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McIlroy--New Year, New Media Trends

February 1998
One of the fun things that columnists get to do is write their predictions for the new year. I've never done it before because I think it's generally a fool's game. As the playwright Eugene Ionesco wrote, "You can only predict things after they've happened."

Still, predicting is fun. If you let me make it more of a trends analysis than a hard-and-fast statement of something that will happen in 1998, I'm willing to join the prediction party.

Let's look at the major new media issues that will be transformed during 1998:

Internet/Web
It was big in 1996 and 1997, and there's absolutely no reason for the pace of development to slow this year. Two things were supposed to block continued growth. Either the network would fall apart, or the novelty would wear off.

Well, the network can be slow, particularly during peak hours, but somehow the phone companies and the large Internet service providers are managing to keep up with the explosion in demand for network access. New infrastructural facilities are coming online daily. Most of us wish it could move faster, but it's rarely so slow that we just log off in disgust.

The novelty has worn off for most people, but now it's been replaced with real utility. Where a year and a half ago I logged onto the Web for a laugh, nowadays I log on to keep up with my clients; to order books, travel, hardware and software; to research technologies and business opportunities; and to exchange an ever-increasing amount of e-mail with colleagues and friends. The Web has gone from clever to indispensable in a remarkably short time.

Online commerce is thus far the Web's "killer app" (compelling application). Companies like Dell Computer are raking in unseemly fortunes through their Web sites—millions of people access the Dell site every week. I think it's extraordinary, and I also think this will continue to grow exponentially.

People like ordering certain products over the Web. If you know roughly what you want, and if the supplier has an excellent reputation, Web ordering seems very low-risk and completely convenient. Large corporations are saving huge amounts in their procurement budgets by automating ordering via the Web.

Of course it's worth noting that no printing company has made much of a dent in this area. Over one-third of Dell Computer's business now comes in via the Internet—I wonder what percentage of R.R. Donnelley's comes in this way. I hear you saying that the reason for this is that print is not a commodity product. And I can only answer, "That's correct"—and wonder who's going to do something about it.

 

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