Observations: Ultimate Countertrend—The Printed Blog
For many of us, at least Baby Boomers and younger, these tumultuous times are unprecedented. The front-page headlines covering the stories of economic woe among the world’s banking, insurance, and other financial institutions have been relentless. The amount of ink spilled describing the plight of “The Big Three” American automakers has been enormous. And not far behind in terms of column inches has been coverage following the downward spiral of the newspaper and magazine business—an ongoing demise with the ironic potential to make the aforementioned expressions, at least in the physical sense, as obsolete as the buggy whip.
But rising on the horizon is at least one effort to reverse the trend away from all-online, all-the-time news and information consumption. A new, small publishing company with the simple but provocative name of “The Printed Blog” (TPB), along with a publication of the same name, is seeking to reverse the fortunes of traditional newspapers and magazines.
TPB founder Joshua Karp clearly has a high awareness of the plight of the current newspaper industry and some of the industry’s dynamics. He describes his development of the TPB idea after becoming a reader of popular blogs such as Gawker and TechCrunch in the recent past. Karp is aware that the ratio of print to online ads is still heavily weighted towards print, but he also views the newspaper industry as stuck in a rut of doing things in the same old way.
Comparing traditional print to online concepts in information and its presentation, the Chicago-based entrepreneur could not get the “printed blog” concept, employing newer ideas about presentation of information, out of his mind. Also, looking at “alternative pubs” spawned by the newspaper business, such as the troubled Chicago Tribune’s RedEye, he saw content issues as well. With a user-generated content-based publication in mind as an “alternative to the alternative”, Karp asks the rhetorical question, “Which would you pick up?” comparing “rehashed AP stories” to content ultimately much more original and compelling. So he had a graphic designer friend mock up the first TPB and began to test ideas among friends and acquaintances, leading to the current 8-page, letter-sized edition available today.
The Printed Blog, currently with a staff of Karp and eight unpaid interns, is in beta testing with a weekly version. At the end of March 2009, issue #9 had been released, and it was the first to expand from one version to four, localized for each of four selected markets (Chicago – the company’s home base, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco). The goal of the The Printed Blog is to soon launch as a daily in multiple markets. The business model is strictly advertising-driven, with free physical distribution through local outlets (and downloadable PDF versions available online).
Recent versions have had print runs of 3,000 copies, with 3,000-10,000 downloads depending on the issue. And in terms of another popular metric these days, The Printed Blog’s Twitter presence has expanded from one account—with 2,300 followers as of this column’s deadline—to four localized for each city in which it is currently distributed.
Since the original beta launch in January, Karp admits the media attention has “been overwhelming and a bit surprising.” For example, TPB’s home page has a sample of two (out of many possible) links to articles from The New York Times and Wired.
But Karp’s humility does not inhibit his big picture vision. Just as he saw a newspaper industry mired in outdated ways, some of which have not changed in the last 100 years, he sees himself and TPB helping to create a platform for newspaper publishing for the next 100 years.
As far as printing details, local print shops currently produce TPB, but the vision includes many partners who will do their own printing along with local distribution and advertising through local offices, storefronts, and even home offices. The printing devices they deploy may be branded “The Printed Blog” but will be based on printers from Canon, HP, Xerox, and others. Karp’s attention is focused elsewhere for now. At least from a printer industry perspective, Karp brings a fresh and unadorned view to the project. When asked about some recent, related history that I have covered, such as HP’s efforts to encourage blog printing and Newspaper Direct’s localized newspaper printer business, he seems blissfully unaware. Focusing on the needs of readers, advertisers, and content providers (and how to build the business along those lines), should be and is what is top of mind for him right now. As an example of readers’ needs, TPB’s Web site describes what the company intends to offer with the daily version: “Once we launch, expect to find a copy of our unique, pleasurably tactile newspaper at a news stand near you!”
Appreciating what print offers, and not just devising ways of how to print more, may be the key to success for The Printed Blog.