Five Years From Now, Media Will Be Totally Intangible

Books, Boxed Software, DVDs -- All Headed to Irrelevance

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

Don't believe me? Consider all the recent news:
  • Citing the success of the Amazon Kindle, Random House is making nearly 15,000 books available in digital form.
  • Microsoft (an Edelman client) opened up the XBox 360 to user-generated games, all of which will be available only via download -- there will be no DVDs. It also launched a store to sell software online for immediate download.
  • Apple is selling record numbers of downloadable games for the iPhone and iPod Touch. This is attracting publishers because the lack of physical media offers better economics.
  • Netflix is making parts of its catalog available over the internet and on set-top boxes.
  • The Christian Science Monitor is folding its daily print edition, moving it online.
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 numberof people I see toting them on my morning train have declined too.
Steve Rubel
Photo: JC Bourcart
Steve Rubel is a marketing strategist and blogger. He is senior VP in Edelman's Me2Revolution practice.


We're moving fast toward becoming a society that consumes media entirely in digital format. There are three factors at bay here:
  • Growing green consciousness -- people want to live more environmentally friendly lives.
  • Smartphone sales: They're skyrocketing as phones get faster and cheaper and easier.
  • Demographic dynamics -- by 2010, the ever-digital millennials will be the dominant demo.
Now, of course it will take a long time for this to go global. But in the U.S. at least, the pace has picked up a lot just in the past few months. What does this mean for advertising and media? Quite a lot -- stay tuned for part two in my next column.
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