Can Printcasting Print-on-Demand Work for B2B?

One of the memes at work in the new-media transformation involves the way print can play an ongoing role in the increasingly digital world of publishing. Last week I covered two options, print-on-demand from Magcloud, and digital editions that try to recreate the print experience. Both of these efforts have been marketed heavily to traditional magazine publishers.

Those publishers are less likely to be aware of a similar experiment being developed in the newspaper world, called Printcasting. Driven by Dan Pacheco of the Bakersfield Californian, Printcasting aims to allow virtually anyone to produce a PDF magazine from one or more hyperlocal blogs or other online sources. The Printcasting project was kicked off last year with a grant from the Knight Foundation. While it started as a project for the Bakersfield area, it has now expanded around the world.

As Pacheco explained last year in an FAQ on the project, Printcasting is a do-it-yourself form of publishing:

“Printcasting will make it possible for anyone to create a local printable newspaper, magazine or newsletter that carries local advertising—all for free—by pulling together online content from existing sources, such as blogs, and combining it with local advertising that matches the content.

“Through web software . . . an aspiring print publisher won’t need any technical knowledge, design skills, software or even content to create printable publications. If you’re passionate about a local interest—which could be anything from a local sports team to a local hobby like fishing—and you have an Internet connection, you’ll be able to set up your own publication in minutes. New editions will automatically be created as PDFs and sent to readers in e-mail. The idea is similar to a Podcast, which uses RSS feeds to send out new MP3 files—thus the term Printcasting.”

While the primary mode of distribution would be e-mail, print distribution is part of the mix as well. In local markets, for instance, individual Printcast publishers might print out several hundred copies of the magazines for distribution at local venues and events. (And note that, in contrast to Magcloud, which prints and binds the magazine, Printcasting leaves the actual printing up to individual publishers and/or readers.)

The magazines created so far, as listed on the Printcasting Web site, don’t come close to the production values of a digital edition. They tend to be just a few pages long and look more like newsletters than true magazines. Paid ads, which are evidently few and far between to date, are placed via a tool on the Printcasting Web site, and cost $10 per publication. Revenue is split 60% to the publishers, 30% to content creators, and 10% to Printcasting.com.

The results may not be very impressive so far, but as Pacheco commented last week, the Printcasting tools are continually being upgraded with new features and capabilities, and more are on the way. In any event, Printcasting is still very much an experiment, rather than a revenue-generating project.

In that spirit, let’s attempt our own thought experiment for how B2B publishers might use a system like Printcasting—a concrete option, since as an open-source project, Printcasting software will be freely available  sometime next year. First, let’s assume that with continued development, the production values of the magazines produced by the Printcasting system can be upgraded. Let’s also assume that a variety of ad sizes and configurations will be accommodated. Finally, let’s assume that there will continue to be some level of demand for print-oriented formats for content.

A few ways B2B publishers might use such a system spring immediately to mind:

  • Hyper-niche publishing. Even B2B publishers in very narrow fields have felt pressure to create niche publications. Printcasting might offer a cost-effective way to do this. Readers would simply indicate what areas they want to follow and would receive monthly magazines limited to that content.
  • Self-service custom publishing. Readers or advertisers could generate their own publications for distribution to their own readers (customers or employees) from a B2B publisher’s content, either for a fee or a revenue split.
  • Network publishing services. A B2B publisher could emulate the go-between role of Printcasting.com by arranging for bloggers and other information providers in the publisher’s market to make feeds of their content available for Printcasting. Here the publisher would not provide content but aggregate that of other sources. The B2B publisher would receive a smaller split of revenue or smaller fee than with the custom-publishing option, but its costs would be correspondingly lower.

As Pacheco has observed, printcasting alone won’t save journalism, and it certainly won’t turn B2B publishing around by itself. But what it might offer us is yet another revenue stream that, along with other revenue-generating innovations, can help ensure the survival of trade journalism.

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