Monday, January 05, 2009

Predictions 2009: Death and Resurrection:

Like the guy who is asked how he went bankrupt, ‘slowly and then quickly’, the escalating economic downturn in 2008 has really been brewing since the end of 2007, but we only fell off the cliff in fall 2008. I still believe (as I noted in January 2008) that 2007 will be viewed historically as a watershed year for media: the economic decline will further accelerate the macro trends the industry witnessed as 2007 evolved. These trends include:
  • the rapid commitment to electronic delivery of content in both education and trade
  • separation of ad-based and subscription-based models in both information and professional publishing
  • forced concentration in the traditional publishing supply chain countered by (nascent) new channels including direct-to-consumer
  • further blurring of the edges across media segments: More publishers will offer all content – not just their own - wider services and applications, and broader linking and partnerships designed to draw customers
The economic difficulties today are stark compared to the boisterous 2007 where the price for publishing assets kept going up and many big deals were made. During 2008, many high-profile divestitures were either abandoned (Reed Business) or ignominiously completed (TVGuide magazine sold for $1). 2009 is likely to see both the unraveling of some of the deals done in 2007 and some opportunistic buying but, more generally, the deferment of many companies' corporate development strategies.

Naturally, 2009 will see new companies emerge and there are numerous precedents for companies launched in economically challenging markets ultimately becoming very successful. Perhaps challenging the status quo is easier when the status quo is concentrating on just staying "status".

Predictions 2009
  • An easy one: It gets much worse before it gets better. When times were good an oversupply of market options – particularly in retail – hid a myriad of structural problems. Right-sizing in media retailing and distribution will result in one major physical book retailer, one wholesaler and one online retailer. Media will be a sideshow compared with some other segments, particularly clothing and department stores.
  • Another easy one: Several major city newspapers will change hands for less than the debt they carry. Local and hyper-local models will expand and further encroach on the market for traditional big city news. Coupled with linking, content licensing and arrangements with classified providers like Craigslist and Ebay, there will be a rapid expansion of the (hyper) local online news provider market.
  • Out-of-work journalists will see increasing opportunities to become ‘content producers’ as more and more companies seek to enrich their sites with professional content that appeals to their target market. The typical website ‘experience’ becomes more expansive and deeper than a company catalog or press release site. Journalism as a function becomes more widely dispersed across many business segments.
  • The NYTimes will either close the Boston Globe and ‘rebrand’ a NYTimes version for the Boston Market or sell it for a $1 saddled with as much debt as they can get away with. Sunday's paper will now come on Saturday: The UK market successfully went down this road and the US will (belatedly) follow.
  • In media M&A, look for companies that have lots of cash to act opportunistically: NewsCorp, Holtzbrink, Bauer, Bonnier, Bertlesmann, Axel Springer, Lagardère, BBC (Commercial).
  • Gathering of ‘equals’: Media owners unable to sell assets may seek to partner with another media company in the same boat and combine assets to form a new company. One combination that could be interesting is Nielsen Business Media with Reed Business Information (– pure speculation on my part). Others in this space looking for options might include Primedia, McGrawHill, Penton.
  • The Obama administration will make wholesale revisions to education policy which will pain education publishers who have made particular investments in assessment companies. Long term, the assessment market will be robust; however, with explicit indications that student performance is no better for the ‘no child left behind’ programs, fundamental changes will be instituted including a more federalist direction. Ready your lobbying dollars.
  • Evidence that the edges of media segments continue to overlap: Google will bid for the 2014 and 2016 Olympic broadcast rights.
  • Social networking and ‘community’ building will become the CEO’s pet project as a ‘cheap’ alternative to decreased ad and marketing budgets with, predictably negative results. Senior-level misunderstandings of what constitutes effective social programs will result in efforts being treated casually. Piecemeal approaches will predominate and there will be a continued lack of cohesion of marketing with social networking. Programs backfire as customers witness the cynicism. Effective social networking is not just for Christmas.
  • Professional and information publishing will effectively leverage Linkedin-like networks (possibly using their platform) to extend social networking to their closed networks. Lexis/Martindale is creating a private legal social network platform.
  • Too much Linkedin with my Facebook. More people will do what I did in 2008 and build barriers around their online social networks and selectively cull ‘friends’ or ‘connections’ Sheer numbers have no logic, friendship is earned and legitimate business connections are money. Quality, not quantity, will reign. Don’t take it personally.


Mike Shatzkin said...

This is a great post. It really deserves wide circulation.

The one thing that really struck me was the prediction that "journalists" could benefit from the paradigm that I'd call "everybody's a publisher now": the need you identify for content on non-media web sites. Absolutely right, but this should also be a market for publishing organizations, not just for people to get employed. To the extent that it is a really GROWING market, it could become part of the market for "chunks" that has been a topic of discussion in other forums.

Richard Nash said...

Agreed with Mike, I've just twittered it, adding that it is so forward-looking it's even dated for tomorrow.

To pick up on the same topic Mike just did, I think Rachel Sklar's new business, providing journalists' media intelligence to corporations, is one broad example of that kind of activity.

Of course, here at Soft Skull I just have to keep figuring out how to adapt the old ways to the new ways...

Stephen Elliott said...

This is great (I followed Richard's link). It might be a little off topic but I think we're going to see similar movements in literary magazines, kind of like what we're doing over at The Rumpus. What I mean is, literary authors have always been willing to publish really good writing for very little money in prestige publications like Tin House, The Paris Review, etc. Some of these radical shifts that we're seeing in big publishing are going to be happening in the kinds of places that authors publish not necessarily for a living but as art and an adjunct to their books and careers.

Janet Reid said...

I'm jazzed by the idea of Google bidding on the Olympics!

Since I don't own a television, and I despise the jingoistic coverage of the American athletes, I'd be willing to pay to see more sport and less talk. I bet I'm not alone.