Thursday, August 13, 2009

Observations: Summer Rerun?

Observations: Summer Rerun?

After last month’s Twitter printing column, I planned to write a next-level column on Twitter document management. But when my editor subtly suggested that I “give Twitter a rest,” I realized she and most of you are probably among that silent majority of our population that is getting fairly fed up with the vocal minority of Twitter fans (or freaks, may be more like it.) So I am following the suggestion and giving Twitter a month off.

My title “Summer Rerun” was selected partly for its cliché value, as there are many fresh developments to be covered. Also, as I write this column, summer is in full swing, and because my subject matter includes companies and technologies from past columns, the television term “rerun” comes to mind. But lest you are tempted to stop reading now, be aware that each of my subjects has late-breaking material to be reviewed.

Tale of A Few Startups

Two startup firms I have covered in the past have been in the news recently, with varying degrees of pleasantness. In February 2007, my column described GreenPrint, the Portland, OR-based company with a product of the same name that helps users control and eliminate unwanted printed pages. None other than Walter Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal’s Personal Technology column had positively reviewed the firm’s initial product. Since then I have tracked GreenPrint, after visiting the company and testing the product, and I was interested to see a company profile and a review of the new version of the firm’s software, this one in The New York Times.

In the article titled, “That Long, Long Road From Idea to Success,” Vindu Goel paints a great picture of the company’s struggles to “get over the hump” in such a well-written and compelling piece that I am now using it as an example in my marketing and innovation classes. Goel covers the company’s strategic decision to base its new product version on Microsoft’s XPS print architecture (Observer, 8/08) in hopes of improving performance and gaining new looks from enterprise customers. (Full disclosure department: I took Goel to task a bit in my blog for his characterization of the printer market with which I did not totally agree.)

P.T. Barnum said there is no such thing as bad publicity, but this review was not as favorable as Mossberg’s. (Goel’s product review is in a separate online-only review titled, “GreenPrint Saves Paper and Ink at the Price of Speed”.) Goel knocks the product’s performance, and my personal results have been mixed as well, as compared to the original version. One PC was significantly faster, but another (my production laptop) exhibited odd, halting performance. Troubleshooting with the firm continues, though the recent 2.0.3 version has improved the performance noticeably, especially after the first print job after a restart.

The other startup I will mention was covered here more recently: The Printed Blog (TPB). In my April 2009 column, I wrote about Joshua Karp’s ambitious startup and his plans to expand his circulation beyond his Chicago base, pulling in a lot of interest and support along the way from the press and readers. But on July 7, I received an e-mail from Joshua titled, “The Printed Blog ceases publication…,” that included a short synopsis of TPB’s demise, citing a lack of outside investment capital. The multi-part blog post from the same day contains some interesting insights about publishing and the world of startups. Here is a brief passage that we all can learn from on Karp’s mistakes:

“Well, I got distracted by all of the press we received. Once we were in The New York Times, and I was getting interview requests from radio and TV and newspapers all over the world, I started to think that I could build the newspaper for the next 100 years. Instead of focusing on one thing—revenue—on a small enough scale to prove our model, I decided to try and publish the paper in Chicago, San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles… I got carried away, and we spread ourselves too thin too fast. So stay FOCUSED! Prove your model incrementally… and if you happen upon something that gets people excited, be very careful.”

I do not know if I should feel a little guilty, being a part of “all the press,” but seriously, Karp’s thoughtful blog post will go with the NYTimes GreenPrint piece as an example in my classes.

Just Want to Be “Free”

I also have fresh news on a new theory espoused last year by Wired’s Chris Anderson, of Long Tail fame. When I covered his idea, based on “Free” pricing, in my March 2008 column, I asked, “Do printers fit with this new ‘Free’ thing?” My reply: “hmm, maybe.” Well, the book was released this summer and is a popular read in multiple forms. Anderson still ignores printers, but the razors-and-blades model is covered (Observer, 7/06). By the way, some of the multiple forms of Anderson’s book are indeed “free” and leverage other printing-related technologies I have written about in my column, including a Kindle/iPhone version (Observer, 3/09) and a version on (Observer, 5/08).

(Above: in the screen shot from the iPhone/Kindle version of Free's index, note that King Gillette, patron saint of razors-and-blades pricing, is frequently referenced.)

So that is what is new with friends and acquaintances that we have made over the last few years. Stay tuned for more ideas, when the fall season rolls around now any day. And, please follow me on Twitter at @jflyons!

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