Blackstrap: All of the Web content that's fit to print

By Nathaniel Mott , written on April 2, 2013

From The News Desk

There's nothing quite like holding a bundle of dead trees and freshly-pressed ink. The tactile nature of magazines and other printed materials implies an intimacy yet unmatched by aluminum and glass, a comfortability rooted in physicality. That's why some people, like PandoDaily contributor Kevin Kelleher, prefer print books to their electronic counterparts, or why NSFWCORP recently launched a print edition.

If you're anything like me -- and I assume you are, because fuck yeah solipsism -- you've probably struggled to make it through a long-form article whilst reading on an iPad, iPhone, or other screen. "I'm just going to read this 28,000-word article about the healthcare industry" quickly morphs into "Man, I should take the latest quiz on BuzzFeed," or "I wonder what people are Tweeting about."

Yet so much good, long-form content is published solely on the Web that going all-print would be frustrating, if not impossible. We're caught between being serviced and distracted by a technological cacophony. That's where Blackstrap, a newly-launched printing service, comes in.

Built atop read-later solutions like Instapaper and Pocket, Blackstrap is a service that allows users to print articles for offline reading. So rather than reading a long article about insurance companies' role in the sharing economy (how's that for shameless self-promotion?) on an iPad, for instance, I'd be able to include the article in a 74-page, $15 book delivered to my apartment. The best of both the online and offline worlds -- or so I, and Blackstrap, hope.

"The reality is that digital is awesome for so many things," says Blackstrap co-creator Tyler Fonda, "But when it comes to absorbing information it's just extraordinarily distracting."

Fonda, along with Elliott Blatt and Irwin Chen, initially launched Blackstrap as a side project they could use to de-digitize their lives. It was meant to be a small tool for friends and family, but after bloggers like MG Siegler (an investor in PandoDaily, by way of CrunchFund) took note of the concept, Fonda says that the group decided to expand their vision.

"We had to rearchitect our approach to this launch," Fonda says. "When [the original] book went up, we had generated a PDF from our Instapaper queue and fired it off to our printing partner and we got a book back. That was the extent of it." So the team decided to build a front-end for Blackstrap that would allow users to decide which articles should appear in their book, developing the service over the course of a few months while continuing their day jobs.

Now Blackstrap is finally ready for an initial launch. I went through the signup process myself yesterday, connecting my Pocket account and choosing a smattering of articles from PandoDaily, The Verge, and other outlets for my first book, and found the experience pleasant enough. It isn't complicated in the leas. If you know how to add something to Instapaper or Pocket, you'll likely be able to figure out how to add that same article to your Blackstrap book.

Perhaps the greatest barrier between potential and actualized customers is the $15 starting price. That's a lot to lay down for an unproven product, especially when all of the content has already been gathered from publishers for free. Fonda says that the price is what allows Blackstrap to build a quality book, and that Blackstrap will continue to experiment with different prices and products after the team is able to garner feedback from early adopters.

My book is currently on its way to the printer, and I'm hoping that it will arrive at my apartment fairly soon. It's about damned time I was able to finish a few of these long-form pieces gathering dust in my Pocket queue, and if Blackstrap even half-delivers on its promise, my book should help make that happen. Finally.

There's a lot of great stuff to read on the Web. Now there's finally a way to get that content without having to weather the constant downpour of distractions of the Web itself.

[Image courtesy Tiger Pixel]