Have you heard… print media is dead?

Or at least sales of the dead tree editions of newspapers and magazine are in an downward spiral, headed to their eventual demise.

The owners of those publications are now struggling to find some way to not only survive but also make money in amounts, they hope, equal to or greater than the huge pots they earned only a few years ago.

Like before RSS, and CraigsList, and YouTube, and blogs, and all the other sites that offer right now the same information as their analog versions will deliver tomorrow morning, later this week, or next month.

And before a new generation was taught (by many of those same publications) that information presented on the web was supposed to be free.

Recently, two large publishers, Conde Nast and Time Warner have been showing off their plans for recreating their publications for the tablet devices that all the smart analysts say are coming any day now*.

Another group (including Conde Nast) has announced their intention to create a “Hulu for magazines” that would produce a “fully featured kind of immersive e-reading application”.

While that press release was very vague about what “Hulu for magazines” might look like, Time Warner’s demo version of Sports Illustrated is interesting, mixing the traditional magazine layout with video, audio and interactive elements.

I suspect that approach might work for a publication like Sports Illustrated, but I wonder if it will for more general publications like our local newspaper, the Washington Post.

Although we subscribe to the Post, more often than not I find myself scanning through my aggregator over breakfast instead of reading the paper.

That program does a better job (but certainly not perfect) of organizing the articles in which I’m interested than the traditional fixed-in-concrete format used by most general news publications.

A tablet version would need to do a better job of anticipating what I might want or need to see and pull it together, from all over the web, regardless of the source, and not just from those stories deemed worthy by the Post’s editors.

That same intelligent software would also be exactly what we would need in a digital learning device.

But please don’t call that a “textbook”, a term that implies the same old content and format as the paper-based versions we use now.

Which is the last thing we should want in any educational version of this mythical multimedia tablet.

* In my memory, Apple’s tablet has been coming every six months for at least the last five years :-)