Custom publishing 2.0 with MagCloud

Not every Web service has to be completely an online operation. Take as an example Netflix – when they started it wasn’t really possible to stream an entire DVD across the Internets and they developed a system to mail DVDs to their customers. Now, of course, they have some very innovative ways to “watch instantly” your videos, including to Ethernet-connected Blu-Ray and Xbox players.

But the combination of on and offline components isn’t widely exploited by many businesses, either because they are so enamored by Web 2.0 (or whatever we are calling it this week), or because they lack the offline skill sets or institutional memories to be effective in both camps.

Let’s take a look at one service that does a great job in both worlds, called MagCloud.com, which is sponsored by HP. As someone who once ran the editorial operations of several computer magazines that have gone by the wayside (no fault of my own in particular, at least so I like to think), I welcome the effort.

It works this way. Let’s say you want to produce a small number of copies of a custom published magazine – say something more than a sales brochure that has actual editorial content. You want to approach this project with the same kind of quality that a regular printed magazine would entail – full color printing, nice graphics and layout, and mailed to potential readers. This is the idea behind their service. You create your magazine just as you would with the usual Adobe tools, upload the digital files to their service, along with the mailing addresses of your readers. HP takes care of printing, proofing, binding, polybagging and postage.

You can get an idea of what is involved by browsing their Web site and seeing some of the magazines that are offered for sale there. I got a copy of “Georgia Speaker” – a magazine that is published by the Atlanta chapter of the National Speakers Association (an organization that I am a member). It was well put together and arrived in the mail in a few days and cost about $5 all told.

What I like about MagCloud is that it combines the best attributes of print-on-demand with online access for searchability, marketing and awareness. The price is reasonable and you can set up any number of custom-published pieces. Obviously, HP Is doing this to tout its printing business, but why not?

When I first heard of MagCloud, I thought the service would email me the PDF that I would then print myself. And I was pleasantly surprised when the magazine arrived in my snail mail a few days later. Then I realized the genius of this service. How much stuff do you get in the mail that you actually look forward to these days? Other than paychecks from my clients and my Netflix DVDs, not a heckuva lot. This can be high impact just because it is something so retro that it stands out.

Now, I don’t know if MagCloud has a future, but certainly it can bring some bright spots of hope to some of the 11,000 journalists who lost their jobs last year (according to the Columbia Journalism Review). While that is small change compared to the number of idled GM or US Steel workers, it still means that there is a large talent pool to produce custom-published zines. And if any of you do produce your own custom magazines using the service, please let me know and I will post links to them here.

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