Printed Blogs: Windfall or Pitfall

January 22, 2009

The New York Times “Publisher Rethinks the Daily: It’s Free and Printed and Has Blogs All Over” is available online here. I am looking at my dead tree version (business section, page B 3, January 22, 2009) that arrived at 8 30 am Eastern and contains the news from the last printed edition available in New York yesterday. The paper was in an annoying blue bag because the delivery service will not use the newspaper receptacle in front of my log cabin. The paper was wet because the delivery person thoughtfully dropped the paper in the polluted Bear Grass Creek that runs next to the road. But Claire Cain Miller and the New York Times’s editorial team thinks there is a future for traditional newspapers. Let’s recap:

  1. I am a paying subscriber and I don’t get access to the online service without jumping through hoops
  2. The paper is a day old
  3. The paper is wet.

A free newspaper adds one advantage: I can pick it up. I don’t  have to get it from the creek.

Okay, now let’s look at the argument in Claire Cain Miller’s write up. If you want good news about the dead tree crowd, just stop reading. Claire Cain Miller is not just off base, Claire Cain Miller (whose name I put on a macro) is writing about a world that exists in the editorial and management meetings of dead tree outfits.

The angle is a start up called the Printed Blog. The founder, Joshua Karp, wants to reprint stories from Web logs and put them in paper form. For me the most important point was:

Advertisers will like the Printed Blog, Mar Karp said, because is its hyper local.

I agree that the notion of “hyper local” is a good idea. To Claire Cain Miller’s credit, there is a reference to the demised of free papers.

Now, let’s think about the economics of this venture:

First, the idea of using Web log content is not a new one. The twist is to put it on paper. Here are the costs of this idea: The decision to use a medium that uses paper (getting more expensive), requires physical distribution (labor and fuel costs are rising too), and has to be sold to advertisers wanting to hold on to what cash is in their pockets (expensive and possibly long sales cycle). Mr. Karp will have to be a very savvy manager to deal with these cost issues.

Second, putting a Web log post on paper is not much different from my printing out a Web log story via the Web. The advantage is that I have a fungible copy (maybe good for an attorney looking to chase an ambulance) but not much use to me. I have a netbook with WiFi and a lousy Verizon wireless card. These are better than dealing with paper.

Third, free on the Web versus free in paper makes more sense to me. First, I put AdSense on my Web log and get a few pennies from the GOOG every month or so. Free in paper contributes to trash and papers left on subways. Louisville has two free papers: LEO and one created in a me-too knee jerk by the Courier-Journal (owned by Gannett). Each issue gets smaller, and I find it incredible that restaurants tolerate the piles of free papers stacked in waiting areas for patrons to browse and discard.

Now let’s assume that The Printed Blog takes off. In a city like Chicago, how many free newspapers filled with Web logs will advertisers support? Don’t know. Well, no one knows. My hunch is that as soon as a me-too outfit jumps into this arena, the window of opportunity will slam shut. Costs are the killer. To get reach means more printing. More printing means more cost. More cost means higher ad rates. With Google creating a New York City service, how tough will it be for Google to slice out blogs about New York City and add them to its new service. If you don’t know about this new Google service, click here. So who will have lower hyper local costs. Google or The Printed Blog? (You could have read about this new Google service by browsing the Overflight service which is free, has ads, and is available in electronic form.)

Print media, like clay tablets, will exist. But like clay tables, I find them at flea markets and craft fairs with messages like “Home Sweet Home” and “In my kitchen, I’m the boss”. That may be where most dead tree publishers find their market in the 21st century.

Stephen Arnold, January 22, 2009


One Response to “Printed Blogs: Windfall or Pitfall”

  1. Brit-Alfonso on July 29th, 2009 2:41 pm

    Great idea, but will this work over the long run?

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