Will All Media Go Digital By 2014?

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"I want to make a bet with you today. By January 2014 I will wager that in the US almost all forms of tangible media will either be in sharp decline or completely extinct. I am not just talking about print, but all tangible forms of media – newspapers, magazines, books, DVDs, boxed software and video games."

That is how Steve Rubel started the post, The End of Tangible Media is Clearly in Sight, on his Micro Persuasion Blog yesterday (BTW, if you’re not reading Rubel, you really should).

After running through a bunch of recent news items about how certain media are shifting to digital-only platforms, he continued to say:

"Finally, if you need further proof, when was the last time you bought a CD? Exactly. For me it was back in 2003. I haven’t purchased a newspaper in at least two years and the number of people who I see toting them on my morning train have declined too. I cancelled my last print subscription this month and I am now living 100% ‘media green.’ Also I recently signed up for Safari Books Online and I am liking it a lot, though it’s pricey and their iPhone client needs a lot of work."

We all drink from the same water cooler, and it’s important to not fall into the, "I haven’t bought a magazine in two years… so everyone else will stop too," line of thinking. If you are reading this, odds are you are a very early adapters and while the Web, RSS and digital-on-demand is part of our DNA (or, at least, slowly taking over), take a long hard look at the overall mass population (even look are family, friends and colleagues), and what they do. RSS is not exactly cracking through mainstream (as Steve pointed out), and as much as we all love Twitter, most people do not get it.

Media will shift and it will evolve.

There’s also little doubt that as technology gets faster and more readily available, more and more content will also be available through the existing (and soon-to-be-coming) digital devices. As Blogged about a couple of days ago here: Digital Is The Great Disrupter, every industry that has seen their physical products shift to digital have gone through tremendous turmoil. Won’t it be interesting to see which types of "physical" devices we’ll need for all of this digital media?

Lastly, how "green" will this really be? The last time I checked, there are no organic battery farms anywhere and electricity and electronics are a huge part of our ongoing challenge to truly be a little greener. For us to consume all of this mass media is going to create a new kind of waste, which is going to have an environmental impact on all of us.

Shel Holtz over at the always-amazing, For Immediate Release – The Hobson And Holtz Report Podcast, is known to say, "new media doesn’t kill old media."

What do you think? Will all media be digital by 2014?


  1. as you point out, if print is to truly die, we will need devices that exist literally everywhere with a very low cost of entry that can bring media to us. Cell phones just arent there yet.

  2. No, but I think the true filter is going to be which types of content benefit from which format. Music wasn’t any better by being on CD, whereas the tangibility of print media has a lot of positives to it. People enjoy the real, physical experience of sitting and reading a book, magazine or (probably less so) newspaper.
    That being said, I think the survivors in print media will be the ones who capitalize on that experience and who benefit least from the instant gratification of the web. Newspapers have been suffering first and most because a daily just can’t compete with real-time news. Magazines will be in the middle – some magazines will survive (the kind you cuddle up with on the couch, more likely), others won’t last because digital will suit their audience better. Books – again, it will depend on the topic. I think fiction will probably stay popular longer in print, while information-only books (like textbooks) and especially those that go out of date quickly will fade away.

  3. No. Whenever someone tries to predict the future, they inevitably underestimate the time needed to fully accomplish a transition.
    There are still a number of people who aren’t on board with the digital revolution that will be alive in 2014. Think of the majority of seniors for instance…
    Cash register receipts, direct mail, and instruction manuals, among other things, are all going to exist in in 6 years. Physical media may be on its way out, but the convenience and accessibility of tangible media cannot be trumped yet.
    I’d say there is a strong correlation between nationwide wi-fi (ie, access to digital info) and the end of print. Look for these changes to happen together.

