Steve Rubel Says Print Media is Dead

Question: What is the future of print media?

Steve Rubel: You’ve got to look at the statistics and the trend lines. You know, when you look at the statistics from Amazon. When there’s a Kindle, when the book is available in both Kindle format, Amazon Kindle format and print format, 35 percent of the time Amazon sells the Kindle format. 

That’s a big number. I mean that’s the biggest, one of the biggest book retailers in the world and 35 percent of the books that they sell in Kindle format which is a huge number, I mean, it’s like you know, hundreds of thousands of titles is in Kindle format and they’re just getting going.

So, I mean, that’s a that’s a 2.0 device.  Imagine when it’s a 5.0 device or imagine when the iPhone is you know, which now is a 2.0 device, imagine when that’s you know, a 5.0 device, you know, also uses the kindle format so, it’s coming. 

Also, demographically you have to look at the younger audience too, they grew up reading on screens and so I think that for books, we’re going to, you know, I think that will be either eroded or really sharp decline by five years. I think newspapers, I mean, they’re already on their way out a lot of them in recent print, regionally faster than nationally, we’ll see about the national ones. 

DVDs I think, you know, as great as blue-ray is a format I think we’re going to see over the air, over the internet downloading be the preferable way to go and get the content as the speeds pickup, devices improve, you know, and even video games as great as video games are as CDs, I think that we’re seeing you know, this whole notion of downloadable games wether it be on your iPhone or, you know, downloadable through the X-Box live system which I actually have in my house and even those titles are big, and it’s hard to push those down a pipe right now, it’s coming and so I just don’t see...

I think the one area where I could probably be wrong is magazines, because people seem to like the tangible feeling to them but I just see, you know, I commute in the Long Island Railroad to New York everyday and I look and, you know, I started commuting in 1999. You had to have a newspaper to get on the train and you do not get on the train unless you have a newspaper. Now, you know, it’s probably two-to-one you know, devices versus newspapers. So, and it’s shrinking, I think it shrinks everyday so that’s you know, I'm putting a five-year timeline on it like I said, I can be wrong but I think a lot of these are going to be accelerated by that.

Question: Which print media companies are making a smooth transition to digital?

Steve Rubel: The New York Times I think has done a remarkable job. I mean, you know, these sites have done a remarkable job as it relates to the delivery of content and the presentation and the format and the approach versus the monetization. So those two things are sometimes very different. 

So, the Times has done an incredible job, I think, creating a website that’s just been nothing short of amazing. Everything from what the average users use when they go there, to the features that if you really, you know, surf and you found them are incredible, I don’t know if you know Snap but the Times it’s actually tagging every single story in your website with topics and I think if you go to, you can pick any topic you’re interested in. If you’re interested in Alex Rodriguez or you’re interested in, you know, Apple or you’re interested in Barack Obama, you can pick any topic you want and you can navigate all the stories that are tagged with that topic in a fantastic interface including articles that are highlighted articles that show you the most recent things that are really notable as opposed to just mention some stories. 

It’s beautiful and you can subscribe to the feed, they have that, they also have an incredible developer platform that lets developers create things on top of their work, they're developing prototypes that are unbelievable. They launched and they called it the Times Wire which is kind of a live stream of the stories in a stream format as opposed to a this is the most important story of the day. So, they’re doing a lot with it. I mean their iPhone act is incredible.

They are doing a lot. Now the question is, are they monetizing all that? And I think that their challenge is that they’re still putting banners around pages and doing interstitials around pages, because that’s what advertisers buy. But they’re not selling enough of them to justify the cost of the investment online and obviously the money that they were doing well in print which was funding a lot of the online stuff, I think is also eroding. So, they’ve done a good job online in translating the content and the way they’re presenting things. The monetization has been slower. So they’ve impressed me. 

