Ballmer: print media are toast

Well, apparently he told a clutch of Washington Post editors that

There will be no media consumption left in ten 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.

Here’s the video.

Levi Sumagaysay at GMSV is not impressed.

It’s not going to happen in my lifetime, though. True, there are people who haven’t subscribed to a newspaper in years for various reasons. (The content is free on the Net. They’re trying to be green by using less paper. They don’t like getting ink on their hands. They don’t have time to read.) Yes, newspapers and magazines will continue to fold. Many will continue to lay people off or wait for them to get so sick of their jobs that they quit. And the quality of these publications will suffer, as they already have. But print media will stick around. I won’t even go into the many reasons that have to do with, um, that’s where many online publications get their content. Instead, I’ll focus on user experience. Technology has yet to deliver a replacement for the convenience of having a paper product to take along on the subway, to the bathroom (insert joke here), to the doctor’s office and to read at the checkout stand. True, some people can read newspapers and magazines on their iPhones, their Kindles. But not everyone can afford gadgets that cost hundreds of dollars, plus the monthly subscription/connection charges. Sometimes, it’s just easier to stick a couple of quarters — maybe four — into a slot and pick up a paper whose pages you can turn and fold, and which you can let your fellow commuter have when you’re done. You won’t see anyone giving up his Treo so a stranger can read the news on it. Also, you never have to worry about a newspaper running out of batteries or needing to be rebooted.

When the technology finally comes around, I’m sure lots of people will be ready for it. But the transition won’t be abrupt, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on whether you work in the newspaper industry. And digital won’t cancel out print. They will continue to coexist, although digital will surely be more dominant.

Levi’s right. Ballmer is just the latest subscriber to what John Seely Brown calls ‘endism’. Media ecosystems don’t work like that.