A new service called Blackstrap was quietly launched last week. It allows you to send unread articles and stories saved in read-it-later services such as Pocket, Instapaper or as favorites on Twitter, and have them printed in a neat, 74-page package for $15 a go. It's an elegant demonstration of how print and online can work together.
Blackstrap is the creation of Elliott Blatt, a freelance developer in San Francisco; Irwin Chen, who runs an information architecture and design firm called Redub, and Tyler Fonda, who works in advertising strategy at a creative agency in Brooklyn, NY.
We interviewed Tyler via email to ask him about Blackstrap, and where it might go from here.
Where did the idea come from?
Being distracted when reading on digital devices. Irwin and I have been long-time users and supporters of Instapaper, but had been finding ourselves more and more distracted when reading these articles on our iPads and phones. We also had found ourselves going back to Moleskines to jot down ideas that we pulled out of what we had read on Instapaper.
It dawned on us that what we were reacting against was digital distraction. So we made Blackstrap which creates an undistracted space to read and absorb content.
Why the name?
We had been thinking a lot about slowing down the digital flow. So we formed an LLC called Molasses in honor of that thought. Blackstrap is the most distilled, viscous version of molasses. We thought that was fitting for this product.
Where are the books printed?
On an on-demand printing press in the midwest.
Are you considering other formats?
If those formats create undistracted space then we will build them. It may also be that we create a complimentary set of products to Blackstrap that build on our mission of creating undistracted space.
Are you considering other services to link up with?
Yes. Readability and Pinboard are on our roadmap. We were most familiar with Instapaper, Pocket and Twitter. This was initially a selfish project that we built for ourselves, that we realized might have broader resonance. We are excited to add more sources.
Are you concerned about copyright issues?
We've thought hard about copyright issues. Our answer is that the Blackstrap service allows its customers to enjoy content selected by them for their personal use, offline. We appreciate and respect the copyright interests of copyright owners, authors and creators.
To that end, our service is designed to restrict the ability of our customers to exceed the limits of private, noncommercial, personal use. For example, Blackstrap allows our customers to print only one copy of any url through the Blackstrap service; once a url has been selected for printing, they are no longer able to select that url for printing again. Similarly, customers are not able to access or download a digital file of the content they select through Blackstrap.
We believe that the service we provide is merely allowing our customers to “space-shift” digital content they are interested in reading offline. We therefore do not believe our service runs afoul of US Copyright law any more than the manufacturer or distributor of a desktop printer.
Is it text only or images too?
Text for the moment. Images are on our roadmap.
Who do you expect to use this service?
Readers, note takers, cooks, students, professors - anyone who finds that there is content they have found that could be better consumed in the quiet of analog.
What do you have next in the pipeline?
A few things that I've mentioned already, plus the addition of subscriptions which we think can contribute to the undistracted experience in a positive way. We are particularly interested in exploring some of the various use cases like recipe books and poetry collections that we think could be a great fit for Blackstrap. Time will tell.
This interview was edited for clarity.
See inside Blackstrap's books: