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    Can ‘The Printed Blog’ Succeed with Blogs in Newspaper Form?

    by Simon Owens
    February 9, 2009
    This is the front page of the second issue of The Printed Blog.

    If the entire media industry is a river that is slowly but persistently moving toward the Internet, then one could picture Joshua Karp as a canoeist paddling against the current, trying to take the online realm and solidify it into print. I first heard of his new business venture, The Printed Blog, from a colleague of mine who runs a popular food blog. This person was contacted by someone who works for The Printed Blog and asked whether he would allow his content to be syndicated and printed in a free daily newspaper that would consist entirely of blog posts.

    But when the food blogger told me that payment would consist of future shared advertising revenue — how many times have we seen that before? — I classified it with the hundreds of other unserious blog network announcements that populate most social media job boards. Future revenue sharing is often a clear sign that all parties are coming to the table with no investment in the project, giving them little incentive to stick around when the job gets the least bit taxing.

    I think when people say we need to go online and the Internet is cool and that's where people are going, I think that's an oversimplification." -- Joshua Karp, The Printed Blog

    A few weeks later, however, I received word that The Printed Blog had published its inaugural issue and had even managed to earn coverage in the New York Times. I read that Karp, who had recently sold a software company he owned, was himself funding the publication, which was being produced out of free office space with a volunteer staff.

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    The First Issue

    When I spoke to Karp last week on the phone it was not long after a few thousand copies of that first issue had appeared on newsstands in both Chicago — which received the largest print run of 2,000 copies — and San Francisco. He said that when he floated the idea for the project to a few friends last year nearly all of them shot it down. But the idea persisted and in November he hired a graphic designer to cull together some blog posts and create a mock-up of a newspaper.

    i-bfc1d87999c301415863b8347c74895c-josh karp.JPG
    Joshua Karp

    “So I sent over that information and he put it in, and it started to look like something,” he said. “I was reading it and I said to myself, ‘You know this really might be something that I would read.’ And I took that mock-up and started to show it to people, and I put out a call for some people to help, and it was the Craigslist ad that I posted on January 3 for editors that really sent the ball rolling.”

    The Hyper-Local Element

    Though the first few issues will be published weekly, Karp’s plan is to transition The Printed Blog into a twice-daily publication that will, in essence, be a new experiment in hyper-local. The idea is to print not one uniform issue but to allow the readers in each of the paper’s distribution neighborhoods to vote online on which blog content they prefer. In theory, the paper would be able to cater to the demographics of each neighborhood and the readership would become the editor (he would then be able to sell cheap, hyper-local advertisements). If this sounds oddly like the nature of social news on the web, that’s because Karp intended it to be that way.

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    “I think there are principles in the online world that work really well and can be applied to the offline world,” he said. “If we look at a newspaper from the early 20th century compared to one published yesterday they look largely the same. One size fits all, quarter page ads, the half page ads are really expensive. The content is selected by a bunch of editors and journalists that cover beats. Their model hasn’t changed, and my position is that the print newspaper doesn’t need to go away simply because it’s on paper. The problem with the print newspaper business…[is] that nobody has taken a hard look [at] how newspapers are pulled together and laid out and published, and how the power of community tools that we have now can enhance this.”

    Why Participate?

    I spoke to Terry Mertens, who works for a creative advertising agency in Chicago, about his decision to allow his blog’s content to be syndicated by The Printed Blog. His blog, All You Need to Know, began as an e-newsletter in the late 1990s and has served as a creative outlet as he’s worked his way up in the advertising industry. He said that Karp had been one of the original subscribers of his newsletter and had approached him recently with the request to be able to syndicate his content.

    i-a962864164261fbb27324cc6a65cfc91-printed blog pitch.jpg

    “I said that’s great, I’m flattered to be considered for the inaugural issue,” Mertens said. “So I said sure, whatever you want, you can go through my archives or you can pick something new, and that’s kind of how that worked.”

    When considering most of the blogosphere, it struck me that a high ratio of the blog posts that are published every day would not transfer well off the web; after all, how often do bloggers include non-contextual links, embedded video or pithy one-liners? And linking is the currency of blogs, something that is largely eliminated when you put blogs on paper.

    “Honestly I think it depends on the blog,” Mertens said. “Whenever I post something online, I have kind of a print mentality, like this is something I’d like to have published in a book some day. So I get it right. They’re short essays. A lot of times they’re one page long, or two pages, or three, whatever that length would be, but I write it as though it’s a finished form, and it’s not just this stream of consciousness.”

    Is It Financially Stable?

    I asked Karp about the funding — most notably, who would cover the printing cost — and he admitted that the publication’s future likely hinged on whether he could find venture capitalist funding over the next few weeks. He said that he’s committed his own money to the first three issues, but if The Printed Blog is ever to become a daily publication, distributed in several major cities, it will need much more financial backing.

    And when I pointed out that this wasn’t exactly the best time to enter the print world, he said that there still is a place for print, that with paper you “shuffle the pages on the train, you get ink on your fingers, you spread the pages out on a kitchen table on weekends, and you read them and it’s a different kind of thing.” In short, print provides a different experience than online, one that many people still want. To him, this print-to-online argument is simply overgeneralizing.

