About two years ago, I wrote up an idea for how to leverage standardized web content to create locally-targeted publications with less time, money and software than ever before. The technology and content would be digital, but the output would be optimized for physical distribution as printable PDF magazines. That concept became Printcasting and it earned us a Knight News Challenge grant.
We’re still extremely busy with Printcasting and are working on multiple tracks over the next six weeks before our grant ends. We’re finishing up version 2.0 of the Printcasting system on Drupal 6 and preparing to open-source everything, including the Drupal 5 version that powers the existing site. And we’re also helping partners, such as Temple University’s Philadelphia Neighborhoods in Philadelphia, which just printed 500 copies of its Printcasts and distributed them to the urban neighborhoods it serves. (Read more about what they’re up to here). Here’s a picture of PhiladelphiaNeighborhoods co-directors Linn Washington and Christopher Harper proudly displaying their first print editions.
We’re starting FeedBrewer out with a small bootstrap team, with me as President/CEO and Product Manager, Printcasting designer Don Hajicek as the COO, and Drupal developer Andy Lasda as CTO. Learn more about FeedBrewer and its mission on our site.
In addition to maintaining the free Printcasting.com service, which has been acquired from The Bakersfield Californian by FeedBrewer Inc. in exchange for an equity stake, FeedBrewer will expand Printcasting’s democratized-publishing approach to apply to more than just print. We’ll be adding additional outputs for smartphones, starting with the iPhone and Blackberry, and tablet computers, including Apple’s new iPad.
The FeedBrewer Approach
FeedBrewer is a publishing approach that works with almost any standards-based online publishing system. It can best be described as Publish Once, Distribute Everywhere:
What exactly does that mean? Here’s what we say on the FeedBrewer.com home page.
“FeedBrewer is a one-stop shop for designing, publishing and distributing your content on multiple platforms — including e-readers, mobile devices, e-mail and printable PDF magazines. You can even use it to redesign parts of your existing website. You don’t need to change how you publish content now to use FeedBrewer. Simply provide the RSS feed from your blogging tool or content management system, choose a design scheme, and we’ll do the rest.”
In other words, by simply providing an RSS feed and checking off some boxes for the outputs you want, FeedBrewer will let anyone become a multi-platform publisher in just five minutes.
Rethinking Print as Mobile Content
Sounds a lot like Printcasting, doesn’t it? It should, because we’re simply expanding the concept of print publishing to portable publishing. In our new thinking, printable content is subsumed under the mobile meme. That may sound like a stretch to some, but it makes sense if you think of print as the original mobile / portable format.
In addition, Printcasts already work on mobile devices that display PDFS, such as the iPhone and iPad. They’re purely digital products that exist solely in The Cloud up until someone decides to send them to a printer or view them on a mobile device.
To prove this point, here’s a picture of a Printcast on an iPad, which I brought up by going to Printcasting.com, clicking into a microsite, and clicking a “Download PDF“ button. You have the same experience whether you look at the publication on a tablet like this, or by reading it on paper.
FeedBrewer will use many of the same Drupal modules we created for Printcasting for feed aggregation and designed output. We will simply build additional FeedBrewer modules that can plug into a basic Printcasting installation that will enable output for different mobile devices.
The fact that we can do this speaks to the highly-structured nature of the new Printcasting 2.0 system on Drupal 6 which, once open-sourced, will be able to be used by anyone in this way. We know that we will be one of many different parties using the opens-source Printcasting tools, and as the maintainer of those modules we look forward to seeing what other developers can do with them.
Our Business Model
Since FeedBrewer will be for-profit and no longer grant-funded, its business model will rely on paid services. Starting June 1, we will begin building customized installations of Printcasting and, eventually, FeedBrewer for premium customers. (Interested parties can send us a note via our contact page). But please note that we do plan to continue to maintain free services on Printcasting.com, and eventually FeedBrewer.com. At a future date, we will begin to offer paid upsells for a monthly fee.
This new “software as a service” approach is a departure from our experimental business model for Printcasting, which relied on taking a cut of self-serve advertising revenue. While we will continue to experiment with new advertising revenue models, we see more near-term potential in providing value-added services to publishers who are trying to publish in an increasing number of channels with limited or shrinking resources. They will be able to monetize their publications using their existing ad networks, which is what Printcasting partners have been asking us to do from the beginning.
On the financial front, we are also beginning to reach out to investors. Anyone interested in being a financial partner in FeedBrewer’s future can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, through our contact page.
Looking Ahead, and a Big “Thank You”
What’s next? We will begin building out the FeedBrewer tools in June and hope to begin alpha testing this summer. You can enter your e-mail address into this form to be notified as soon as our alpha is ready. And you can stay up to date by subscribing to our blog and Twitter feed.
I would also like to send out a huge Thank You to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, whose initial funding of Printcasting made future things possible — including our new company, but also many other projects that will use the Printcasting code in the future. We recognize the role that philanthropy played in our development, and while we will operate as a for-profit company we feel our future mission is still very much in line with the goals of the Knight News Challenge. Our objective always has been, and will continue to be, to preserve the news and information function of local communities. Mobile is an increasingly important part of that.
We’re also thrilled that we’ll still be able to work with The Bakersfield Californian, where I started Printcasting in my previous role as Senior Manager of Digital Products. In addition to being a shareholder in FeedBrewer, the Californian is also signing on as our first paying customer. In my six year as a Californian employee, I’ve been privileged to be allowed to play a critical role in its evolution from a single-product, print-centric newspaper to a multi-platform cross-media information company. My hope is that through FeedBrewer, we can help them and others in the next big transition to portable “anywhere” content.