One in a series of posts examining the best (and worst) of 2010.
It's been an impressive year for the media industry, as new technology
spurred digital makeovers
and social innovation
. But we're still waiting to see how a few things will pan out. By next year, some of these concerns might seem "so 2010" and others could still be hazy.
Mobile subscription models
Media companies are waiting for a subscription plan from Apple, due ... any ... day ... now. Though details about the plan are scarce, speculation
from media pundits is abundant. Some publishers, such as the new Nomad Editions
and The Wall Street Journal
, are sidestepping Apple altogether with subscription models of their own, but it's not a viable solution for every company.
Next Issue Media
could offer some hope with its upcoming digital storefront. The media consortium has dribbled out details at a slow pace — suggesting the process of big publishers working together is easier said than done. Next Issue's partnership with a subscription management solution
vendor and the expected opening of its storefront in early 2011 could be promising. The company released a study suggesting demand for digital subscriptions
could boost revenue. Media companies hope to test that theory soon.
Hyperlocal business models
Hyperlocal proved to be more than just hype
this year, as new business models for content delivery continued to emerge. But we still don't know exactly what will prove to be a sustainable business model.
After being acquired by AOL in 2009, Patch
has been one of the most talked-about media launches of the year, far surpassing its goal by launching 600 sites
, hiring hundreds of journalists
(even seasoned journalists
) and teaming up with journalism schools
. Patch is surrounded by controversy about it's journalism practices, but as the American Journalism Review wrote recently, why not give Patch a chance
? From a business standpoint, AOL and other media brands are pouring money into hyperlocal ventures. This time next year, we'll see if the investments paid off.
Leveraging audience data through behavioral targeting is one way the publishing industry is trying to improve online ad revenue. But there are roadblocks to taking advantage of the opportunity. Most notably, Washington has been aggressively pursuing potential privacy regulations, which would allow consumers to opt out of behavior targeting. If passed, stricter legislation could force some publishers to revamp their online advertising businesses.
Lawmakers aren't the only group stymying the audience opportunity for publishers. This year has been a wake-up call for publishers to explore ways to better monetize their audience ― rather than allowing ad networks and other third parties to poach their data for free. Krux Digital estimates that publishers are losing an $850 million revenue opportunity to third-party data collectors. Behavioral targeting could be a large opportunity for publishers, but they'll need to grapple with pending issues first.
Mixing advertising and editorial
It feels dirty to talk about advertising and editorial getting closer, but there's a definite mixer taking place. Brands want to produce more content, and in response, display advertising formats are housing content, such as new nanosite ad units from IDG.
Beyond ad units, custom publishing
and the vendor-as-publisher models are blossoming; publishers can't ignore the trend. In order to capitalize on brands becoming content creators, Forbes, for example, launched blogging platforms
for marketers. Should this be praised for brand reinvention or criticized as editorial debasement?
From an ethical standpoint, such commingling of advertising and editorial content could tarnish the validity and trust of media brands. Yet some say readers are only aided by advertisers bringing more useful content, particularly in the business world; it's old-fashioned to not include the audience. We've yet to see what models of merging content and advertising will work to protect both publishing integrity and revenue models.
Page view journalism
Love it or hate it, Web traffic has become one of the largest ― if not the largest ― indicator of a journalist's performance. Content farms like Demand Media
have been in the spotlight this year for gaming search engines
by targeting content to search terms.
Sensationalism sells, as Gawker Media CEO Nick Denton
recently said at the Business Insider IGNITION Conference. Gawker is pushing a new business model
, moving away from being a snarky blog to garner more news scoops and even serious commentary. Shocking scoops bring in too many hits to give up, Denton noted.
At the same time, there's a movement pushing back against pageview journalism in favor of quality over quantity
. Web metrics aren't going away, but now journalists can use them to prove that quality content generates more pageviews.
Media companies have two things to keep an eye one: Whether search will evolve
so that getting to the top of Google isn't something easily manipulated (this could take longer than 2011); and whether page view journalism will continue to stabilize so that quality trumps quantity. Sensational headlines sold print papers for years, while still allowing The New York Times to exist. Will we find a similar balance on the Web?