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By Thomas Baekdal - October 2011

HP and Conde Nast in a Parallel Universe

Imagine for a moment that you live in a parallel universe. This universe is very much like the one you live in now. We have invented the car, electricity, coffee machines, cheap plastic toys, and the internet.

But somehow Tim Berners-Lee was never born and, as a result, the Web was never invented.

The rest is here, email, digital products, iPads, the ability to send and download files-everything except the web.

This is apparently the world many publishers live in. The latest example being HP's and Condé Nast's new partnership. Here is the press release:

HP today announced it is collaborating with Condé Nast to explore a new digital content distribution medium that merges rich content and digital-to-print service.

Additionally, HP plans to launch a pilot subscription service, HP Instant Ink, that automatically delivers replacement ink to customers at home or work while offering potential cost savings.

The Condé Nast pilot program will feature print-to-home services for subscribers to schedule the delivery of content from their favorite brands-such as Allure, Details, Epicurious, Glamour, Golf Digest, Self, and Wired-directly to their personal printers.

Basically, they want people to subscribe to e.g. Glamour and then send them a file, every month, which they can print out on their own printers. And HP will automatically send you a new ink cartridge when you run out.

As a reader, not only do you have to wait for the file to download, you also have to wait for it to print. Once printed all you get is a stack of paper with one magazine page on each sheet of paper.

It is pretty much the worst delivery method you can possible create. Not only is inkjet printing the slowest and most expensive form of print in the known universe, it is also the most cumbersome.

Imagine sitting down on your couch with 250 single sheet pages and try to read them. It would look something like this:

Note: How HP and Condé Nast envisions the future of magazines...

It would be more useful to have the magazine delivered pre-printed. Why would anyone want to received an ink cartridge, and be asked to print the magazine themselves?

Condé Nast goes on to say:

This project is one of the many ways Condé Nast is using emerging technology to engage consumers," said Julie Michalowski, senior vice president, Consumer Business Development, Condé Nast. "With this new HP pilot program, consumers will be able to have their favorite Condé Nast content at their fingertips.

"Emerging technology"? Print it yourself after downloading a file? How is that emerging technology?

"Engaging consumers"? What engagement? It is one-way passive consumption!

"Consumer will have their favorite content at their fingertips"? You mean like on the web? Where we don't have to wait, we have no download, we have no cost of print and everything is live, instantly updated and connected?

This "emerging technology" is what we would have done back in 1995 if Tim Berners-Lee was never born and the web was never invented. Then it would have made sense.

But we don't live in that world, and it doesn't make sense.

HP continues:

As the printer evolves into a content hub in homes and offices, HP Instant Ink allows additional content pages to flow " with savings and convenience for the user.

The printer as a content hub? What kind of silly parallel universe do they live in? The web is our content hub.

This is just a defensive tactic by HP to try to keep their falling inkjet market alive a little longer. It has no chance of success. This is what MBAs do when they see sales numbers dwindle on a spreadsheet.

And Condé Nast? They are a really strange company. Their products are actually rather good. Wired magazine, Epicurious etc are good sites with very interesting content and Condé Nast is experimenting with "new" things all the time, which is great!

But the problem is that they have a complete blind spot for the web and act as if it was never invented. The result being that every single thing they do is 15 years out of date.

They need to take their good products and their lust for experiments, put it all in a travel back, and take a big jump forward in time.

Tim Berners-Lee was born, and he did invent the web. That is the universe we live in today. If the web is not a core element of your strategy, you are not relevant.


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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