In the year 2014, we will see the pace of change accelerate exponentially in this industry.
In terms of products, the rate of mobile-device consumption signals what will be the most rapid transition in the history of media. It’s not simply that the ownership of mobile devices has grown fivefold in the last 10 years, but rather the sheer range of capabilities, applications and patterns of consumption and communication.
At some time during 2014, there will be more mobile devices on Earth than people, yet annual growth rates continue to be around 10 percent, with a massive shift from traditional to ever-smarter devices.
In the U.S., one-third of adults own a tablet; by the end of 2014, the figure could be closer to 50 percent, or six times that of 2011.
In the U.K. in 2013, one dollar in five of all digital advertising spend was for tablet formats. During 2014, it will hit one-third. If ever there was an opportunity for publishers, this is it.
Meanwhile, here are a number of other things that I predict will make a difference:
•Conceptually and operationally the delineation between print and audio-visual will disappear. Content is as likely to be video as text. Blogs will become 10-second movies. Content and advertising will see a similar transformation. We’ve already seen this with magazines.
•Journalists will become more commercially accountable or face extinction. A lunatic fringe of our industry talk of newspapers without journalists, with “sources” providing “their own content,” backed up by blogs and comments. If it weren’t for the fact that these assertions are being made seriously, they’d be laughable. Our industry needs more journalists, not fewer.
•Search is about to see a second iteration. For years I’ve argued that gaming technology can be applied to content databases, transforming mining and aggregating. Big data conquests will be, literally, at one’s fingertips. Image search technology has existed for years. In 2014, it will move into our world.
•Another lurking technology that will come to life is the expandable screen. The phone is too small to watch. The tablet is too big to put in one’s pocket — but a long phone with a screen that unrolls is perfectly viable.
Newspapers must be able to grab more than their fair share of all these rapidly growing opportunities. The only barriers are imagination and room to breathe, which is where Jeff Bezos and Pierre Omidyar, owners of Amazon and eBay, respectively, signal a big revolution to come. Bezos recently acquired The Washington Post and Omidyar has committed $250 million to creating a new news medium.
For those who believe that new entrants will inevitably fail, I can only point out that while The New York Times is the 37th most popular website in the U.S., the Huffington Post ranks 18th.
During 2013, there was widespread debate about newspaper ownership and preservation. Family newspaper companies abound, many successful. There are large corporations, such as Digital First Media in the U.S., and Schibsted in Sweden, which operate multiple properties with innovation and profitability.
Certainly there are many major corporations where the interests of the shareholders seem at odds with those of the readers and advertisers. Would the shareholders perhaps be better off realizing their capital investment by selling out to a local entrepreneur, with a passion for his/her community, and a willingness to see a realistic Return on Capital while investing in a more innovative, flexible local service? There have also been calls for governmental bodies to provide “incentives” or “subsidies,” but this must stand against the principles of a free press.
My final prediction for 2014, will be unpalatable to many, and blindingly obvious to others: To succeed, we must, once and for all, dismantle our silos of skills and demarcation and spread the sense of responsibility by rewarding innovation and business success right across the organization. Descriptions — and that’s what they are — journalist, editor, sales person researcher, increasingly overlap. A colleague of mine recently recounted an incident where he asked the newsroom to produce a video for local community program they were running. All went well until my friend walked into the newsroom with a script and storyboard. Project abandoned. Apparently even in 2013, in some quarters, non-journalists are still discouraged from writing. So I’d better stop there.
Jim Chisholm is a Glasgow, Scotland-based consultant. He can be reached at email@example.com.