The clearest example of the acceleration in product consumption has been mobile, signalling what will be the most rapid transition in the history of media. It’s not simply that the ownership of mobile devices has grown five-fold in the least 10 years, but also the sheer range of capabilities, applications, and patterns of consumption and communication the devices offer.
Some time this year there will be more mobile devices on earth than people, yet growth rates will continue to be around 10% a year, with a massive shift from traditional to even smarter devices.
In the United States, one third of all adults own tablets. By the end of 2014, this figure could be closer to 50%, six times that of 2011.
In 2013 in the United Kingdom, one dollar in five of all digital advertising was in tablet form. During 2014 it will hit a third. If ever there was an opportunity for publishers, this is it.
Here are a number of other things that will make a big difference in the near future.
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 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 at one’s fingertips, literally. While image search technology has existed for years, in 2014 it will move into our daily life.
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. This 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. 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 US, the Huffington Post ranks at 18.
During 2013 there was widespread debate about newspaper ownership and preservation. Family newspaper companies abound, many successful. There are large corporations such as Media First in the US and Schibsted in Sweden that operate multiple operations with innovation and profitability.
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 realising 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.
Finally, I believe this year will be unpalatable to many, and blindingly obvious to others. To succeed we must dismantle our silos of skills and demarcation, and spread the sense of responsibility by rewarding innovation and business success right across the organisation. Job descriptions, like journalist, editor, salesperson and researcher, will increasingly overlap.
A colleague of mine recounted a recent incident where he asked the newsroom to produce a video for a local community programme 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 has advised news organisations in 40 countries on their media strategy. email@example.com
This story was first published in the February 2014 issue of The Media Magazine.
IMAGE: Washington Post building / Wikimedia Creative Commons