In a speech this week in Cannes, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer predicted that within a decade, all traditional content will be digital. "All content consumed will be digital,” he said. “We can [only] debate if that may be in one, two, five or 10 years."
"There won't be [only traditional] newspapers, magazines and TV programs,” he said. “There won't be [only] personal, social communications offline and separate. In 10 years it will all be online. Static content won't cut it in the future."
He also warned that the global advertising economy has been permanently "reset" at a lower level, and that traditional broadcast and print media will have to plan business models around a smaller share of the advertising market. (Of course, he speaks as someone who runs a digital advertising business that generates revenue of $2 billion a year.)
"I don't think we are in a recession, I think we have reset," he said. "A recession implies recovery [to pre-recession levels] and for planning purposes I don't think we will. We have reset and won't rebound and re-grow."
I think Ballmer is right about the reset. But I don't believe he is right that all media will be digital.
I think the demand for newspapers on newsprint will continue for one more generation. And I think magazines in particular will survive, because no digital system seems likely to beat the convenience of a foldable, browsable, tear-the-good-pages-out magazine.
In fact, I argued yesterday in a note to Masthead.ca, the news site for Canada’s magazine industry, that the experience of browsing a paper magazine – with its texture, its convenience, and its ability to surprise – is a “killer app” that the Internet can simulate, but will never match.
What do you think?
You can watch Ballmer's speech here.