Bill Gates Can See the Future

On the Amazon Blog there is an entry about Bill Gates predicting reading will go totally digital. I am not a big fan of Bill Gates as a visionary. I know I should grab a copy of the first printing of the Road Ahead and see what he got right and what he got wrong. I found one web site where someone rated some of Bill Gates old predictions.

What I can figure out is that Bill Gates is good at seeing what is coming, I do not think he is as good at seeing what is going away. Looking at the bit-tech article, Bill Gates got a lot of things right, but some of them are not there. Handwriting recognition techs is dying, not getting more popular. It was a fad that has passed.

Broadcast infrastructure over these next five years will not be viewed as competitive.

I will take this bet. You cannot say that he is only talking about over the air broadcast. He is also talking about cable broadcast. Cable companies will still have networks and networks will still have set schedules. In five years not everything with be downloaded. The landscape of television will not be the same in 5 years or 10 years, but saying that TV as we know it will be over is a big claim.

Reading is going to go completely online

There are so many reasons this is not true. Lets start with books. Right now there is not a technology that is better than print on paper when it comes to books. Books might not be searchable, but that is really their biggest drawback. A reader can take a paperback just about anywhere. As long as there is light people can read a book.

If the perfect digital book hit the market right now, it would take at least 5 years to become a player the market. It would take much longer before it had the kind of critical mass that Bill Gates it talking about. Right now we do not have the perfect digital book. The eBooks we have so far have not made a substantial dent in the market.

One advantage that books have is anyone can read them no matter the publisher. Electronic publishing runs into the iTunes/WMA issue. Different publishers cutting deals with different companies. Unless there is a universal DRM people are going to be limited in what they read.

I think there will be a lot of holdouts when it comes to books. I can see the newspaper landscape being much different in America in 10 year. I do not think they will totally go away, but I can foresee there being a half-dozen national newspapers and only small local newspapers. I could see the LA Times, Merc News, SF Chronicle, and Sac Bee being replaced by one state wide newspaper.

I think getting rid of books will be like getting rid of landlines. Right now there is no reason for most people in America to have a land line phone, but people still have them. It will be a long time until half of all Americans do not have land line phones. It will be a long times before half of all books sold are e-books. I would say much longer than 10 years.


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