  4. Digitization will increase and create new kinds of media, and transform old ones. But print won’t go away quickly in my mind. The ways I like to read point out why: I don’t want to read a 500k word novel on a screen (eyestrain), I like reading on a beach in the sun (glare, sand) and in a bathtub, and batteries run out when you are traveling, camping, etc. It’s like saying “fire” is going away because we now have “electricity”

  5. Some time ago I was ready to ditch the print version of my nationally distributed quarterly newsletter. After all, the same content is available to readers in PDF form, as html docs, and as a monthly email. But I received sufficient pushback that I continue to pay for paper, printing, and postage. Why? Because of consumer demand. Print won’t die until all print-lovers die. I suspect that will never happen.

  6. Dying is different to declining. Physical editions will decline for some industries (music) but not necessarily for others (why spend hundreds on an e-reader when one only reads one or two cheap books at a time?)
    Regarding print, the Obama NY Times edition shows that people value tangible items as collector’s editions. I can conceive of a time where people download print editions onto a portable device, where they can annotate and dog-ear sections, but not within the next 10 years…

  7. Sure thing. Rather than page through a coffee table book of Michaelangelo’s art, produced with exquisite printing on high-end paper, I’d prefer my laptop and the limited color palette of the web browser.
    When I suggest that new media don’t kill old media, the premise is based on old media adapting based on its strengths. With the advent of television, TV abandoned content that was more suitable in a visual medium and presented content that was better consumed as audio — primarily talk and music. Print will undergo the same transition.
    In fact, after a torturous period of newspaper failures, the newspaper business will figure out what works best in print and continue to occupy a valued niche. Newspapers will never again be the dominant medium they once were, but they will find their place and thrive.
    As for Steve Rubel’s assertion, let’s remember that he also claimed FriendFeed would change marketing, PR, and journalism. So far, it shows absolutely no signs of fulfilling that prophecy. I like and admire Steve a lot, but his pronouncements tend to be based more on enthusiasm and an early adopter’s evangelism than a pragmatic view of things.
    I love my Kindle — I can take long books on the road with me. When I’m home, I still read real books. And I heard somebody say that the total package of Vanity Fair can never be duplicated digitally.
    As you say, Mitch: It’s “along with,” not “instead of.”

  8. “Along with … not instead of” is my vote.
    Sure – for news … totally digital.
    But count me among the people who can’t see books being replaced. It is much more comfortable to read sitting in a rocking chair with a book in one hand and a latte in the other than to use a digital device. Not to mention that there is a different degree of eyestrain using any screen versus print.
    CDs – I think that for the large population of trend followers (music trend) who decide what to buy based on what is “popular” – they have stopped buying CDs. But for those who like quality music and those who like indie music not trends – we’ll continue to buy CDs at live shows and to buy CDs because of the quality of sound. If you weren’t aware already – downloading from iTunes does not equal CD quality in sound. For most people – it doesn’t matter because they are playing the music on a device that doesn’t reproduce the full range of sound. There are some great new companies out there who offer CD quality downloads (kerfmusic for example) but they are appealing to the true music lovers, because a lot of people just don’t care about the quality of sound.

  9. No eBook feels like a printed ol’ book.
    Newspapers? Well, maybe. You read them for 10 minutes and then throw them away. It’s more practical to read virtually unlimited newspapers online almost for free than to buy them printed.

  10. Rubel’s vision doesn’t take into account the world beyond his state’s borders.
    These kinds of sweeping predictions never take into account developing or 3rd world countries and economies and it ignores the fact that there are large numbers of people around the world who do not have access to these digital tools.
    That’s why Rolf Dinsdale’s observation of “saying “fire” is going away because we now have “electricity” ” is most accurate.
    It’s not that all media will be digital, just that the opportunities to consume your media in digital format will become easier to find. Print as we know it will continue to exist in much the same way vinyl LPs still do. It may be niched in the future but it will be there.
    As for the green angle that remains to be seen, especially since wasteless, perpetual energy-sources have yet to be made public.

  11. The Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute is kicking off The Information Valet Project with a convening Dec. 3-5 in Columbia, Mo. It’s just the sort of blow-up-the-industry solution that’s need — a complete change of perspective away from a focus on a product — the newspaper — and to a new relationship with users. For more information see: http://www.ivpblueprint.org

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