Business Tech : Print Media - Part 2

Breaking News

I'm taking a break from finishing layout on the largest circulation regional Mensa publication in the world, to talk about how Print isn't dead. Be assured that it isn't dead, it is just changing.

When I was a kid, my mom ran a local temple newsletter. Her cut and paste was literal — we cut galley proofs into columns, hand glued them to boards, added scraps of paper with "continued on next page," and copied the results. Putting together a newsletter was a ten to twelve hour process. Today, I use $99 worth of software to edit and layout a magazine with a print run of roughly two thousand copies per issue. With all my technology, it still takes a good ten to twelve hours to really do it the right way. If I compare the effort my mom put in to my current level of effort, the big difference is the glue smell. When I compare the results, that's a different story entirely.

Her best efforts were limited by the quality of the reproduction and the straightness of the glue job. Not only do I have superior tools at my disposal, but I can do trial prints because moving a column does not require scrapping and rebuilding boards. Making a magazine is just as hard but fine tuning it is easier. I spend the same time now as she did then, but I get a more polished outcome. The gap between good amateur print and good professional print is narrowing.

This is why your mailbox is flooded with publications for every niche aspect of human activity. More people can do what I do than could do what she did. More of it looks professional, even when the content is not. That makes life harder for real professionals. That isn't just a magazine thing, it is a book thing, too.

Growing Demand

It used to be that if my college professor self-pressed the textbook, I could tell at a glance. Now, it might actually look better than the larger volume, commercial grade, texts. What used to be Vanity Press — I want my book published, even if I have to pay for it — has become Print On Demand. The stigma is gone, and the quality has improved.

Print On Demand is a great place for a tech-savvy company to be. Imagine an author uploading a text document to an edit-on-demand service, sending along a picture and a jacket blurb, and getting back one or more books at a time, based on orders and, of course, discount breaks for volume. Then stop imagining and look at the dozens of businesses already doing exactly that every day.

The tech here is obvious — a web site to accept the text and allow a selection of services. Same site for re-orders. Any of a thousand editing and layout packages along with a good photo clean-up program. The custom programming goes into the site, the background project management to keep the manuscript moving toward its destination as a finished book, and the accounting to go with it.

What's Missing

What Print on Demand is missing is, ironically, the demand. If I wanted to collect the Business Tech series into a book, I could easily arrange for Print on Demand. The hard part is getting the word out, convincing people of the value of paying for a re-packaging of the columns you can read from your free subscription, or — in the case of non-Spectrum readers — convincing them that I am an expert worth reading.

So, while Print On Demand Publishers are a business market where we can make money doing tech, every author who uses them is also a market. They need the tech to support a marketing effort. They may need to tour with the book, which involves scheduling software, expense tracking, and possibly project planning software.

One of the smartest ways to tour a self published book is to tour the content and give the book to people who pay to attend the class/lecture/seminar/rally which provides the spoken content. I took a Delphi class where the textbook version of the class was the reward for signing up early. The product became the perk and the marketing tour became the product.


It used to be that media kept to one form. Books were books and nothing more. We live in a multi-media world now. Things are constantly crossing over. D&D started as a game. It has expanded into cartoons, movies, books, comics, and more games. Star Wars started as a movie and has spawned an empire (pun intended) of media and other merchandise. One of the growing categories for this crisscrossing creativity is software.

Self Help books come with Personality Assessment Software. Movies inspire computer games. Just because we do business tech does not mean we can't provide value in these areas as well. Unless you are what Clif calls a Multivalue Couch Potato, you probably know something about PHP or C++ or other languages. Even as pure business programmers, you know something about graphical interfaces. Put it to work.

When I play Worlds of Warcraft, mostly what I do is manage inventory, buy and sell in a market where demand affects price, juggle deadlines for various missions, and... wow, this all sounds so familiar. As a programmer, I manage inventory, write systems to manage purchasing and sales, develop scheduling tools for juggling deadlines, and more. When you see past the Elf in leather and really look at these games, a lot of them are resource management. We know how to program resource management. If it makes you sleep better, call them business simulations, because that's what most of those hot/cool/rad games really are. The kids are playing a version of what we do for a living. They think their generation invented it, and they are sure we don't understand it. See past the Dwarf selling warhammers and see the business model underneath. We do understand. We are, if we let ourselves be, cool.

So, extending print through immersive software allows us tech people to participate. One example which comes to mind was a project offered to me — long, long story — to build software for a cookbook so that buyers would get a recipe organizer for their own creations. The possibilities are endless once you understand that you are someone who can extend print into software. Not bad when a "dead" business like Print can create new and vibrant business opportunities.

What if it is Dead?

There are places where print is dying. Wikipedia, warts and all, is better than most print encyclopedias. Where print is weak or gone, stronger models arise. Many of those models involve software. If my wife wants the weather report, she used to look at the paper, then she graduated to watching the five-day forecast on the news. Now she pops up an application on her Android phone. Someone has to write that application. Someone needs to interface the phone to the central database which holds the data. Why not us?

Craigslist is a prime example of a successor to print. Newspapers all over the world are reporting declining ad sales for all sorts of "Help Wanted" or "Want To Sell" type blurbs. I'm not saying that all of that business went to one site, but Craigslist has become a central point for that sort of commerce. Other sites, like Freecycle — sort of a pick-it-up-for-free model — have given a home to ads that never made sense in a pay environment. If I give it away, I'm not inclined to spend money looking for a taker. Where Print is no longer the best fit, technology is also in demand.
One of my daughters just got a Nook — the Barnes and Noble eBook reader. My sister-in-law just showed me her Kindle — the Amazon eBook reader. My wife's friend scoffed and recommended a competing product from Sony. My iPhone currently has six different eBook readers installed. While none of these are literally Print, they are all proof that there is a market for books, magazines, and newspapers. Print isn't dead, it is evolving. We can ride that wave.


Charles Barouch is the CTO of HDWP, Inc. He is also a regular contributor to International Spectrum Magazine, a former Associate Editor for both Database Trends and for Gateways Magazine, a former distance learning Instructor for CALC. He is presently the Past President of the U2UG. Mr. Barouch has presented technology and business topics in front of hundreds of companies, in a wide range of product and service categories. He is available for on-site speaking and consulting engagements in and out of the United States.

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Sep/Oct 2010