[Marxism] The future of media

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Jun 6 11:07:23 MDT 2008

Microsoft's Ballmer on Yahoo and the Future

By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 5, 2008; D01

In an animated discussion with Washington Post editors and reporters 
yesterday, Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer offered his 
far-ranging views of upcoming changes in technology and the media.


Q: What is your outlook for the future of media?

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.

Q: 10 years?

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.



NY Times, June 6, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist
Bits, Bands and Books

Do you remember what it was like back in the old days when we had a New 
Economy? In the 1990s, jobs were abundant, oil was cheap and information 
technology was about to change everything.

Then the technology bubble popped. Many highly touted New Economy 
companies, it turned out, were better at promoting their images than at 
making money — although some of them did pioneer new forms of accounting 
fraud. After that came the oil shock and the food shock, grim reminders 
that we’re still living in a material world.

So much, then, for the digital revolution? Not so fast. The predictions 
of ’90s technology gurus are coming true more slowly than enthusiasts 
expected — but the future they envisioned is still on the march.

In 1994, one of those gurus, Esther Dyson, made a striking prediction: 
that the ease with which digital content can be copied and disseminated 
would eventually force businesses to sell the results of creative 
activity cheaply, or even give it away. Whatever the product — software, 
books, music, movies — the cost of creation would have to be recouped 
indirectly: businesses would have to “distribute intellectual property 
free in order to sell services and relationships.”

For example, she described how some software companies gave their 
product away but earned fees for installation and servicing. But her 
most compelling illustration of how you can make money by giving stuff 
away was that of the Grateful Dead, who encouraged people to tape live 
performances because “enough of the people who copy and listen to 
Grateful Dead tapes end up paying for hats, T-shirts and performance 
tickets. In the new era, the ancillary market is the market.”

Indeed, it turns out that the Dead were business pioneers. Rolling Stone 
recently published an article titled “Rock’s New Economy: Making Money 
When CDs Don’t Sell.” Downloads are steadily undermining record sales — 
but today’s rock bands, the magazine reports, are finding other sources 
of income. Even if record sales are modest, bands can convert airplay 
and YouTube views into financial success indirectly, making money 
through “publishing, touring, merchandising and licensing.”

What other creative activities will become mainly ways to promote side 
businesses? How about writing books?

According to a report in The Times, the buzz at this year’s BookExpo 
America was all about electronic books. Now, e-books have been the 
coming, but somehow not yet arrived, thing for a very long time. 
(There’s an old Brazilian joke: “Brazil is the country of the future — 
and always will be.” E-books have been like that.) But we may finally 
have reached the point at which e-books are about to become a widely 
used alternative to paper and ink.

That’s certainly my impression after a couple of months’ experience with 
the device feeding the buzz, the Amazon Kindle. Basically, the Kindle’s 
lightness and reflective display mean that it offers a reading 
experience almost comparable to that of reading a traditional book. This 
leaves the user free to appreciate the convenience factor: the Kindle 
can store the text of many books, and when you order a new book, it’s 
literally in your hands within a couple of minutes.

It’s a good enough package that my guess is that digital readers will 
soon become common, perhaps even the usual way we read books.

How will this affect the publishing business? Right now, publishers make 
as much from a Kindle download as they do from the sale of a physical 
book. But the experience of the music industry suggests that this won’t 
last: once digital downloads of books become standard, it will be hard 
for publishers to keep charging traditional prices.

Indeed, if e-books become the norm, the publishing industry as we know 
it may wither away. Books may end up serving mainly as promotional 
material for authors’ other activities, such as live readings with paid 
admission. Well, if it was good enough for Charles Dickens, I guess it’s 
good enough for me.

Now, the strategy of giving intellectual property away so that people 
will buy your paraphernalia won’t work equally well for everything. To 
take the obvious, painful example: news organizations, very much 
including this one, have spent years trying to turn large online 
readership into an adequately paying proposition, with limited success.

But they’ll have to find a way. Bit by bit, everything that can be 
digitized will be digitized, making intellectual property ever easier to 
copy and ever harder to sell for more than a nominal price. And we’ll 
have to find business and economic models that take this reality into 

It won’t all happen immediately. But in the long run, we are all the 
Grateful Dead.

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