Will print media disappear in 10+ years?

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Steve Ballmer is predicting that print media will be gone in 10 years or so. He sees the print world going IP. I agree that the trend has already started, but I’m not quite sure about his premise: That the transition from print to IP is as equivalent to handwritten texts to printed texts. It may be more akin to the transition from hardcover to softcover or radio to TV or black-and-white film to color.

Each of these later technologies definitely displaced their predecessors, but they didn’t completely wipe them out. I think this is where Ballmer is wrong although I agree 100% that the majority of our reading will go IP in lets say the next 10 to 20 years.

I see some areas where the transition will occur faster than others. Take public schools, for instance. There’s no doubt in my mind that great, electronic reading devices and content could be created right now. However, it costs a bit too much in dollars and time at this point to get the ball rolling and keep it moving. It’s going to happen, but there are great forces (lack of understanding of the technology, competing print publishers that won’t port content, training) to slow it down. I go back and forth whether the colleges will have to go electronic 100% first. I’m leaning that way right now. (Colleges and universities by virtue of their class sizes have an immediate automation problem. So this is why I think they’re the most likely to go 100% digital first.) However, given the right hardware, I could see K-8 being the grades that make the first move both economically and efficiently thereby inspiring the other grades to shift. High schools have been dabbling with digital, but curiously because I think their content has to be so rich, I don’t think this is the place to start. That could just be my underestimation of where we’re at though. Oddly for at least me, this is where a lot of the laptop initiatives have had the greatest success. It may be because there’s relatively so much more writing going on at these grades. Anyway, I’m probably wrong in my instincts. 🙂

In terms of general reading material I think most people are already heavy Internet users–at least here in the US. Reference material is already going online too. TV and radio are slowly making their way digital and once they cross over, we’ll all step back and ask ourselves why it took so long. I think all of the media, print, radio, TV, though will keep publishing as they always have for a long time. I wouldn’t be surprised though to see print be the last hold out, however, in terms of distributing their content the traditional way, on paper. Why? Because it’s cheap to do and paper doesn’t require much additional infrastructure to consume. With the other medias you need spectrum, towers, and so on.

In fact, I actually see a blending of the digital and paper worlds coming down the road which will help to revitalize the disposable media. I wouldn’t be surprised to see video content in print magazines or pages that you couldn’t tap on that send sync commands to your phone or computer or whatever to add a website link to review or something similar.

So Steve Ballmer is right that the trend is digital. How fast and how extensive it becomes, I’m not so sure. If the hardware costs drop by a factor of 100 and the weight by a factor of 10, then I think he’s spot on. It’s going to take some pretty stiff competition though in the hardware arena before this happens, however. Maybe a company like VIA will pull it off. If so, then I’ll be happily wrong and IP content will have made a knock out blow to print media in 10 years.

[Found via TechCrunch and Gottabemobile]