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    Putting Our Plane on the Runway

    by Dan Pacheco
    February 12, 2009

    Printcasting, our Knight News Challenge project to democratize print publishing, entered closed beta last week. An open beta is just around the corner, and we’re doing everything we can to officially launch in Bakersfield in early March. To make that happen, two camps — development and marketing — are busy getting everything into place for a successful launch.

    In development, all of our focus is on completing a few last critical features, including the creation of automatic, self-updating Printcast editions. And we’re making great progress!

    In the marketing camp, we’re busy tweaking messaging, writing FAQs, giving live demos and building lists of potential citizen publishers, bloggers and businesses for our outreach plan. We’ve even brought a new person into our team, Tom Webster, who will focus exclusively on evangelizing Printcasting locally in Bakersfield. Tom is a well-respected, active blogger on Bakersfield.com (our newspaper’s main site), and he has a lot of ties into the local community.

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    And in the middle of all this, international attention on Printcasting continues to grow. I was interviewed by Nora Young from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s technology show, “Spark”. You can listen to that show and read about some other projects with similarities to Printcasting on the Spark web site.

    We’d love to get more people into the beta test (and it’s easy — just request membership to this group and I’ll let you in). But we know that most people just want to see what we’re up to. The video below provides a glimpse into the most important piece of the product: the magazine-creation machine. You can watch a publisher on the beta site choosing feeds, layouts and design elements to create an automatically-generated PDF that can be used to print an 8-page magazine.

    Printcasting Publisher Demo – Closed Beta from Dan Pacheco on Vimeo.

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    It’s fun and just a little embarrassing to compare this to the prototype video I posted four months ago, not to mention the early concept video from 8 months ago, which consisted of a few sketches and a Powerpoint. It’s a reminder to me of the iterative nature of product development, and the importance of continually refining ideas until you get them right.

    I’m certain that a few months after we launch and hundreds of regular people in Bakersfield are using Printcasting to create their own magazines, there will be even more changes that are driven by how people use the product. And when we compare that version to what we have now, we’ll look back and see how far we’ve come as we have very likely renovated major pieces of the house that is Printcasting.

    This may sound like a big ball of stress, and sometimes it is, but it’s also what makes creative people tick. Good product people live to take risks and help ordinary people do extraordinary things with technology. To do that right, you have to be excited by the idea of endless creation and re-creation that’s informed by how people respond to what you put out there. All of us working on this project can’t wait to see our assumptions tested by the hyperlocal community of Bakersfield, and respond to their feedback with something even better. In that sense, beta is simply a practice run for the next 15 months or more of our lives. We can’t wait!

    Tagged: beta test printcasting publishing tools video
    • Brian Garrett

      I’m just not sold that people are going to use this as a print product. I’ve been watching this for a little while, and I’m not sure what the point is to generate a print product page, to display on the computer screen and then print out if you want to. I don’t think too many people are going to go through the effort of printing it out to take it with them.

      I know I don’t like carrying around a lot of extra paper. And then, which edition is this? Or I ran out of ink in the printer, or out of paper.

      Don’t get me wrong – I’m keeping an eye on this, but I can’t quite see it working – at least not on a broad scale. The reason I think that is because I don’t know too many people now that are willing to print out web pages they want to read later with. How is this any different?

      The one thing I always have with me is my iPhone…. and I will readily admit that is not the platform for something like this. But what other medium would there be to transport the finished product? A kindle? Something along the lines of Plastic Logic’s got coming out later this year? I’m not sure.

      I’m not trying to be mean, or angry about it – I’m just trying to figure out the practical use of this idea. Please help me to understand.

      Thanks,

      Brian

    • You’re allowed to be skeptical. It’s the nature of new ideas to challenge assumptions.

      Remember that home printing is only where printing starts in our model. In the future we hope to integrate professional print-and-deliver capabilities through one or more print service providers. Organizations like HOAs, schools, businesses and even governments would like this because they already print and distribute content locally. They do this even when they have Web sites, which really illustrates how print helps with local visibility.

      You can publish content online and people will go to it when they know about it, but if you really want a large local following for web content you find that you end up printing and distributing things like fliers that contain your URLs, and sometimes even sample content. In that sense, one way to see a Printcast (but not the only way) is as a “smart flier” that markets your Web site and reminds people to keep going to it. This is not just a theory — this is what we have ended up having to do in Bakersfield, California with all of our niche products. We also find that local businesses are more likely to buy an ad in those printed magazines than on the Web site, and pay more for them, even though the exact same content is online and in print.

      We will also print and distribute Printcasts ourselves that have a good online following. We will use the online usage and downloading as a proxy for market research before investing in printing and delivering anything ourselves.

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