Could print have saved us?

By Steve Outing

Dan Pacheco, who’s a newspaper industry expert on grassroots/citizen media and social networking, has done a thoughtful blog entry about the demise of my company (the Enthusiast Group) and Backfence.com. Since his work for the Bakersfield Californian and its various websites involves some of the same models of grassroots content and social networking that we were playing with (indeed, the Bakersfield social media work predates my company), some folks have been asking Pacheco if his social media ventures are next. (The death watch mentality.)

His answer: emphatically, no! Why? Pacheco says — and I agree — that the big difference with his company’s social media and grassroots neighborhood news ventures is that the online sites are tethered to complementary print properties, which provides a workable revenue model. (Local advertisers, he points out, remain stuck on the outdated idea that print is significant while online is still experimental, so their money is easier to get for print.) Both Backfence and my company were building online pure-play sites, and that’s a tough business.

Pacheco asks if a print strategy to complement the websites could have saved my company. Possibly. It’s something we considered seriously — having print products that featured the best of the content submitted by users and our “enthusiasts-in-chief” to our sites. But we would have had to raise much more money than we did to support a print strategy.

We pondered such ideas as partnering with magazines in our sports niches, which might feature an insert of our content. I still think that was a good idea, but we didn’t get anywhere with publishers, who still seem stuck in the past, not recognizing that the audience (especially the younger segment) is clearly transitioning online.

And we learned the hard way that outdoor companies — the Enthusiast Group’s target advertisers — are, like most local advertisers, still stuck in the past and focused mostly on print.

So don’t cry for Bakersfield. Pacheco and company still have a good shot at figuring out this grassroots media thing.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!

6 Responses to "Could print have saved us?"

  1. Dan Pacheco
    Dan Pacheco 9 years ago .Reply

    This is all academic, of course. I don’t assume for a minute that what works in one place will automatically work somewhere else. The difficult thing about “niche” is that every niche audience is different.

    I can appreciate the concerns around cost. Even for an exsiting media company like the Californian that has its own presses, the startup costs for printing and distributing of a new printed product — even one with 10,000 – 20,000 copies that comes out every two weeks — is daunting. Those costs require a longer “runway” than most small startups probably have. Don’t assume that you need your own printing presses to do this, though. Many of the niche publications I mention that are managed by Mercado Nuevo are now printed outside of the Californian because its’ cheaper for them, based on the number of copies and type of print stock that they require.

    I have thought for some time that there must be a way to let anyone publish a printed publication using online content, starting with PDFs and then moving to home printers, Kinko’s and — for the right type of content — a larger press run.

    We submitted a concept to the Knight News Challenge for this which is going to the next round. If we win (a longshot given the number of entries), maybe the next citizen media startup will have more options when it comes to print. And if we don’t, I think this idea is so compelling that we’ll keep looking for a way to make it happen.

  2. Dan Pacheco
    Dan Pacheco 9 years ago .Reply

    This is all academic, of course. I don't assume for a minute that what works in one place will automatically work somewhere else. The difficult thing about "niche" is that every niche audience is different. I can appreciate the concerns around cost. Even for an exsiting media company like the Californian that has its own presses, the startup costs for printing and distributing of a new printed product — even one with 10,000 – 20,000 copies that comes out every two weeks — is daunting. Those costs require a longer "runway" than most small startups probably have. Don't assume that you need your own printing presses to do this, though. Many of the niche publications I mention that are managed by Mercado Nuevo are now printed outside of the Californian because its' cheaper for them, based on the number of copies and type of print stock that they require. I have thought for some time that there must be a way to let anyone publish a printed publication using online content, starting with PDFs and then moving to home printers, Kinko's and — for the right type of content — a larger press run. We submitted a concept to the Knight News Challenge for this which is going to the next round. If we win (a longshot given the number of entries), maybe the next citizen media startup will have more options when it comes to print. And if we don't, I think this idea is so compelling that we'll keep looking for a way to make it happen.

  3. […] Could print have saved us? Steve Outing says it may have kept his user-based company from going under. The reason is economics: local advertisers still believe in print. […]

  4. Dave Bullard
    Dave Bullard 9 years ago .Reply

    I’ve always thought that print would help hyperlocal news sites like mine (Steve was kind enough to write about us, oh, half a million years ago in E&P). Let’s face it — web-only is a tough place to be. And it runs counter to the advice being given to print-only media — diversify, embrace all platforms.

    We’ve been working on a partnership with a print company in our markets, believing that it would help us grow. Our advertisers like us well enough, but print is just a habit and the first thing they think about when they need to get a message out. But the partnership idea is stalled, as the publisher has about the same thinking Steve said he ran into with magazine publishers.

    We’ve also thought about Dan’s notion of printing our own publication, but Dan doesn’t identify the real problem. Getting the printing done isn’t the issue. The cost of printing, at Kinko’s or even in-house, is relatively low. Rather, distribution is the issue. A distribution network is expensive.

    When we opened our third hyperlocal publication, we backed it for a time with a morning one-sheet newsletter that summarized the day’s headlines. I put it together at 6am and e-mailed it to Kinko’s. That part was simple. The cost was low. But, lacking a distribution network, the job fell to my sales manager to pick up the sheets and take them to convenience stores and Burger King’s and such. The one-sheet drove online readership and became a desirable publication in its own right. But it was a two hour a day drain on resources. We had to shut it off.

    I do believe that print is part of the answer for web publications. The web and related technologies have decimated the cost of production. It’s the cost and method of distribution that remains the barrier to entry.

  5. Dave Bullard
    Dave Bullard 9 years ago .Reply

    I've always thought that print would help hyperlocal news sites like mine (Steve was kind enough to write about us, oh, half a million years ago in E&P). Let's face it — web-only is a tough place to be. And it runs counter to the advice being given to print-only media — diversify, embrace all platforms. We've been working on a partnership with a print company in our markets, believing that it would help us grow. Our advertisers like us well enough, but print is just a habit and the first thing they think about when they need to get a message out. But the partnership idea is stalled, as the publisher has about the same thinking Steve said he ran into with magazine publishers. We've also thought about Dan's notion of printing our own publication, but Dan doesn't identify the real problem. Getting the printing done isn't the issue. The cost of printing, at Kinko's or even in-house, is relatively low. Rather, distribution is the issue. A distribution network is expensive. When we opened our third hyperlocal publication, we backed it for a time with a morning one-sheet newsletter that summarized the day's headlines. I put it together at 6am and e-mailed it to Kinko's. That part was simple. The cost was low. But, lacking a distribution network, the job fell to my sales manager to pick up the sheets and take them to convenience stores and Burger King's and such. The one-sheet drove online readership and became a desirable publication in its own right. But it was a two hour a day drain on resources. We had to shut it off. I do believe that print is part of the answer for web publications. The web and related technologies have decimated the cost of production. It's the cost and method of distribution that remains the barrier to entry.

  6. […] Steve Outing » Could print have saved us? “Possibly. We considered seriously having print products that featured the best of the content submitted by users and our “enthusiasts-in-chief” to our sites. But we would have had to raise much more money than we did to support a print strategy.” (tags: business business+models media strategy tidbits+fodder) […]

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