inch sheets of white paper, laid out like a blog instead of newspaper columns).
  • The central Chicago office space has been offered free to founder and recently laid off MediaNews Group staffer Joshua Karp. His staff is all volunteers.

Best of Both Worlds?

So will this work? It’s certainly different and that’s probably a good sign. Given the technology, advertising and media consumption standards of today, no one in his or her right mind would build a newspaper business from scratch the way they are currently modeled. These are operations built on the realities of a different time.

It does bring together some of the best of online distribution with the best of print. In other words, it’s lean and targeted for content production and distribution, yet it can garner print ad rates, which are much higher than those of online display advertising.

On this note, it hopes, with its hyperlocal targeting, to appeal to the types of advertisers that are increasing ad budgets, not decreasing them.

From The Times:

Advertisers will like The Printed Blog, Mr. Karp said, because it is hyper-local. “A clothing boutique or snow removal service can advertise to the 2,000 people who are most likely to buy the service, as opposed to many, many more,” he said.

About 15 advertisers have signed on for the first issue, including Flowerpetal.com, a florist in Chicago. “The great thing about it is you can change your pitch based on different neighborhoods,” said Brian Crummy, Flowerpetal.com’s founder.

Ads from local businesses are one reason that free dailies have been a rare bright spot in the newspaper industry. Unlike struggling car companies and department stores, which are mainstay advertisers of metropolitan dailies, small businesses have increased their ad spending during the recession, several publishers said.

Making It Happen

The proof will come down to Karp’s ability to navigate a few potential pitfalls. Will it be a nightmare to produce 50 different customized copies of the daily news for different neighborhoods? Will enough advertisers show up to self-service their ad campaigns (this is a big one — often underestimated)?

And most of all, will the content be relevant enough? Blog content in its timeliness, tone and quality is quite fitting (indeed, a product) of its medium. Once you take that content and put it on a printed page, it’s not quite the same (not to mention a day old).

This is exactly what I ran into when trying to do something similar with this blog. Print begs for a different tone and set of editorial standards. Once printed on paper, will it require copy editors? That’s a considerable cost not worked into the equation above. It’s always more work than you think it’s going to be. To be fair, Karp has the newspaper experience to know this.

Like many things, it sounds good on paper (bad pun intended), but will have to be proven out in practice.

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