    “I think when people say we need to go online and the Internet is cool and that’s where people are going, I think that’s an oversimplification, I think it’s a little bit of a — it’s a little lazy. There are techniques that I can demonstrate that really can work offline.”

    We will see. What do you think about The Printed Blog? Would you read it? If you are a blogger, would you syndicate your content in this publication? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

    Simon Owens is a former newspaper journalist and an associate editor for MediaShift. He currently works as an online analyst for New Media Strategies. You can read more of his writing at his blog or contact him at simon[.]bloggasm [at] gmail.com.

    Tagged: business models hyper-local local bloggers newspapers
    • I think this is an intriguing discussion and give credit to Mr. Karp for ‘paddling against the current.’ Perhaps because I am fairly new to the craft and culture blogging, I’d find the bridging characteristic that The Printed Blog offers between the worlds of print and pixels especially fascinating. Yes, I would contribute to its makeup.

    • I think this is going to work. There are two parts that are still needed.
      1. Editorial intelligence. The good news about blogging is that there are usually no editors. The bad news is the same as the good news.

      Editor is different from curator. Anyone can do the multiple choice of this post or that post. Some better than others. By editing I mean that second look and recrafting the words to get it really communicate.

      While this skill is hard to find, that’s what changes a blog post into a column that many people, not just the blog followers will enjoy reading.

      2. There has to be a system that is very easy to get local ads. Best would be ads in the exact location in which the Paper is inserted.

      I think that once both these pieces are in place, this idea scales.

    • I love when people go the opposite of trends. Sometimes you need to do that just to get attention. Being online is great and I’m glad it exists in my lifetime, but sometimes I do like a good old-fashioned printed newsletter or book to curl up with (which is kinda hard to do in a computer chair) and enjoy so I hope that continues to have real staying power.

    • Hi Simon, great article. As soon as I started reading it i realized that we already have a printed blog in France: Vendredi, so I piggybacked off your post to write a post on Vendredi and Slate arriving in French thanks to some heavyweight journalists. Thanks for the trigger.
      You can read my complementary post here:
      http://johngaynardcreativity.blogspot.com/2009/02/french-printed-blog-vendredi.html

      Best wishes,
      John

      http://www.vendredi.info/

    • Colleen

      This idea may work. There are plenty of people(usually older) that don’t really understand what a blog is. This may be a way for them to transition to the new brave world (for them anyway).

    • I’ve been following the first three issues so far and am looking forward to the next and the next and so on…

      I like that it incorporates photos and twitter posts and lets flickr users participate within the flickr site.

      It’s nice to see new content and returning authors. And in a way, maybe it’s an okay time to enter the print world. We all need to stay well-rounded :o)

      Great info Simon!

    • The idea may end up financially feasible, but the content is extremely disappointing. If you read blogs, that doesn’t mean you harbor some innate desire to be blindsided by irreverent immature ramblings. They’ve decided to abrogate public interest reporting and push soft news, which is fine; though unless they start publishing stories on local arts and culture or with some kind of unique perspective, I’ll stop reading.

    • Print is the original social media. It has always been home to the best journalism and I applaud Karp for seeing a new path hidden to others less prescient. Newspapers nimble enough will adopt or emulate Karp’s model. Journalists adrift will soon flock to him.

    • antonio joseppe

      I followed the development of the Printed Blog for a while. In my opinion it remains questionable if a distinctive internet function such as a web feed is directly transferrable to the realm of print. I also believe that opinionated blog entries do not belong in local newspapers published twice a day. Normally highly local newspapers provide the reader with short, factual articles (at least in Austria they do). Furthermore, I dislike the idea that Karp and his team are applying their own editorial judgment in choosing which blogs will be advanced to the newspaper (a very work intensive concept and requires a high degree of professionalism). However, recently I discovered a very interesting social news site called http://www.theblogpaper.co.uk. The concepts of The Printed Blog and TheBlogPaper are slightly different. TheBlogPaper is also based on an independent media outlet that aggregates user-generated content (blogs) from the internet and publishes them weekly as magazine.Yet, TheBlogPaper on the other hand is based on a self-regulated and highly competitive community. All users are encouraged to rate and discuss the posted items. The highest rated and most discussed articles get promoted to the free weekly magazine. This allows the blogger to establish a name and reputation in and outside the blogging community and significantly increase the exposure of his blog. I like the idea because the community decide what goes into the magazine or not.

    • Helen

      Seems to me this is just perpetuating the downhill economics of the newspaper world e.g. it suffers from the same economic cost base disadvantages discussed here – the more likely scenario is a Kindle-like all-electronic subscription scenario for aggregating good blog posts.

    • Hi Simon… Thanks it was really great article. How do you think will printed blogs help in terms of marketing? Our company is finding clients for business centers to rent offices.
      REGARDS!!!

    • The Printed Blog was a simple idea: take blog posts from across the Internet, put them on glossy paper with edgy photos and give it away for free at el stops and other public gathering points.which helps people to know what it is …

    • I suggest this site to my friends so it could be useful & informative for them also. Great effort.

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    • I love the concept– as someone who works in the printing industry, I’ve seen a continued demand for printed materials even as the internet booms. It’s good to see some creativity and that people still recognize the value of the printed word.

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