HP Desperately Hopes the Web Will Print Money -- and the Key Word is "Desperate"

Last Updated Jun 7, 2010 2:32 PM EDT

HP (HPQ) announced a new set of Web-enabled printers designed to let people print from anywhere and schedule print jobs from cloud storage. I've got two questions. Why didn't HP do this sooner? And does it really matter?

HP has made a big deal out of the Web-enabled printers because the company's printing and imaging division, long a cash cow, has come under enormous pressure. As I noted last month around HP's earnings release:

Changing times have hit HP hard. Many people increasingly look at documents -- and, more importantly, pictures, as images require gobs of colored inks -- on screens. People don't tend to keep large stacks of 4×6 prints any more, and so there is increasingly less demand for ink.
From a strategic view, you'd have to call this move at best a market necessity. People increasingly use mobile devices and many aren't particularly well-suited to printing. As the company's press release explains:
Every HP ePrint printer will have a unique simple email address that allows the sender to deliver a print the same way they would send an email message. Customers also can send documents to print through an HP ePrint mobile app on their smartphone device to a home, office or public print location such as a hotel or FedEx Office store. Customers will be able to send Microsoft® Office documents, Adobe® PDFs and JPEG image files, among others.
HP specifically refers to smartphones, netbooks, and Apple (AAPL) iPads. A number of Web services -- including Google (GOOG) Apps, Box.net, and Reuters -- will have customized printing apps that work with HP's new printers.

But, really, how much does this matter? Increasingly, people read, create, and share in electronic form. Is it really that difficult to print a Google Apps document or a story from Reuters? And are people itching to send something to a remote printer when they could send a link or file, particularly when they'd have paper piling up someplace remote with no guarantee that they would remain undisturbed by others? It seems like a last-ditch effort to get people to keep printing rather than offering other solutions that might fit better with changing lifestyles and working habits.

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Dollar bill image: Flickr user SqueakyMarmot, CC 2.0. Browser frame, Erik Sherman.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.