2011: 5 game-changing trends
Aside from the obvious headline-grabbing events that influenced journalism and digital media in 2011 – the death of Steve Jobs, News Corp.’s phone-hacking scandal, and a steady stream of executive changes across major media and tech brands – there were several other important trends that gained steam throughout the year. Here are five that had a tangible impact on magazine and news publishers’ fortunes and promise to be even more disruptive to existing business models in the year ahead.
- A mass market takes shape for tablet computers – and tablet publishing
- Design returns to the forefront, with a digital twist
- Online paywalls increase; metered models gain acceptance
- Social sharing options grow, and grow, and grow
- 'Digital first' becomes a rallying cry for an industry in transition
The year was bookended by a series of lower-cost tablet rollouts designed to eat into Apple’s dominant iPad share. The first wave came at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, when more than 80 tablets were shown by the likes of Motorola, Samsung, ViewSonic, NEC, Research In Motion, Lenovo and Cisco. Several were running Android, and a few ran Windows 7. Most have yet to make it out of the lab. The deluge gave pause to some publishers already concerned about stretching already thin resources across multiple devices with different screen sizes and operating system flavors.
“I have a staff of less than 30 people. How do you keep up with the constant updates across multiple platforms?” Lisa Hsia, senior vice president of digital media for NBC Universal’s Bravo unit, asked during a CES panel discussion. “We have not figured out the best way to serve the needs of all devices. And the return has yet to catch up with the investment.”
By year-end, those returns were looking a bit better, thanks to three key events:
- The launch of Apple’s subscription service in February enabled publishers to begin selling digital subscriptions from inside their apps. Bonnier was first and others steadily followed, quickly moving beyond their initial hand-wringing about Apple’s rev-share terms and restrictions regarding subscriber data collection. By the fall, several publishers were reporting strong bumps in digital subscription sales. In September, Hearst said it had passed 300,000 monthly digital subscribers across its 19 titles, and was targeting a million digital subscriptions in 2012. Conde Nast President Bob Sauerberg said tablet revenues – subscriptions and advertising – for all Conde digital titles would approach $15 million this year.
- The debut of the Apple Newsstand in October gave magazine and news brands their own digital shelf space in the increasingly cluttered iTunes app store. “Discoverability” became a new buzzword, and the numbers that followed the Newsstand debut were staggering. Bonnier, for example, reported 10-fold increases in sales of Popular Science and Popular Photography; Conde Nast said that subscription sales for its nine digital editions rose more than 250 percent in two weeks.
- The debut of the Amazon Kindle Fire (in September) and the Barnes & Noble Nook Color tablet (in November) served notice as the first legitimate low-end contenders to the iPad. These reasonably priced tablets were quickly embraced by consumer publishers, particularly those targeting women, to whom e-readers seemed to appeal more than iPads. The $199 Kindle Fire in particular drew enthusiastic early support from Meredith, Hearst and others, despite some criticism about its features and usability. By year’s end, research and analyst firms were busy revising their tablet sales projections upward.
Concerns remained about market fragmentation and the need to support multiple tablet devices, and some publishers were still waiting for the return to kick in on their investments, but for the most part publishers were bullish about the tablet market’s potential as a rich new playground for their digital content.