The leading edge of the digital information economy is, believe it or not, good, old-fashioned paper books.
NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- You will never, ever guess what is the leading, bleeding edge of the mess that is the digital information economy right now. Not ebooks. Not even Facebooks (:FB).
But good, old-fashioned, ink-slathered-on-paper, bound books.
"I'm all about real," says Lars Perkins, founder and CEO of Relive, the Los Angeles-based geo-tagging photo integration start-up. Perkins quite literally lives on the outer banks of applied technology. He's on the NASA Advisory Council, was a product manager at Google (:GOOG) -- a gig he got when he sold an earlier company he built called Picasa to the firm in 2005. He's been a managing director at Idealab, the Pasadena, Calif.-based technology incubator.
His biography even claims he built an Altair 8800 minicomputer -- the world's first personal computer -- as a high school project back in 1976.
And this most interesting tech man in the world is now betting that printed volumes are a critical business component to his latest venture, Relive. What this online software tool does is securely collect images from smartphones, cameras, PCs, tablets or anything that can take a picture, then organize them around, say, a wedding and put all those images in virtual space any Web user can access easily.
"I could not find a way to bring all my images together from an event in one place," Perkins told me as he demoed the product here in New York. "So I made one that could."
And Perkins is going old-school on getting Relive to live as a business.
"We are going to offer on-demand printed versions of the albums we organize," he said.
Perkins is not the lone reader in the nuevo-book revolution.
Evernote, the Redwood City, Calif.-based data tracking company whose mobile app is rapidly becoming the go-to useful organizational tool for forgetful knuckleheads such as me, is developing a similarly intriguing application for traditional books.
"We decided to challenge the idea of being at war with paper," John Hoye, director of partnerships at Evernote, told me.
In case you don't know, Evernote takes any bit of personal information -- notes, photos and files -- from any device and makes it searchable. Starting in October the company will be integrating this high-tech back-end with a book -- the Smart Notebook by Moleskine. Essentially a blank book with gridded paper, the Smart Notebook vastly improves handwriting recognition -- at least in my demos. And considering the books start at about $25, it opens the door to never forgetting anything important ever again.
Not convinced books will be boffo in the digital age? Try this: Redwood City-based Shutterfly(:SFLY) announced last week that it will spend $60 million on a 300,000-square-foot production facility in Fort Mill, S.C. The plant, said the company, will increase efficiency in creating its holiday cards, personalized stationery and -- you got it -- photo books.
Book 'em, Danno
Call me an old-school, book-loving fop. But the hoopla about hardcovers is not hard to read. In a world where pure information plays such as Google and Facebook struggle to charge even a penny for their virtual products, a real live, $25 blank book looks pretty darn lucrative.
So with a little luck, sometime next year the fetish with the virtual may finally be expiring. And these major information companies will start quietly rebranding themselves as makers of real things.
That means, friends, that the latest chapter on books is just getting started.