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Why And How An Online Startup Released A Print Product

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As a two-person startup, it’s vastly easier and cheaper to upload to Magcloud and just do print-on-demand.

By Tracy Osborn (Founder, WeddingLovely)

In startup land, it’s very rare to hear about a startup launching a print product, much less a startup that primarily revolves around internet properties and only has two people. But WeddingLovely has been releasing a print and PDF “Lookbook” with all the wedding vendors we work with (the third edition came out last Monday), and I thought it would be useful to go into some of the reasons why we break away from the internet.

Background On WeddingLovely

We work with over 1,600 wedding vendors worldwide through our network of vendor directories, as well as connecting those wedding vendors to engaged couples through our online wedding planning webapp. The vendor side of the business is very much our bread and butter and where we make most of our revenue, which is generated from paid vendor accounts.

The WeddingLovely Lookbook is one-quarter magazine, featuring some of the best posts on our wedding blog and advertisements, and the remainder is a location based catalog of all the vendors in the WeddingLovely network. Free accounts have a 1/12th page size listing, paid vendors have a 1/2 page listing, and vendors have the option to pay additionally to receive a full page listing.

Contrary to what it might seem, direct revenue from the Lookbook, either print sales or full page upgrades isn’t the main reason why we run the Lookbook — the revenue it brings is actually very little. So why do we go through the effort to release a print magazine?

The WeddingLovely Lookbook significantly strengthens our relationship with our vendors.

The majority of our revenue comes from vendors who pay for upgraded accounts ($25/month or $270/yr). Wedding vendors are used to paying extra to be listed in directories (such as wedding blogger directories as well as giant directories such a WeddingWire), and are very sensitive to their results, generally tracked through clickthroughs to their website.

Since these vendors are usually small businesses with not a lot of budget for marketing, they’ll quickly stop paying for services that they don’t feel is giving them enough clickthroughs.

WeddingLovely’s directories (WeddingInviteLove, WeddingPlannerLove, WeddingPhotoLove, WeddingVenueLove and WeddingVideoLove – you can guess the specializations), while their traffic is slowly growing through SEO and partnerships, they cannot yet compete with the big name directories in terms of simple clickthroughs.

Our goal is to bring qualitative value to our quantitative returns. Being listed in a print publication is often one of the greatest achievements to a wedding vendor, and by being listed in a print WeddingLovely publication, these vendors get a big qualitative return to being listed with us. Every time we can create these feel good feelings from working with us, we’ve found this’ll greatly increase the number of vendors who find us valuable, upgrade their accounts, and continue paying their account with us.

We have other ways of increasing customer happiness, but the Lookbook has been far and away the best way that we’ve found that gets vendors excited about working with us.

The Lookbook compels people to share, increasing traffic to all our properties.

The second most important reason we produce the Lookbook is to capitalize on viral sharing. Listing 1,600 vendors in the Lookbook means we potentially have 1,600 vendors sharing the Lookbook through social media and their blogs. We’re the only wedding startup or blog with a directory that releases to print. This increases traffic to all our properties, our wedding planning application, our blog, and all of our social media accounts. These vendor shares also reach new vendors who will want to be listed in the next version (increasing vendor signups on our directories) as well as reaching new engaged couples, potential customers to our online planning webapp.

A print publication further legitimizes the WeddingLovely brand as a powerful player in the weddings industry.

The Lookbook looks impressive, as if it was coming from a much larger and well established company — not just two people. It both sets us apart from the traditional wedding startup, and captures the eye of important people in the industry (large wedding publications and wedding bloggers — both of which are very difficult to contact and create a relationship with).

The Lookbook does bring us revenue, but mostly from secondary sources.

As mentioned before, we don’t make much from sales of the Lookbook. But we do make revenue from advertising in the Lookbook, as having an impressive print product also makes it easier to sign up advertisers. We also use this advertising to create connections and a relationships with some of these large wedding brands, which we can use later down the road for partnerships.

We do make significant revenue from vendors upgrading their accounts in order to increase their listing size from 1/12th to 1/2 page, which pays dividends for the future as these vendors will continue to pay for their upgraded account after the Lookbook is released.

