How many of you read an actual newspaper this morning? Yeah, didn't think so. If you're reading this you know how to use the internet, and if you know how to use the internet then you have no reason in the world to read a newspaper unless you're sitting in the dark for refusing to pay your electricity bill. In that case, stop reading this and go get a job.
But also clinging to life despite an absurd inferiority to their online competitors, are magazines (two million tons' worth every year) and catalogs six million tons' worth). Most of the time when people find something they want in a catalog, the first thing they do is hop online anyway, where they can comparison shop and see in real-time whether or not the item is in stock. So at this point their entire business involves printing out something already on the internet--at huge expense--and making your mailman carry it to your door.
As for magazines, two that went bust in just the last year include Life and Stuff--which together should technically cover every subject ever. FHM US, Jane and Child also went under, covering all the bases from "liking tits" and "having tits" to "the purpose of tits." When a titty-triple-threat can't stay profitable there is just no way to make a profit. Trust us, we know.
Why are they still around?
There are still some places you don't want to take a laptop, like to the beach or the shitter, and most of the world's cell phones still kind of suck at surfing the internet. Also you can't swat a fly with either a cell phone or a laptop, though as discussed above we assume fly-swatting cell phone capabiltiy is just around the corner, along with everything else.
But considering 3G phones are hitting the streets as quickly as they can be manufactured, anything that's only purpose is "having words printed on it" is pretty fucked. Unless you're "Luddite Wattle & Daub Mixing Quarterly" then you have until your current audience dies of old age to put your affairs in order.
Much has been made of the dying record stores, and we've already explained why movies on physical media are doomed, but we're guessing even they will outlive the video game disc.
Services like Steam, Greenhouse and XBox Live are already delivering code in exchange for cash in a process remarkably free of scratchable discs and staff who appear to have been grown or scavenged rather than hired. You might notice that one of those (Greenhouse) is run by Penny Arcade. So what is it about game discs that is so egregious that even the guys whose job it is to draw funny pictures about them feel compelled to take action?
It's not the media itself, it's the retailers who sell it. The greed of shops like GameStop that make a binge-eating Hutt look like a Milan model. Their industry-breaking "Trade fifteen games you bought last week for one this week" scam allows them to resell games at "second hand prices". A leading team of scientists and economists are hoping to measure the difference between second hand prices and the regular retail price using a microscope, a supercomputer and five precisely calibrated millionths of a dime.
This racket allows them to make up to 400% profit on every title (because you can sell the same used game over and over again), which we think is slightly more profit than you're allowed to make without being technically considered a racketeering outfit. Total sales last year were seven billion dollars, otherwise known as "Holy Fucking Shit" money, and of the money made on used games, approximately zero of it went back to the people who actually make the games.
The executives seem blind to the consequences of their actions, possibly because they're too busy playing in forts built from bricks of thousand dollar bills. This isn't so much killing the goose that laid the golden egg as sexually assaulting it then filming the worlds first bestiality/metallurgy/snuff film.
It was around here that game developers realized that:
a) The vendors are screwing us over;
b) Our customers, by definition, have machines that can download things;
c) Downloadable games let us cut out the middle man, who is an asshole anyway.
Why are they still around?
There are still a fair number of consoles that aren't hooked up to the internet, since not every gaming family wants to spend a day fucking around with cables and/or trying to make their home a Wi-Fi hotspot. Plus, game makers may lose in piracy, what they gain by cutting out the GameStop racket. In consoles it's always been the disc itself that was the first line of defense against illegal copies, where PC games allegedly see piracy rates of 70 to 80 percent.
Still, the chance to sell direct to customers, as well as to release smaller, low-cost games and to release titles in episodes to be sold separately, is too much to resist for console makers (not to mention cutting the cost of printing the discs). When the next generation goes to a download model, they'll surely find a solution to the piracy problem. And that solution will no doubt be incredibly annoying.
Cash only exists by the grace of banks and the government, and it's a major hassle for both of them. Printing, maintaining, actually having to physically move the stuff around in order to charge you for doing so? Your bank has already made it clear that they'll charge you for whatever they feel like, so pretending to exchange that for an actual service is becoming kind of a drag.
The web has shown that virtual money can function perfectly well with the added advantage that they always know exactly what you criminal thieving unpatriots are doing with it. In the UK credit card spending has already overtaken cash, and if there's one thing the current economy tells us it's that America is WAY better at spending money we don't have than those Limeys. USA! USA!
If only there was some kind of widely accepted, eminently trackable ID that was already legally protected, which they could force everyone to use instead. (Hint: it's your credit card, and you can count yourself lucky they haven't already jammed your social security number on there and called it a day, citizen.)
Blizzard have already perfected the process, converting troublesome civilians into ideal consumers with the World of Warcraft VISA card. People doing nothing but sitting still and generating debt like a shopaholic hamster. Do you honestly see banks or the government getting in the way of this? Hell, only 8% of the world's money is in the form of printed currency.
Why is it still around?
There are some things you just can't do with a credit card.
For a look at the terrifying practices of tomorrow that will replace the zombies of today check out The 5 Creepiest Advertising Techniques of the (Near) Future. Or enjoy Gladstone's look at the traffic accidents of tomorrow in 6 Things I Hate About the New Miley Cyrus Song.