What if someone were to come out with a system that allows me to bookmark specific pages on the web that are of interest to me – the way you do it in del.icio.us – but print and bind them into a personal magazine every week and have it delivered to my home on Saturday, or at my office on Monday ? Would it not be wonderful to have the flexibility of crafting a magazine of my choice and then having it in physical form to read in the comfort of your bed or your car ? Moreover, when we browse the web, more often than not, we come across pages or articles that interest us but we do not have the time – at that moment – to read it in full. We of course salve our conscience by bookmarking it, knowing fully well that we will never come back to it in future. Getting it all back in a nice print form later on should be quite nice.
Does it make business sense to print single copies of magazines ? An immediate analogy is the boutique publishing houses like Lulu that offer print-on-demand services as explained in an earlier post. But because rapid yet inexpensive delivery is critical here, we need a different business model.
What we need is a hub-and-spoke model where the magazine is assembled as a soft copy in one central location and then downloaded to small, franchisee operated print shops located in all major metro towns and district headquarters. Copies that are due on a particular day will be printed in the night before and delivered through newspaper delivery boys – or other local couriers – next morning.
What about the economics ? Printing 64 pages in colour should not cost more than Rs. 50 and we can add a generous Rs. 10 for delivery. And even this Rs. 60 can be recovered by inserting 30 highly targeted advertisements for which we can charge only Rs. 2 each ! So the subscriber gets it free of cost – just as it is on the web.
All print magazines are expected to be supported by advertisement and one big problem is that these advertiser are drifting away to the digital media. In this hybrid model, advertisers will be greatly benefited because the advertisements can be printed alongside topically related articles – just as Internet advertisement are topically related to the contents of the page on which they are showing – and the reader who would have chosen-and-printed an article on a particular topic would have a greater probability of reading an advertisement on a similar topic. Targeted ads have been shown to be very useful and popular on the web and this hybrid model will help the print media adopt the same and level the playing field that is otherwise getting tilted towards digital media.
This basic economic model can be tweaked in a number of ways.
Premium members can get magazines that have more pages or could have their copies printed in glossy paper. Members can also subscribe to “other” peoples magazines – so that they get to know what celebrities like film stars or politicians are reading – provided these people do not mind sharing their reading habits with the people at large. In fact, people who assemble interesting magazines – that are subscribed to by many others – can be paid a percentage of money collected from those who subscribe to their magazines. In fact this could lead to spin-offs of many branded little magazines who can in turn build their own business models.
What are the challenges in this business model ?
Copyright could be an issue it but can be addressed if we consider the business as a print-and-delivery service only. As an individual I believe I have the right to copy anything from the web and print it on my personal printer. In this case, I am printing it – not on my own printer, but – on a third party printer who is also taking the trouble to deliver it to me. I do not think that this is copyright violation.
Finally who would have an interest in getting into this business ? Printer manufacturers or paper manufacturers should have an interest because it will result in the sale of heavy duty printers followed by ink, toners and paper on a regular basis. Media houses with their symbiotic relationship with the advertising industry could derive significant benefit from this new “hybrid” channel. But the dark horse could be the retail industry ! Why ? Because the delivery of magazines is just the tip of the arrow for a whole new business model. Once the distribution network has been set up, the reliability of the supply chain and the authenticity of the brand has been established, customers would be more comfortable in ordering physical goods of all kinds from on-line portals and e-commerce will be more acceptable to a wider spectrum of the population.