Questions (and answers) about Printcasting with Dan Pacheco

by Jason Preston on July 14, 2008

Since the internet is proving to be a major disruptive force to the business model of newspapers, I think it’s important for newspapers to keep an eye on the various projects and innovations that are happening around publishing on a smaller scale.

One of those projects is Printcasting, a service from The Bakersfield Californian that will let people easily repurpose RSS feeds into template-based PDF newsletters, which generate ad revenue that trickles back to everyone involved in the process.

Dan Pacheco has worked in journalism for 14 years at the Washington Post, Knight Ridder Tribune, and most recently The Bakersfield Californian, where he is the project lead for their Printcasting project. He kindly agreed to answer a few questions about Printcasting via e-mail, and here are his responses:

Jason: Printcasting offers a way for publishers and content providers to make money from their writing. How does this work?

The basic idea around revenue for Printcasting is that anyone who contributes to the success of a publication shares in the revenues. Everyone from the publisher who starts and maintains the publication, to the individual bloggers whose content appears in it, to the Printcasting network that makes it all possible, would get a cut.

The easiest way to explain this is via a narrative. Note that all of the percentages below are hypothetical, as we haven’t decided what the mix will be.

Let’s say that John, a local fishing blogger, agrees to make his content printable in exchange for sharing in revenues of any publication that uses his content. And let’s say that we agree to reserve 40% of the total revenue in any one edition of a publication, divvied up between the bloggers in that publication.

Larry, a Printcast publisher, creates a Printcast called “The Fishcast” He chooses John’s blog, plus four others. The next edition contains four stories, one from each blogger in Larry’s list. And it makes $100 in ads.

Since the bloggers’ collective share is 40%, they get $40 together, or $10 individually. Not bad for one week!

If we reserved another 40% for the publisher, that’s $40 for Larry. He gets a larger overall share because he’s the one who decided to create, market and — perhaps — also edit the content in The Fishcast.

If the next edition makes another $100, they get another $10 — but if Larry is doing his job in promoting the publication it may make $150. Everyone’s share, including Larry’s, goes up and everyone is happy.

The last 20% (or $20) would go to ongoing maintenance of the Printcasting network. Our share would also increase along with everyone else’s.

There is a second method of revenue generation tied to larger distribution, which I get into in your question about advertising.

Jason: Have you done research that suggests PDF content is more desirable than RSS content to a certain demographic? What’s your target market?

Dan: We don’t have a great deal of research about PDFs specifically, although we do have anecdotal evidence from an experiment we ran a year ago.

We launched a free, PDF-only subscription called Californian Update. Over a 6-month period we got 990 people to sign up to receive an e-mail that said, “Today’s edition is ready for download” that also included a front-page screen grab so readers had a sense of what they’d get from the download. Actual downloads varied from 1-4 percent, which is pretty standard for e-mail marketing. Download rates were higher when there were big breaking news events.

I’m not sure that you can make an apples-to-apples comparison between the Californian Update and Printcasting, though.

First, the Update included content that was already on Bakersfield.com and in the daily newspaper. It was like a digest for people who may not have time to read everything on the Web. The problem is that this content was already aggregated on one site, so the convenience factor of having it also aggregated in a printable PDF wasn’t that strong.

The other major difference is that Printcasts will be created by people who aggregate content from the community, news sources and their own content that has never been brought together in that way. We do have quite a bit of local research that shows that locals wants print publications focused on niche interests.

While our daily newspaper has a circulation of 60,000 (70,000 on Sunday), the total exclusive contribution from our niche publications — most of which didn’t exist before 2004 — was 7% of total audience and 22% of total advertisers. Here are the circulations of the print component of those niche products:

The Northwest Voice
http://www.northwestvoice.com
28,000 every two weeks

The Southwest Voice
http://www.swvoice.com
28,000 every two weeks

Bakersfield Life
http://www.bakersfieldlife.com
65,000 monthly

Mas Magazine
http://www.masbakersfield.com
17,000 every week; 13,000 home delivered, 5,000 in racks

Bakotopia Magazine
http://www.bakotopia.com
8,000 every other week in 200 rack locations

Tehachapi News
http://tehachapinews.com
8,400 weekly

So the lesson for me is that there’s still a lot of value in print. The problem is not so much that people are moving away from print — they’re not — but that they’re moving away from general interest print products and toward niche-focused print & online hybrid products. I get into that a little bit here.

Also, I should be clear that every Printcast will also have what we’re calling a “microsite” that presents all of the content that’s in the PDF in an easily browsable Web view. From there, readers can decide to download the PDF, which they will see a thumbnail for in the sidebar. Here’s a screen shot of a wireframe for a typical Microsite (click for a bigger version):

Jason: I assume that Printcasting will be running its own ad network. How will your ad sales model work? Pay-per-PDF download?

Dan: We will be building a self-serve advertising tool that lets local businesses easily create ads that look great in print. And just like Printcast publishers, they won’t need any design skills or software to create great looking print ads.

They’ll simply enter a few lines of text (e.g. “Buy one donut, get one free at Bob’s Donut Shack”), and then choose where their ad should appear. They’ll have two choices for that. First, they can choose specific Printcast publications where they want their ad to appear. Second, they can identify the type of audience they want to target. In the latter case, we’ll match their ad with their desired audience based on the demographics of readers who will have to tell us their age, gender and zip code.

We hope to eventually have a pay-per-download model working, but as we look into it we’re afraid that’s too ambitious and complicated for a first step. We’ll get there eventually, but when we launch we will at least have a set price per publication. Perhaps each category of publication will have a different base cost. And advertisers will pay a set fee per edition. (I know this sounds traditional compared to self-serve online ad tools, but we’ve also learned that long-tail advertisers are overwhelmed for those tools. They respond better to very straightforward approaches — which is the same reason we think they still prefer print).

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Printcasting Offers Hybrid Web/Print Publishing (And Ad Targeting) « Source Notes
07.15.08 at 10:25 pm

{ 2 comments }

1 David Everywhere 07.31.08 at 9:16 am

I don’t think that the internet has been too disruptive of a force for newspapers, it’s just a matter of adapting. Now it is more widely distributed, and as long as the writing is still great, the loyal fans will continue to read it.

2 m goode 11.19.08 at 2:23 pm

How do you plan to implement this into mobile phones? A lot of users are getting their news on the go. I would be interested to see how you would implement this for a phone with a full touch screen display, like the motorola Krave. I’ve been interested in technology like this ever since I started working with Motorola. Full specs are available online at motorola.com/krave. It’s definitely worth checking out.

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