You know, I think these companies that are doing more things in the aggregation side that are interesting. Those are not necessarily print companies that made the transition but I have to say Daylife that are looking how they kind of crawl the web and begin to categorize it and organize it for you. is another. Those are interesting companies that are doing neat things.

Print companies that have made the transition?  You know I think the magazines, I think some of the newsweeklies, I think the Time has done a good job, moving their product over, you know.  They’re recognizing it as more of a daily format now if they can’t, you know, think weekly anymore. It’s not really, newsweekly is not right. Boston Globe has done a nice job. I think it’s called the Big Photo where they show you like these gigantic photos everyday and they break it down, how it was taken and what’s behind it. So, it’s a lot of innovation but it’s more on the editorial side, less on the paid side.

And the magazines too I mean, the, you know, the iPhone. The recognizing is a great platform and now some of the magazines are testing launching paid applications, people just launched one yesterday you actually have to pay for it.  I think its two dollars or something like that and so they’re venturing and doing some unique things and they’re treating each medium as different as much I like but again I don’t. I still think that they’re treating the way of monetizing it exactly the same as they did before and I think they are partly to blame as is the advertising community.

Question: How will print media adapt to digital devices?

Steve Rubel: I think the print media will adapt themselves to devices and there’s not going to be any one device that is going to win. I mean, the iPhone right now is giant but I mean, there’s die-hard people that love their BlackBerry's and you have to pry from their dead hands and the Kindle is, you know, it seems to be taking well of also. They haven’t released numbers and obviously there’s lots of people who don’t have smart phones, who maybe don’t want one yet and maybe will get one and they’re just happy doing text messaging. 

So, I think it’s, you have to map your approach to  devices. The problem is that you have a proliferation of these devices and you have to create content in gazillion different formats and in some case, you have to negotiate with the carriers to get preferential treatment to get on their decks. That seems to be going away, I mean, iPhone is an open platform. Android is more of an open platform. BlackBerry is, I think, you know, platform, Windows Mobile.

But you know, my view is that the mobile phone is the, is your future computer. I mean, it’s an extension of your computer today but I think in a few years time it’ll be your future computer. Here’s what I mean, so you’ll carry one device of choice and, you know, pick your hardware vendor and let’s just say it’s an iPhone. Your iPhone in the office, when you come in to the office, will synch up wirelessly with a monitor. It’ll drive a 20 or 27-inch monitor and it’ll also interact with a Bluetooth keyboard and Bluetooth mouse. 

The OS it will run when you’re in the office, will be standard desktop OS. So let’s say in the Apple’s case it will be OS 10, but then maybe OS 11 or OS 12 and the data it draws off of will be server based either it will be on a corporate server or will be somewhere in the internet cloud and that’s the data that you interact with. 

You leave your office, some of that data will stay on your device and you will interact with it using a mobile OS wherever you are.  You’ll go home, your home server or the home internet cloud you connect to whether it would be Google services or whomever, will recognize you are home and you will interact with a monitor and keyboard in your home environment also using an operating system, a desktop operating system, and do your photo editing and all that and so forth and that will be it and so I think, that the one device and then, you know, if you get fired or whatever your corporation will cut you off, that data will be gone and, you know, that’s I think, that’s the motto.

I don’t see, I think we'll lauch that we carried around laptops on planes. It’s going to feel weird, I think the keyboard you know, the device themselves will get a little bit more sophisticated and it seems to already be a blurring of lines between laptops and mobile devices. If you look at netbook category that’s just growing like crazy, these 300 dollar notebooks. They’re great, but they’re almost like hybrids between mobile phones, at least from a data perspective, not telephones, and laptops and they’re very cheap. You know, the keyboards are terrible, the screens are bad but again, you know, it’s the first inning.  So I think the mobile device is the center, at least in developed nations, in this capacity will be the device that kind of integrates all their lives in certain ways and obviously in other markets in third world nations in countries where computing isn’t pervasive it will be the device period.

Recorded on: May 27, 2009

We will see the decline of print media in five years, according to the digital expert.

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