What are you reading?

The face of media is changing almost daily; so where will we be in five years' time?

commentary The face of media is changing almost daily; so where will we be in five years' time?

[Editor's Note: This article is reproduced from the June edition of Technology & Business magazine, a ZDNet print publication.]

There are several topics sure to set off lively debate in almost any social circle these days. The Howard Government ... the situation in Iraq ... the necessity of yet another TV round of the Australian Big Brother series. Then there's the topic that has long been popular among those in the publishing industry, but is recently garnering a much larger audience: what is the future of media? Or, more specifically to the T&B readership: what IT-related publications do you read, and what do you expect you will you be reading in five years?

What, if any, forms of media has the Internet replaced for you?
A journalist colleague, who works exclusively for an online operation, loves to spout what he perceives as witty comments about "dead-tree" publishing -- barbs like "Haven't you got some quill-written sonnet on parchment to sub?" and jokes about Shakespeare, which oddly enough seem to bring up an argument of quality vs speed that I'd like to take up.

I've challenged him to a "point-counterpoint" debate on the subject (for publication, of course), but so far he has not managed to rise to the challenge. I'm not intimating that he's chicken -- well, really, yes I am ... he's extremely chicken. (Maybe that'll get him.)

I have to admit I'm playing a bit of devil's advocate here: I do see electronically delivered content to be a tremendous way to get disseminate and receive news. There is no doubt that the instant access to stories that the Internet provides is having an effect on certain print publications. News weeklies, for example -- who can sit around for days waiting to read about what's happening in the industry?

So do monthly publications like T&B have even more to fear? I'll admit that those of you reading this right now will probably have your own ideas on the subject, but personally I don't think so.

I haven't met many people who are able to deal with reading anything much longer than a couple of hundred words on screen. "If it's longer than a page, I tend to print it out," they'll often say. Or if they're like me, they'll print it out just to carry it around in a bag for a while, until they realise that's it's already way out of date.

There is a depth and breadth of coverage that print publications can provide that is still unmatched by electronic means. And then there are the oft-used arguments highlighting the convenience of the printed page when travelling or relaxing.

But will this always be true? Electronic book reading devices are getting better with every generation of devices. None, however, has taken off as the killer device. What will they have to do before they are able to be seen as replacements for the printed page? The benchmark for this has to be Isaac Asimov's essay "The Ancient and the Ultimate", in which he describes the ultimate self-contained, portable, high-tech reading device of the future -- and just at the point you say to yourself this is ridiculous, he's asking too much, you realise he is describing an ordinary book.

But even this is only scratching the surface of the future-of-media debate. Rather than argue over how we will be reading, what if we take the discussion to focus on what we will be reading? That is a topic to tackle in detail in a future column, but in the meantime, here is an extremely interesting presentation on one possible media future that will leave you wondering, is there another way?

Brian Haverty is Editorial Director of ZDNet Australia. Give him a piece of your mind at edit@zdnet.com.au.

This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine.
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