The Lookbook also promotes our weddings blog. We republish articles from our weddings blog into the Lookbook, generally between 5-10 articles per edition. We choose these articles based both on content as well as the writer, which is usually a vendor from our directories who we want to spread extra good will and good feelings by republishing their article in print. Our blog is another an additional source of revenue, important since we’re bootstrapping.

Essentially, by releasing a print magazine of our vendors and our articles, we vastly strengthen our relationship with vendors, create relationships with new customers, get exposure to large and hard-to-reach wedding companies, as well as increasing our main sources of revenue.

How We Did It

Again, we’re only a two person startup, and the Lookbook is not a full-time project — both Julia and myself are also working on development and marketing projects for our main online properties. The Lookbook wouldn’t be doable if it wasn’t manageable in a small amount of time, which is tough with over 1,600 listings. Julia provided the raw data, then I did the remainder of the work to design, lay out and ready the Lookbook for publication, all within 2 weeks of part-time work.

It definitely helps that I went to school for graphic design and therefore have experience in editorial design as well as using InDesign, but I’m primarily a web designer and I’m not an expert — I only really know enough in order to whack InDesign into doing basically what I need to do.

Most important tool we use is EasyCatalog for InDesign, a plugin that pulls in data from straight from a CSV generated from our database. The first Lookbook I created, I manually typed in all 300+ vendor listings—both a huge pain as well as creating many, many errors that I later had to fix after the vendors complained.

EasyCatalog allows us to take a CSV, create listing templates, and drag-and-drop them into InDesign. There’s also a pagination module to automate placing the listings that we haven’t dealt with yet since I still like having manual control over placement, but once we pass 2,000 listings, will become necessary to have it more automatically created.

Unfortunately, EasyCatalog costs $1,300 more than our startup could afford but has a 30-day free trial, which was more than enough time to do what we need to do.

In terms of launching, we release through Issuu, a free online publication viewer that makes browsing the Lookbook like an online print experience, as well as looking very impressive.

For print, we use Magcloud, a wonderful free print-on-demand service. We could potentially have a much farther reach by printing the Lookbook ourselves and distributing at a lower cost (100 pages on Magcloud as a base price of around $12), but again, as a two-person startup, it’s vastly easier and cheaper to upload to Magcloud and just do print-on-demand. Magcloud has wonderful quality and I’ve never been disappointed.

Surprising Logistical Issues

One of the biggest frustrations in the wedding industry and with the Lookbook has been accessing bloggers—mainly the wedding blogs who command millions of views every month. I originally thought that creating a print Lookbook would mean that we’d get some sort of coverage from wedding bloggers who were impressed, but (aggravatingly) wedding bloggers are very against mentioning anything that could compete with their own wedding vendor directories.

To this day, we haven’t been mentioned by any big name blogger and my emails continue to go unanswered. However, I know these bloggers hear of and probably have seen the Lookbook, which at least means that they know about WeddingLovely and what we’re doing — we’re on their radar, making future projects or introductions easier.

Another early issue was our cover – I thought it would be easier to create a cover digitally, forgetting that I’m terrible at graphics. The first cover I made was okay, but not very impressive. Faster and much more impressive has been photographing the cover—printing a small cover card with our logo and version, and then photographing it (using my Canon Rebel DSL + cheap 50mm lens) on my outdoor table nestled in flowers or leaves for visual texture. If you have a semi-nice camera, photographs can be faster and nicer looking than computer graphics.

Conclusion

Even online startups can benefit from print. Having a print product can be a great way to hack your online notoriety, create better and stronger relationships with your vendors, and make more revenue.

I spent less than two weeks part-time work creating and releasing this Lookbook, and I hope this shows that creating a print product takes a lot less time than it might seem.

I hope this encourages other online startups to consider releasing a print product as well.

This post was originally posted at Wedding Lovely’s blog.

Women 2.0 readers: Have you released a print product as an online startup? What have you learned? Let us know in the comments.

About the guest blogger: Tracy Osborn is a Co-Founder of WeddingLovely. She is the creator of WeddingInviteLove, a curated directory of wedding invitation designers, and spends her time working on wedding-related web apps and communities. Prior to founding WeddingType, Tracy freelanced design and front-end development for startups. Offline, Tracy tries to spend as much time outdoors as possible, hiking and biking around the Bay Area. Follow her on Twitter at @limedaring.