Do the offline publishers of America know what this
joint venture to develop wireless Web products means to their long-term businesses? What did it feel like to be in the cloth-diaper business when Pampers came out? Did the big dairies know that their house-to-house distribution system was about to go under when the supermarkets carried fresh milk in paper cartons?
Throughout this Web-ification of America, I have been struck by the slowness with which old-line media has embraced this new medium.
First, anybody who argues that the Web will eventually supplant much of the magazine and newspaper industry is immediately branded a quack -- some
Second, the people who run these shops genuinely view the current distribution system as being efficient and almost natural. They have yet to come to terms with the antediluvian nature of printing papers, bundling them, transporting them to another part of the country, unbundling them and then giving them to people to hand-deliver to individual readers.
Third, the publishers of America for the most part view their computers as word processors to be handled by their secretaries. I never see these guys carrying laptops around. Maybe they have them, but I don't think they know how to use them. They no longer revel in it, but they do seem unabashed that you are a geek if you tote yours everywhere, as I do. Email? Yeah, maybe someday -- if they have to.
Finally, these guys don't understand the greatness of these American tech companies, all of which need wireless Net access to keep growing above trend. They don't understand that in two years we will have laptops with perfect resolution that weigh two pounds and allow you to log on to the Net from wherever you are. And they will cost a couple of hundred bucks.
I am confident that in two years you will read this column on the way to work or on your way home if you are a commuter. You will flip on your laptop, press a couple of buttons and
will pop up. You will find it humorous that newspapers keep getting delivered to your driveway when you can get a better, faster,
version online in your kitchen.
It's the tethering to the land phone line that has not allowed this change to occur yet. Now that Cisco and Motorola have teamed up to figure it out, it will get done -- and fast. Once this occurs, there will certainly be a price war among telco providers to give you Net access for pennies per month instead of dollars, as it costs now. There is so much competition being built out now that stable high prices will be unthinkable in two years.
Why must it occur? Pretty simple: cost. The old-line distribution system with its trees and ink and trucks and delivery people is simply too expensive vs. a publication that shifts the costs of transmission to its readers through the Net.
Why isn't this obvious to the publishing powers that be? Here's one bizarre, way-too-honest-to-be-said-by-most reason: Publishing is a glamorous profession made up of people who regard it as almost above commerce. The costs, the expense side, the business side are almost an afterthought at these places.
They will be the last guys to see this change coming.
James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-founder of TheStreet.com. At the time of publication, his fund was long Motorola and Cisco, though positions may change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Cramer's writings provide insights into the dynamics of money management and are not a solicitation for transactions. While he cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he invites you to comment on his column by sending a letter to TheStreet.com.