If Print Still Rules, When’s the Revolution?

You’re in bed with a 103-degree fever. Are you going to snuggle up with a mind-numbing pulpy web page on your laptop? You’re the consummate host. Do you put a few laptops in the powder room to entertain guests while they’re… uh… indisposed? And when was the last time you saw someone with a deftly creased laptop in one hand, the other hand hanging on for dear life to a subway strap?

The reality is, there will always be print. At least, there will always be print as long as there are situations in which electronics just aren’t feasible and, quite frankly, as long as there are boomers. Mine is the demographic that says it loves the Internet but has kept print king.

My hunch is that print is still empowered because its content reigns supreme. I contend that if content were much better on most of our web sites, we would even change our reading patterns. (How many of us still cling to that “coffee with the morning newspaper” routine?)

Take the web sites for the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post. Both simply regurgitate their print offerings. There’s very little interactivity on either (a poll here and there). For the most part, if you’ve read the newspaper already, there’s very little need to tour the site.

People magazine takes a bit of a different approach. There are daily updates on the site, which I assume are separate from the weekly magazine content. You can also get “pics of the day” of your favorite stars for those of you who can’t get enough Britney. It’s not much to speak of, but it’s headed in the right direction. (Hey, you can email your pals the latest ‘N Sync photos if you’re so inclined.)

Even the popular print publications about the Internet fall into these patterns; the print piece takes precedence over the web site. For example, if you want the latest from Darwin magazine, you have to go to the hard copy because the web site offers mostly electronic versions of what’s published in print. iMarketing News is a bit more interesting because it doesn’t even have a corresponding web site. You have to go to dmnews.com and scroll to Internet marketing to get the latest from these folks. Granted, dmnews.com has daily updates that are fresher than the weekly print piece, but why can’t iMarketing News have its own site?

The Industry Standard does take advantage of the Internet’s immediacy over print’s longer lead times. Although the web site also offers reprints of the print piece, thestandard.com has daily updates and some interesting columns that are also renewed daily, including Dot-Com Flop Tracker (deceased dot-coms), Ex-Exec Tracker (downsized execs), and Dot-Com Layoff Tracker (everyone else in dot-com land).

My colleagues in public relations say that the Internet’s back seat to print publications is no secret, especially for executive clients who very rarely ask for “ink” on a web site. “Get me in The New York Times” is a far more popular request than “I want to be on the MSNBC web site.”

There are a few exceptions. Techies, for example, do appreciate the content of CNET and consider publication on the site somewhat of a coup. But aside from these few anomalies, will a public relations professional arrange for an exclusive for a web site? “No, I can’t say I’ve ever done that,” says one public relations professional I know, explaining that it’s difficult to attain an advertising dollar equivalency for inches of ink appearing on a web site. “And besides,” she admits, “right now, a web site just doesn’t have the clout.”

My other hunch (I’m very hunched over after writing this column) is that most executives know that if they get in print, they’ll probably be reprinted on the Internet. So it just makes sense to go to the source.

When will the Internet dog start wagging print’s tail? Yes, it’ll be when advertising sales rival those of print, but I suspect that it’ll also be when content improves. In the world of Internet content, the revolution seems eons away. In fact, right now, there isn’t even a riled-up mob of content rebels waiting to storm the gates.

So wake me when the Internet content revolution begins. In the meantime, I think I’ll curl up in bed with my ThinkPad.

Related reading