As I delve more into Printcasting, I’ve been learning about the relatively new and growing POD movement — which stands for Print on Demand. And every new leaf I turn over is another confirmation of what we suspected when we originally entered Printcasting into the Knight News Challenge.

There’s an all-out technology revolution happening with print which, until now, newspapers have largely missed out on. Here are just a few examples.

For this first one, I have to thank Medill student and journalistic-programmer Brian Boyer who introduced me to the service. When I met Brian at the MIT Future of Civic Media conference this year, I explained Printcasting to him. He looked at me and declared, “I have to admit — your project is a little kooky.” He didn’t get it.


OK, fair enough, I said, it’s a new idea. We started talking more about how the newspaper print model is essentially stuck back in the stone ages, with current web press technology requiring everyone to get exactly the same product every day. Meanwhile, there are sites like Cafe Press that can put any image you upload onto a T-shirt and print and mail it to anyone on demand. I said that we wanted newspaper and magazine publishing to be more like Cafe Press t-shirts, but we’d make it even easier by leveraging blog feeds.

That’s when a light bulb went off above his head. “Oh, you mean like Moo Cards!”

He pulled out a small white plastic case that looked similar to an iPod Shuffle, opened it and presented an array of custom printed business cards, each one sporting a different photo from his Flickr account. Little London-based Moo has taken the Cafe Press model a step further so that you don’t have to upload something twice. And if you want something else with your photos, like stickers, you can order them in just a few clicks.

What’s unique about Moo is that if you already share photos on Flickr or Facebook, you simply tell Moo to subscribe to them. It sends you a new set of custom cards with your photos whenever you run out. They’ve reduced the work and increased the customization and fun. Brilliant! (This really is very similar to Printcasting, but instead of business cards it’s creating a magazine, and instead of using Flickr photos it’s using blog feeds).

Another example is MagCloud, a beta project of HP Labs that provides the printing, distribution and commerce backbone for magazine publishers. The idea of MagCloud is that a publisher uploads a PDF document and sets a price for each copy of the magazine. If you want to read the magazine, you enter your credit card or PayPal account. MagCloud then prints that magazine using HP’s Indigo printing technology and sends it to your home mail box. (I haven’t actually seen the end product, but I did just order one magazine and will report back here when I receive it).

HP Labs has a lot of other interesting experiments going on, and talking them up is not the purpose of this blog. But one of their more niche experiments worth checking out is called BookPrep. Through a community site called Foodsville, you can both meet other people who like to cook the same types of recipes as you, and then share recipes from cookbooks published by Applewood Books back to 1976.

HP has digitized many of these books, some of which are out of print, and made them available to reprint on demand. This is a really good idea because it leverages existing community behavior — people sharing recipes from old cook books — and ties it to instant gratification of getting your own copy.

Let’s be clear. Printcasting shares little in common with business cards or cook books, but the idea of custom printing on demand is the same. Newspaper companies are woefully behind in this area, but hopefully not for long. It’s time for us to become as customized, fun and cool as Moo!

What other cool Print on Demand sites and services do you know of, and how could they be applied to local news publishing? Let us know by posting a comment.