Ballmer kills print

In an interview with the Washington Post, Steve Ballmer goes a bit farther than even I would go killing print. But that’s the problem; that’s the way print people look at it. What he’s really saying is that delivery over IP will have so much greater advantage over delivery via one-way media. Why? Interaction. He’s right.

In the next 10 years, the whole world of media, communications and advertising are going to be turned upside down — my opinion.

Here are the premises I have. Number one, there will be no media consumption left in 10 years that is not delivered over an IP network. There will be no newspapers, no magazines that are delivered in paper form. Everything gets delivered in an electronic form.

Yeah. If it’s 14 or if it’s 8, it’s immaterial to my fundamental point. . . . If we want TV to be more interactive, you’ll deliver it over an IP network. I mean, it’s sort of funny today. My son will stay up all night basically playing Xbox Live with friends that are in various parts of the world, and yet I can’t sit there in front of the TV and have the same kind of a social interaction around my favorite basketball game or golf match. It’s just because one of these things is delivered over an IP network and the other is not. . . .

Also in the world of 10 years from now, there are going to be far more producers of content than exist today. We’ve already started to see that certainly in the online world, but we’ve just scratched the surface. . . . I always take my favorite case: I grew up in Detroit. I went to a place called Detroit Country Day School. They’ve got a great basketball team. Why can’t I sit in front of my television and watch the Country Day basketball game when I know darn well it’s being video-recorded at all times? It’s there. It’s just not easy to navigate to.

In this video, he also talks about the future of advertising. Ballmer argues that it will be hard to distinguish between communication and entertainment and that advertising, commerce, and content will all blend.

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  • Jeff A

    Couldn’t agree more with Balmer on this one. With the one exception of cinema – people will always go the movies, even though most cinematic consumption will take place over an IP.

  • I find myself in agreement with much of what Ballmer says, but I wonder if Microsoft can pull off their search/advertising ambitions. I wonder because Microsoft has never been particularly innovative. What’s more, their entire concept of business hinges on control. Use software to control all parts of a process and, even if it is lousy software, control the users.

    What Google seems to understand, in addition to algorithms, is that the market isn’t about control, rather it is about facilitation. Search works when you understand that the person driving the process is not the advertiser or publishers, and certainly not the software maker sitting on top of that. Search only works if you a) understand the user and b) let him/her/it control the process.

    The same dynamics that are hurting the newspaper industry at the moment (perhaps all broadcast media) could eventually erode Microsoft. The audience doesn’t want interaction on your terms, they want what you have on their terms. The power of the internet allows them to reject you and your content if you try to control too much or to simply pull out what they want and throw the rest away.

    It’s obvious where Ballmer wants to go and why. The difficulty, as newspapers are discovering today, is that once you have a culture that is ingrained against the necessary radical changes, then you either die or endure a slow, painful process as the market (aka audience) forces you to where you need to be. Microsoft still believes they can drive the brave new world, kicking and screaming, into the Redmond fold even though the company may no longer be behind the wheel. My bet is the world will beat Microsoft senseless until the software giant realizes it is only along for the ride.

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  • There is no doubt that print media will change over the next ten years, but to say that print will be dead and be totally replaced by digital media flies in the face of the facts.

    Predicting the death of print at the hands of digital media may make good headlines, but not good sense. Neither print nor digital media as currently produced and delivered are sustainable. There is no doubt that digital media will continue to grow dramatically over the next ten years but not without radical change and not without printing!

    Mr. Balmer fails to address the hidden costs and negative impacts associated with the lifecycle of digital media that are likely to limit its growth. Computers don’t grow on trees; networks, servers and clients require a constant flow of electrons that are far from free; and at the end of their short useful lives, electronic devices are rapidly becoming the fastest growing category of toxic waste that we export and put in our landfills. Unchecked and unchanged the growth and dominance of digital media is unlikely.

    According to Yogendra Joshi, Professor and John M. McKenney and Warren D. Shiver Distinguished Chair at the G.W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, in 2006, data centers in the United States consumed about 61 billion kWh, or 1.5 % of total U.S. electricity consumption, for a total electricity cost of about $4.5 billion. This level of electricity consumption is estimated to be more than double the electricity that was consumed for this purpose in 2000 and continues to grow at an unsustainable rate.

    Business, government, society and advertising depend on… and will continue to depend on print media to a far greater extent… and for a far greater length of time than is commonly understood. In addition, we are just now realizing that the growth of digital technologies cannot continue on their current course.

    There is no doubt that digital media will continue to grow in importance, but not without radical change in the way it employs energy and materials. Likewise, print media will continue to grow in importance as it too changes in ways that will radically increase its value and sustainability. Ironically one of the ways in which digital media is likely to become more sustainable is through the abandonment of current silicon semiconductor manufacturing processes in favor of printing. The field of printed electronics is expected to grow a double digit rates over the next ten years yielding a new generation of technologies for storage, display and interaction with content that will also blur the distinctions between print and digital media in ways that Mr. Balmer fails to address.

    If we are to survive as a species, both print and digital media will be required to respond to the challenges of sustainability and climate change over the next ten years. For billions of people in the world print will continue to be the medium of choice and of necessity for decades to come. However, it cannot be print as we know it today. Likewise, digital media will be required to change and a new synthesis of symbiosis between print and digital media is the most likely and desirable outcome.

    Energy costs, energy security, climate change, globalization and the challenges of sustainability require us to take stock of our media supply chains and create new print and digital media solutions that are effective in serving our needs for communication and collaboration while also being economically viable, environmentally restorative and socially constructive.


    Don Carli
    Senior Research Fellow
    The Institute for Sustainable Communication

    EVP & Conference Chairperson
    SustainCommWorld: The Green Media Conference

  • Tim

    Can I just ask something? Who is to say someone won’t invent a hyper-fast, hyper-deluxe printing press, maybe hosted in a Kinkos-style storefront, that can churn out up-to-the-minute publications, hyper-disposable, almost like a complete website snapshot one can pick up and consume, whether on the subway or whatever?

    Yes, I know, digital paper and all that will make it irrelevant, Kindles everywhere etc. But until it truly rivals the look and feel of print, which is going to be quite a long time away, I think a new kind of printing press is worth exploring. That way when you hit a newsstand, you really just walk up to a monster vending maching, select what you want and get it.

    Because really, print is still a gorgeous medium, totally different from digital, and it shouldn’t be discarded if it still has merit.

  • Mike G

    I agree with everything Steve Ballmer says too.

    Or rather, I agree with all the people who said it five years ago whose words Ballmer is regurgitating now. Microsoft, always looking towards the future… from five years back.

    And Tim is right. The day may come when nobody wants to own a book but there is something awfully satisfying about that format– oh, look at all my Patrick O’Brien’s lined up neatly– and I wouldn’t be surprised a bit to see books hang on for at least a couple of generations longer than newspapers or magazines. One reason being waste– I buy a magazine and I get 80 pages of paper for the 6 or 7 pages I actually want to read; and a week later it’s all trash. Where a book is highly efficient; there aren’t pages of perfume ads in the middle of Edith Wharton or Thomas Pynchon, and I don’t throw it away later.

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