Friday, May 31, 2013

May 2013 Observations - All the News That's Fit to Print

By Jim Lyons

The New York Times motto - in the upper left of this century-old front page (courtesy - Wikipedia).

All the News That’s Fit to Print

In my month-before-last Observations (see “March 2013 Observations - Looking Back on the Future of Printing”), I wrote about a University of Southern California class project. A professor assigned his engineering students to analyze a group of 25-year-old predictions for the future, contained in a series of 1988 Los Angeles Times' Magazine articles. Among my own discoveries, I realized that one of the prognostications, about having news “pushed” to a home printer, might be more accurate than it was being given credit for. And I promised more detail, and rationale for this conclusion, to come in the following month’s Observations.

Well, Earth Day came along, which I had overlooked in my promise, and to which I almost always dedicate a column. (See this year’s “April 2013 Observations - Please consider the environment..."). So here I am in May catching up with that overdue commitment.

I have previously mentioned the HP Industry Analyst Summit in early March of this year, held in Boston, which I attended along with several hundred other "influencers" who cover HP across its extremely broad spectrum of business activity. It was my first opportunity to witness the recently combined PC and Printing groups presenting as one, and I came away very impressed. (And the company continues to impress, with Q2 earnings and future outlook exceeding expectations – see “HP Printer Metrics – Latest quarterlyview” – and HPQ stock hitting 52-week highs.)

HP's Scheduled Delivery service is helping drive the demand for ink and toner

One of the main points during one of the print-specific presentations, this one by Steve Nigro (one of two HP execs who have functionally replaced the long-time-but-now-retired printer chief Vyomesh Joshi, with the other being Pradeep Jotwani) was the investment HP is making in new business models for selling supplies to consumers and small businesses, and CEO Meg Whitman emphasized this again in her remarks as part of the May 22ndearnings call, calling out specifically the “Instant Ink” and “Ink Advantage” programs. And what was seen as driving the demand for the ink which is part of the program? Nigro stated that among them, is the growing popularity of printing via the company’s “Scheduled Delivery” service. Scheduled Delivery is compatible with HP’s web-connected printers and was introduced three years ago (and harkens back to “Instant Delivery”, a service HP brought to market in the late 1990s – see August 2007’s “The More Things Change…”). Its continued growth leads Nigro to predict, that with the volume of news and other content being printed, “One day in the future we will be the largest deliverer of content into homes outside of the US Postal service.” In terms of number of subscribers, follow-up with an HP spokesperson led to the additional insight that, “Today [the number of] our scheduled delivery subscribers equal about the average US newspaper subscription.”

The NY Times Daily Digest is a Scheduled Delivery option for HP Printer owners
So with the “TimesDigest” from the New York Times leading the way, I couldn’t help but make the connection with the “All the News That’s Fit to Print” motto. And while that may be a great example of a warning sign indicating “Marketing Myopia” - where the actual mission of the Times organization should really fundamentally not include “printing” but rather “gathering, synthesizing and distributing” of the news as its core competency - HP is still, at least more or less, about marks on paper. Thus it was good to see so much focus on printing and imaging at the summit (and in Whitman's remarks this month), including the Officejet Pro X for the office, along with new Laser MFPs, and all the continued progress in the Graphics Arts/Commercial spaces.

So back to the two articles I mentioned in March. As described in that post, “An article on the professor’s process is described in an LA Times piece by Bob Pool, and a follow-up story, “2013, as Imagined by Futurists in 1988,” by Zak Stone, which appears on Fast Company’s co.exist Web site” covered the conclusion that the prediction for 2013, in a hypothetical consumer home, each morning a “laser-jet [sic] printer would automatically print off a feed of news stories most interesting to them” was off base. But was it? At least in some of those “Scheduled Delivery” homes it is apparently not off base!

I concluded my March post as follows:

“There is plenty of material out there about the future—what we thought it would be and are now living, and what really will follow in the next years and decades. It is fascinating stuff, especially for those of us in the printing and imaging industry.”

And once again, that is proving very true, especially about the "plenty of material." Just this week, I was delighted to find the Geekwire piece (also featured by AllThingsD Voices) by Frank Catalano that also goes back to some 1983 predictions, specifically about the future of news. In “The future of news, as viewed from 1993: What we got right, and very wrong”, Catalano begins with “I recently undertook an archaeological dig (others call it “cleaning out files”) and came across a remarkable artifact of the pre-web days: a physical printout of a spirited debate on the future of the news media from CompuServe’s JForum (a.k.a. Journalism Forum) — dated May, 1993.”

This absolutely resonated with me! I was a Compuserve user in May 1993, looking at the future of print, which gives me common ground right there. But the real confluence was with Catalano’s “dig” reference, and my very first Observations column (now going back seven-and-a-half years, to December 2005), where I reflected on my “Hard Copy Time Capsule” found while cleaning out my HP cubicle.

Catalano’s work is far too interesting to jam into the wrap up here, so I will be returning to it in a future post. I won’t promise “next month”, having learned my lesson, but stay tuned!

(PS - To clarify HP Executive Roles, Stephen Nigro is a Senior Vice President, reporting to Todd Bradley, Executive Vice President over all of PPS, i.e. Printing and Personal Systems. His domain includes Inkjet and Printing Solutions and the Graphics Solutions Business. Pradeep Jotwani is the Senior Vice President over the LaserJet business and also reports to Bradley.)


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