< In The Realm Of The Real


Friday, January 16, 2009

BOB GARFIELD: Subsidies may be a bandaid. One publisher is experimenting with a graft. In Chicago, entrepreneur Josh Karp has come up with a product called The Printed Blog, an ink-on-paper daily to launch in Chicago, San Francisco and New York and to be distributed free on the street. The twist is that the content will be harvested entirely from Web blog posts. That’s right, online content printed on presses and delivered by trucks. Josh, welcome to the show.

JOSH KARP: Thank you very much, Bob.

BOB GARFIELD: Okay, speaking of trucks, aren't you pretty much driving south in the northbound lane?

JOSH KARP: Well, at first glance when we describe what we're doing it might seem that way, but in actuality we are taking the things that work electronically and we're going to see if they work with a paper publication.

BOB GARFIELD: And the content, as I understand it, will be minutely localized, not just city by city but varying from distribution point to distribution point. Is that right?

JOSH KARP: That is right. The technology and our production process allows us to have those local versions based on where you live. And communities, at least in Chicago, they vary greatly even by just a couple of blocks. Each newspaper will reflect the interests of each individual community. So depending on where you pick the paper up, you will be able to come to our website and vote on the blogs that are most interesting to you.

BOB GARFIELD: Now, I can see how this is in many ways just another form of aggregation, like the Drudge Report or Fark or even Google News only in printed form. But isn't it also kind of the worst of both worlds? You've got blog content minus the immediacy minus commentability minus correctability, all distributed the slow and expensive old-fashioned way at high cost.

JOSH KARP: First of all, I don't believe the print medium is going away. The experience of consuming something in your hands, having a tactile experience, is not going to be taken over by reading your information on a two-by-three-inch BlackBerry or on an iPhone. In terms of the content, we're drawing from a very deep well. There are experts in a wide variety of industries who are writing really compelling information, and we're going to take the best of that content, ask our community to vote on what’s important to them and provide it in a, hopefully, a wonderful tactile experience.

BOB GARFIELD: What about ownership and authorship?

JOSH KARP: We are not going to print anything that hasn't been explicitly provided to us and that we do not have the rights to reprint. In terms of compensation, once we roll out nationally, bloggers will be compensated based on the advertisements that run next to their blogs. I don't believe it will ever be a substantial sum, but we want to drive people back to the bloggers because that’s why they're doing this. Most bloggers are not doing it to earn a living. They're doing it because they have a voice and they want that voice to be heard.

BOB GARFIELD: And actually that’s the economic key to this thing, is it not, the fact that there is a pretty much bottomless reservoir of really fine material that you can reprint at no cost or extremely low cost?

JOSH KARP: That’s one of the economic drivers, Bob, but it’s not the only one. Here in Chicago, the Tribune Corporation produces The RedEye. It’s a free daily paper that you can pick up at train stations and numerous other places. If you wish to place an ad in The RedEye, you spend between one thousand and many more thousands of dollars and your ad appears in all 200,000 issues that they produce. With The Printed Blog, you only have to buy ads for the locations that you’re interested in. And the bottom line is that the cost of the ad is dramatically less. It’s tens of dollars as opposed to thousands of dollars.

BOB GARFIELD: Now, you said that you already have sold ads in your first issue, and good for you, but it’s not the first issue that really matters. It’s the second one, the third one and the four-thousand-two-hundred-and-forty-fourth one. Once the novelty wears off, how great is your level of confidence that you can sustain this deal?

JOSH KARP: Well, if I told you that I had a great confidence level, that wouldn't be the truth. As an entrepreneur, and having been one for a while, what I've learned is that I don't have all of the answers. And what we must do is we must go down a path that we think is right and let our readers and our advertisers and our content providers help guide us. I believe there’s enough of a starting point that we will be able to find a model that works. But can I tell you that the way the paper is going to look in a couple of weeks when it launches is the way that it’s going to look in three months or in nine months or in eighteen months? The answer is, no, I certainly can't make that promise.

BOB GARFIELD: Okay, Josh. Well, all best of luck to you.

JOSH KARP: Thank you very much, Bob. I appreciate it.

BOB GARFIELD: Josh Karp is the publisher of the soon-to-be-launched The Printed Blog.