Bill Gates and the future of print

Juan Antonio Giner in his Innovations in Newspapers has a great list of “Wrong Predictions” and he puts Bill Gates’s reported remarks on the invevitable move of reading to the web in the same camp: another wrong prediction.

Bill Gates was clearly saying a lot of different things in this presentation. Some surely right, some pretty questionable. I am sure that he is wrong to say that newspaper subscriptions are in inexorable decline. You never know, overall newspaper subscriptions might rise whenever the publishers figure out a good web-subscription model. Web subscriptions services are surely going to work in music and in film, so why should they not work for digital newspaper services? Print only subscriptions will surely decline as more of our reading moves to the web. But growth in digital subs could more than compensate for decline in newsprint use.

You need to read the 25 wrong predictions for yourself. Hilarious. And some of them were probably made as recounted. Some we already know (eg Lord Kelvin’s “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.”) but this one was new to me:

“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”
H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.

The interesting thing about this is that Warner clearly knew what he was talking about. Warner Brothers became hugely successful after 1930. So was he dead set against the Talkies? Or was he saying something a bit more nuanced? Sure enough the fuller context to this quote is that Warner completed his thought with “….. The music — that’s the big plus about this.” OK he was still wrong, but he was all for moving on from the silent movie. I think Bill Gates is also like Harry Warner, very much an enthusiast for the new broader audio or digital technology. But like Harry Warner he only sees half the picture. But that is true for us all — surely? I read Bill G. (indeed I read him digitally) as being more of an enthusiast for digital newspapers than a doomsayer for journalism.