The next online revolution: Print

Summary:What's the next Web revolution? Print.Now that may sound counterintuitive, and just plain wrong, but the medium that was supposed to supersede print is now morphing back into it.

What's the next Web revolution? Print.

Now that may sound counterintuitive, and just plain wrong, but the medium that was supposed to supersede print is now morphing back into it. Nerve.com becomes a book, Feed.com becomes a book, Salon.com becomes a book. And now Gist Communications, which provides online TV listings, is creating a "customizable print magazine," to be distributed through the Web.

In other words, you are supposed to print out this ad-supported TV listings daily, called The Daily Gist, to make it more portable than your PC. The folks at Gist seem to have realized that if you're sacked out in your favorite armchair trying to find the least objectionable programming, you're unlikely to be cradling your laptop. Jonathan Greenberg, CEO of Gist Communications, makes the audacious comment that within 10 years, no one will get print TV listings any other way.

"Within 10 years from now, any print listings version that consumers get will be printed off your home computer," says Gist. Of course, this would be a bit of a blow to TV Guide, one of the widest-circulation magazines in the country, and to newspapers, which rely on TV listings to sell their Sunday editions.

The folks at Hewlett-Packard would dearly like this to become a trend. HP is touting what it calls Instant Delivery service, in which a variety of media companies, including the New York Times, MSNBC, Major League Baseball, The Wall St. Journal, and Marvel, are offering two-to-four page summaries of relevant information printed out on your printer automatically.

So far, the results are embryonic and inconclusive. Greenberg explains that in order to use the automatic service now, you have to load software that HP is providing with new printers (HP ships 25 million printers a year, he adds). Given that for most American consumers, about 60 percent of whom have printers, loading software is about as much fun as emptying the garbage, I think TV Guide can breathe easy for the forseeable future. HP plans to pre-load this software by next year, and I presume that the service might pick up a little then, but right now it seems like one more example of a technology in search of an application.

My impression of a lot of these things is that they need some kind of spark to get them going. Old habits die hard; the chances are that somewhere near your TV is either a copy of TV Guide or the weekly TV listings guide that comes with your Sunday paper. To make this scenario obsolete, as Greenberg is promising, a couple of things would have to change.

You would have to conclude that all those happy articles on TV in TV Guide aren't necessary to your enjoyment of the box or you would have to decide that plucking the listings guide out of your newspaper is just too much work. Right now, if you went away for a week, and you were using this service, you would probably come home to find the "out of paper" sign flashing on your computer, and a bunch of useless sheets of listings sitting in your in tray. I'm sure they have a way to get it to stop, but that's just one more thing you have to do.

So, as much as Greenberg likes to predict the demise of TV Guide's print edition, I wouldn't expect it any time soon. Let me know what you think of this idea in the talkback below.

Topics: Hewlett-Packard, Hardware, Laptops, PCs

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