Observations: 'Where Are They Now?' – The Printed Blog
by Jim Lyons
I had been planning to write another “Where Are They Now” column for some time now, about some of the companies covered in this column (Observations) over the past five years. But the news in late March about Shutterfly’s acquisition (for over $300 million) of online stationery supplier Tiny Prints really motivated me! And though I could have sworn I had written about them (Tiny Prints) previously, a search of both the Observer archives as well as this blog’s past postings turned out negative. I usually don't let many companies or products with “print” or something related in their names go unnoticed, but, alas, Tiny Prints crossed my mental radar but didn’t make it as a story. But fortunately, there is another one that did, multiple times, and who is due for a re-visit.
The Printed Blog is the subject of this column, and it’s currently another success story that if not yet on the scale of Tiny Prints, is heading in that direction. This is a company which has gone from darling, to dead, to alive again and is doing some great things and on the verge of others. I recently talked to the founder and CEO Joshua Karp about what's new, and what's different from their first time around, about two years ago.
That was when The Printed Blog first caught my attention (see “The Printed Blog – Ultimate Counter Trend?”, April 2009), along with many others including the mainstream media, two years ago their idea to do a localized newspaper-like printed product that included “great blog content” along with local news and information on goings-on. They got off to a quick start in several cities, however less than six months later they had suspended operation as the advertiser-supported model broke down. But another year or so later they were back in business, with an altered business model, which I again faithfully reported as part of my “From the Magazine Rack” wrapup in August 2010.
I hadn’t had the chance to get the latest directly from the source until recently, however, so in a brief but high-bandwidth conversation with Karp, I got the latest to share with JLO readers. In looking back, Karp first talked about his inspiration from a talk by Dell CEO Michael Dell, which he heard ten or more years ago, and Dell’s point that great entrepreneurs know when to give up. (But then he also adds parenthetically, “Great entrepreneurs are also extremely tenacious!”) By tweaking the business model, Karp was able to come back, and grow again. Now a weekly magazine, altered from the daily newspaper model of the previous iteration, and purely subscription-based relying on mailing centrally printing issues. Karp explains, comparing the original model and its “local community-focused content, which was originally a daily with hyper-local content written for them, combined with the more general blog content of national interest” to now the more broadly-applicable magazine-style format. His inspiration continues to come from, in his judgment, the “tremendous amount of blog content, that could or should be produced in paper form, in blogs.” And it’s still based on another primary concept – the level playing field. In a recent issue, for example, “We had (communications expert and pundit) Jeff Jarvis, and some of his writing, right next to the work of unknowns. This proves the point, if you produce something worth reading – it will be read.”
In terms of numbers, Karp was very candid about this latest Printed Blog incarnation. “We are currently [late March 2011] at the tail-end of our first subscription drive with 3,000 paying subscribers. We are 3-4 weeks away from reaching or exceeding our subscriber goals. We are currently on our 5th of 6 promotional issues, and we expect to sail right past our goals with a combination of weekly and monthly subscribers. We see being at five figures by the end of the year.”
Local Printing Option
Going back 2009, but I wanted to know what had happened to the “local printing” option in covered in our original interview? In that two-year-old column, I described Karp’s vision as follows: “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.” He now states that while that hasn’t become reality, and the business has gone in a different direction, it still has merit.
And another exciting development? Karp has two international licensees to talk about. “This is relatively recent, just in the past 4-6 weeks, we have licensing groups which have formed around the world. In Saint Petersburg, Russia
a group is up to production of 50,000 copies of relevant Russian content. Their license to pertains to all of Russia. And a second license will be to a group in Portugal, to be official in the next few days – with their publication launching on Liberty Day – it’s a combination of advertiser supported plus subscription model – and they have already lined up big advertisers. The two groups of licensees are quite different, with young entrepreneurs in Russia, and seasoned media professionals in Portugal, who want to spread TPB across Europe, publishing the world’s most successful photogs and bloggers.”
And as far as more new ideas? Karp offered in a follow-up email, “We also launched a new daily print newspaper called The Top Sheet - we tested it in December, and we'll be launching it any day now. If you're interested, you can learn more at www.thetopsheet.com.”
Never short of new ideas, Joshua Karp and the Printed Blog, originally inspired by a speech by Michael Dell, now inspires many of us in the print industry to be persistent and creative. I firmly believe this is not my last column about the Printed Blog and their habit of zagging when it seems like all the rest of the world is zigging.