8020: American Idol of Digital Photography?

With online advertising on an upswing, it is hardly a surprise that traditional media, including magazine and newspaper publishers, are embracing the web. 8020 Publishing, Inc., a four-person San Francisco startup co-founded by Technorati and BitTorrent alumni, plans to reverse the trend, and bring web content to the print medium. Surprisingly enough, it is an idea whose time has come!

The company is the brainchild of Derek Powazek, recently of Technorati, and Paul Cloutier, co-founders of the company and both enthusiastic (though amateur) photographers. Powazek, and his wife, Heather, had previously published JPG magazine using LuLu.com’s on demand print service. Cloutier, had built the uploading system. The growing popularity and lack of subscription services (at Lulu) forced them to look for other options.
Enter C/Net founder Halsey Minor, who has invested over a million dollars in the company and given it access to his Minor Ventures offices in downtown San Francisco. In less than six months, the company has built a visually stunning website that is likely to get enthusiastic welcome from design/photo communities.

What is interesting about the tiny company is how they have combined open source tools, Web 2.0 technologies and Amazon.com’s S3 storage offering and put together a platform that will ultimately produce a quaintly old fashioned (but highly effective) product.

The idea behind 8020 is quite simple – take user generated content, let the users select the very best and then build a high quality print product. No editors necessary. It is not the first to adopt this model of putting their customers in charge. skinnyCorp., a Chicago-based apparel maker has a technology-enabled platform that has made their Threadless project– think Digg for T-Shirts — into a $60 million-plus a year business. (I have written about this trend in the past for Business 2.0 and CNN Money.)

8020 has created a website, JPGMag, which invites ProAm digital photographers to submit photos of their choice that relate to three monthly topics. They can submit photos for non-topical themes as well.

The visitors to the site then vote on the photos, and the ones with most votes (combined with most visits and other such parameters) are selected to be printed in the JPG Magazine, a glossy print publication that will be published once every two months and sold nationwide.

Since the photos are destined for a print publication, JPG is seeking very high-resolution pictures, the kind you take with slick DSLR cameras. (Scott Beale, Niall Kennedy and Thomas Hawk are all part of this elite lens club.)

The site is not a competitor to Flickr or Zooomr, but a high-end talent showcase, not quite different from say American Idol. (In case you were wondering why I am writing about this company, think about a broadband-enabled life. These big photos need some serious bandwidth, both for viewing and uploading.)

The company can extend their current business model from ProAm photography to say travel, food or even gadgets. The potential is limitless, though it is their ability to make money that remains highly questionable.

The company plans to attract sponsors and advertisers for its print publications as well as its website. Metroblogging is the premier sponsor, and is asking photographers to submit photos based on the “metro theme.” This is the high end of the market, which could be very attractive to say, camera makers or companies like Nokia that are trying to find takers for their high end mobile phones such as the N73.

Since we are taking about people’s power, we let you the readers decide what would be the outcome for this company. Take our poll, and help us figure out the future.