Can a start-up digital printing business reach $1 million in sales within 12 months at a profit margin of 30%? Partners Bob Lambie, Andrew Simmons, and Ken Williams will know the answer at the end of the year, and so will everyone else who follows their progress in an ongoing online chronicle that they call the Social Print Experiment. Think of it as “reality TV meets print on the Web”: a 52-week journal of videos, blog posts, and other feeds that will track the company’s success or failure as it tries to establish itself as a trade shop in San Diego, CA. The idea is to facilitate and promote the start-up using widely available tools that are free or nearly free, such as Outright for bookkeeping and Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn for social networking. The project was launched on January 18. Simmons, a former print company president who has also sold digital presses for Kodak and IKON, says that the chronicle will share the start-up’s “best and worst practices” as it attempts to build up a trade clientele and produce jobs. To this end, he’s taken to the streets of San Diego with a Flip mini-cam that he’ll use to interview printer customers and make weekly progress reports. Total transparency does seem to be the general objective. Blog posts at the site discuss tools and strategies in detail, and the partners even break out their monthly production history and operating cost data for the whole online world to see. Soon, says Simmons, a custom widget from Outright will let anyone “drill down into our numbers” for a detailed look at the start-up’s books. (Only customer identities will be withheld.) Another goal is to let other printers know that they, too, can do what the Social Print Experiment is doing both to break into digital printing and to use social networking tools for business development. Simmons says that each time he uploads a blog post or a video, he gets “100 e-mails” from other printers who like what they see but are still on the fence about taking the digital plunge themselves. If, after 52 well-documented weeks, the Social Print Experiment does make its lofty numbers, many of its watchers will be cheering almost as lustily the partners. But, how realistic for a start-up is a $1 million sales target and, in particular, a 30% profit margin—described by Simmons in an early post as “27% more than a typical commercial printing company”? He acknowledges that it will be a big hill to climb in a price-conscious market and a down economy. However, says Simmons, the company has high hopes for the high-margin work it expects to produce on its MGI Meteor DP60 Pro, a French-made digital press that can print on paper, plastic, and synthetics in formats up to 13" x 47". The start-up also hopes to build marketing momentum with Web-to-print ordering, product personalization, and QR codes. If the Social Print Experiment is half as successful at attracting business as it is at attracting attention, perhaps those numbers won’t be as hard to hit as they appear. The project already has more than 1,000 followers on Twitter (as socialprintexp), and Simmons says that he has been interviewed by a writer from The Wall Street Journal for a story about businesses using Web 2.0 social networking tools. We’ll check in periodically to see how this intrepid and intriguing venture is doing.