by Tim Jahn on August 24, 2010
I first interviewed Josh Karp over a year ago when he founded The Printed Blog. The idea was to take blogs offline and print them in a weekly newspaper format where content was voted upon by the local community.
The idea didn’t work so well the first time around. Six months after the first issue of The Printed Blog was released, Josh had to shut the whole operation down due to lack of funds.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when I catch wind on Twitter that Josh is going to relaunch The Printed Blog with renewed energy, a new co-founder, and most importantly, a new business model.
What has Josh learned from founding The Printed Blog, shutting it down, and now relaunching it a year later? I caught up with Josh to find out.
My name is Josh Karp and I am the founder and publisher of The Printed Blog. The Printed Blog today is a little bit different than it was before. Today, it is a weekly print magazine that brings you the very best of the web picked by editors who you may already know and follow, and delivered to you in a beautiful package directly to you at home. It’s a little bit different than it was before.
Before, The Printed Blog was free, it was a beautiful package, we believe and we distributed it at train stations and other transportation hubs. So we’ve changed the model a bit to sort of fix some of the things that we had, that didn’t work quite as well the last time we were doing it.
The next obvious question is, you started The Printed Blog once. What happened? Why did it fail or why did it cease to exist?
Well, it ceased to exist and fail is probably a fair word for a couple of reasons. The primary one is that we focused on building what we thought was a great product and targeting wide distribution rather than focus on a single geographic area and try to make that one particular area profitable. If I had to do it all over again, I would not have started to distribute in New York and San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
I would have picked a single neighborhood in Chicago, I would have found great national blogs and as many local blogs as I could. I would have focused on selling local ads to businesses within a six or eight block radius of where I knew I was going to distribute the paper.
Had I done it like that, I am completely certain that we could have made that first location profitable and then we could have moved to the next one and the next one adjoining the distribution of locations. So had I started by just focusing on the Fullerton Red Line stop, for example in selling ads to businesses that wanted to target people who got on the train in Fullerton.
I think that the end result would have been quite a bit different. We decided to become a newspaper for the next 100 years. And frankly, we were encouraged. We were encouraged by the fact that the New York Times wrote a giant article in their print edition with two photographs. We were encouraged by being called by venture capitalists and some of their most prominent venture attorneys in the world. So we sort of started to believe the press that we were getting.
In actuality, had we been a little bit wiser, we would have ignored all that, we would have appreciated it, and we were flattered by it. But we would have focused on a single geographic area, made that first location profitable and slowly and deliberately expand it from there. So those are the primary that was the primary reason why we weren’t successful.
We had all the components, we had a great looking piece, we had some of the best bloggers you could find, we had world class photography, we had a terrific team of people, but we sort of grew too fast, too quickly and should have focused on one area.
What drives you with this idea and with other ideas? What makes you execute and really push forward with the ideas? Because I can imagine you have a lot of ideas running around in your head, I know I do.
Well, what drives me is the thrill of taking something which is an idea and trying to make something that’s tangible from it. And I got a very – I enjoy doing that quite a bit. Whether it’s a product like The Printed Blog or when I’m working – when I’ve been a consultant for a big company on a technology project that they have some problem they wish to solve.
That’s really what I get excited about is the idea of taking something that’s a thereal (phonetic) and making something tangible from it. And working with people to try and get people engaged to help me to do that. I know that’s sort of a strange answer. But that’s sort of what really motivates me.
I may not be the guy to run a business that takes off, that has HR, and finance, and all of those components. But what I am the guy for is when you sit down with me and you give me an idea at a coffershop and you’re like, “Josh, you know, i’ve been thinking about this. I know that there’s a need for it. But I need to go from this concept through to something tangible that people can use.” That process, that’s what gets me up in the morning. And that I love to do and that’s what keeps you motivated like with The Printed Blog.
You know, you look at this from the outside and you have this idea that’s very different, very against what’s going on in terms of who’s going to take online material and put in print, print’s dying. Whatever. But you did this idea, it didn’t work out. A year later, you’re relaunching.
But you don’t – you have that confidence where you don’t seem scared, you don’t seem like, oh no, this part might not work, this part might not work. Where does that come from? Where do you – I don’t know, where does that confidence come from that you’re confident this is going to work with this new model?
Well, it probably comes from, it’s probably inappropriate. I probably should be more worried. But I’ll tell you that I legitimately believe in the fundamentals of what we’re trying to do. I believe there’s great content online, I believe that people want to read it in print and I believe that we can pay the bloggers what they should be paid for their articles.
And that’s it. So there are many, many things which could go wrong. This business could fail for sure. But I think that over the really, the year and a half I’ve been doing it, I’ve become convinced that the fundamentals are valid.
Now whether it’s Conde Nast or Hurst, or Gannette or the New York Times Corporation, or the Tribune Corporation. That one day has the same realization or if it’s us who area able to make it a success, I don’t know. But I’m really convinced that those fundamentals are true. And so, that’s what gives me confidence. Hearing from and talking to literally thousands of people who have such positive things to say; bloggers and journalists.
Those are the kind of things that give me confidence that people are saying that they like it. Whether we can sell 3,000 subscriptions or 30,000 subscriptions I don’t know. We have a really amazing prize for the one-millionth subscriber. So we’re, we’ll see exactly what happens. But it’s those fundamentals that give me the confidence that I have.
What advice would you have for someone who was in your seat, who had this idea that they’re very passionate about, didn’t work, and they want to retry it? I mean, what one piece of advice do you have for someone in those shoes?
Make sure that you objectively look at what you did wrong before. And that’s the hardest thing. Because at least for somebody like me, I’m an optimistic entrepreneur. I want to see, I get excited about the potential. I don’t get concerned about the risk. And that’s something that as an entrepreneur I have to fight against because it makes it that I don’t always objectively look at the situation. So with the restart, I’ve tried to really focus on the things that I did wrong or things that we could do better and try to focus on what’s important.
So what’s important for now is getting subscribers, is convincing people that it’s worth paying $10.00 a month for. So everything else is sort of secondary. That is the primary thing. Because I have the product, I know I can produce it, we’ve got to sell subscriptions. So learning and being objective about what you did wrong I think is the most important thing that I would suggest to somebody who’s trying to restart something that they did before.
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