Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Revealed: The internet is lame. Print is cool. Newspapers and start ups can grow by replacing Texbooks with Textbooklets. The short story.

As Print Correspondent for, I get a chance to get on a little bigger soapbox every two weeks or so. Today's post is called Read for Free, Pay for Print or Stuff. Over there, I am a guest in someone else's house. It was not appropriate to use the headline as above.

But it is what I really believe. The web is Telephone + TV + Search + a big filing cabinet + the best way to buy and sell stuff every invented. Print is a 500 year old evolved search platfom in physical space. The web serves a niche market. Print serves a mass market. Print + a highlighter is the most interactive, most efficient tool for learning how to think on the planet.

Some excepts and out takes from my column follow:

"It's the Print, Stupid!"
In all the noise about the web, newspapers have overlooked their defensible advantage. They have a surplus of social capital in the form of the intelligence and machinery that allow them to print and distribute better, faster, cheaper than anyone else. . . .

For startups, the commercial printers can supply the same functionality. Just build in the costs of distribute and print into the business model.

For newspaper companies the answer to "How to make money, now" is . . .
Local advertising for both print and web platforms for local business is a constantly renewing addressable market. As demonstrated by Google's success in bringing millions of new advertisers into the marketplace, it just needs the right price and an easy way to make the buy and the sell.

For newspaper companies and start ups looking for a growth path . . .
. . . serve the interests of journalism. For journalism to work, it means a constantly growing market of readers, not viewers nor scanners. The best place to find them is when they are in school.

. . . the explosive growth opportunity for journalism, and maybe some newspaper companies, is to serve readers who live in the world of K-12 education . . . by replacing textbooks with textbooklets.

The Textbooklet Use Case from the teacher point of view
A teacher in a high school history class is starting a unit on World War II. it will take 4 weeks.Wk 1 - the background. Wk 2 - the outbreak of war. Wk 3 - the course of war. Wk 4- the outcome.

He goes to a website, chooses the appropriate "textbooklet" from an online library of hundreds available - a 24 page tabloid print or a 12 page 8/12 by 11 or a 4 page 10 by 14 product. Each Friday 120 copies of the next week's subjects are delivered. Each of his students gets a copy to scan, search and view over the weekend. Those who are absent can scan, search and view on the web.

Starting Monday, the class will work together to read and think about the words on the background of World War II. For the inevitable, "I lost it. I forgot it. You never gave me a copy" a supply of textbooklets are on hand for the Monday morning class. Every student has a highlighter. The discussion ensues.

The Textbooklet Use Case from the newspaper point of view
A three person team--an educator, an editor and a writer create the content for the textbooklet.

The Textbooklet Use Case from the start up point of view
Three recently excessed, but very talented and experienced people get together in the local Starbucks. An educator, and editor and a writer. At the table is a commercial newspaper printer and/or a digital printer.

The rest is the same
The educator makes clear to the editor the standards in place for 9th grade high school. The editor chooses legacy copy from the newspaper's morgue and perhaps an ongoing related story. In the case of the start up either a community website, blogs or wikipedia, after the deal is made. Just do the same deal that wikipedia has already done in Germany.

The educator collaborates with the editor to get it right. The writer creates a 300-500 word summary and some captions and call outs to surround the original source material. The educator, editor and writer look over the final before it's approved to go. The commercial printer figures out printing and delivery.

The real problem with textbooks in the service of learning
It is not that they are too heavy or too expensive. It is that they are too slow. . . . Newspapers, and start up teams, are built for speed. . . .

Teachable Moments
As every teacher knows it is impossible to predict when the "teachable moment" will occur. They will also tell you that it can disappear as quickly as it appeared. Textbooks are too slow to catch those teachable moments. Textbooklets move at the speed of distribute and print.
. . .
In addition to the stable revenue that might come from textbooklets, the focus on helping high school kids to learn will put the incentives to keeping figuring out how to do harder job of helping everyone to learn. It's also a way to do well, by doing good.

If your newspaper is too busy right now to get involved, help the start up teams.
There are lots of very experienced talented people inventing new ways to earn a living. There are lots of commercial printers inventing new ways to get more work.

While they get it together, you can keep selling ads in Print and web to keep the ship afloat, until textbooklets scale.


  1. I have to say, I like your chosen title better. I think "The Internet is lame. Print is cool" should probably be on T-shirts. I'll bet you could make a million damn dollars with that.

  2. Sigh. My OpenID identity points to the wrong place. This is my real name.

  3. RE: the internet is lame. Print is cool. T-shirts.
    Thanks for the tip. You're probably right that the blog's fans might find that to be stuff that might buy.

    If I do it, you get a half dozen free. If you do it, consider that I will be glad to sell them here for a small affiliate fee.

    If you have a website, and I do it, you can sell them at your site for a small affiliate fee.

  4. I'll take a "The internet is lame, print is cool" t-shirt. At least apparel printing isn't in trouble. You can't wear the internet on a t-shirt (yet).