“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer – that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” — Steve Jobs

Word has leaked out that in a secret project codenamed Titan,  “Apple is working on a car.” There are even far-fetched suggestions, based on a 1999 concept car created by a designer who now works for Apple, that it will look like this:

The start of a new year seems to be a good time to rehash the old question: What if newspapers just gave up their print editions and went digital-only — could they survive?

As many have done before, a few years ago, Frédéric Filloux (digital operations director of Groupe Les Echos and co-proprietor of the estimable Monday Note blog) took a crack at the question in a column at The Guardian entitled How to Make Money from Digital News.

My friend Bill Densmore, who supplies me with a pretty good news stream of emailed articles about digital media, reminded me that I had sent him some back reactions to that piece and suggested doing an update of that thinking. So here goes.

There are only two ways to make money in business: One is to bundle; the other is unbundle.

This bit of wisdom is apparently frequently quoted by digital entrepreneur Marc Andreessen, who attributes it to Jim Barksdale, his former colleague at Netscape. The two of them discussed the bundling/unbundling dichotomy earlier this year in a  Harvard Business Review article.

Their point is that it’s a two-way street. You can challenge a legacy company that has bundled a lot of products and services by unbundling them. But then someone else comes along and re-bundles things in new ways, and makes money with that. For example, Apple unbundled the music business by selling individual songs through iTunes, but then Pandora came along and re-bundled the songs into a personalized music stream.

Our journalism business never ceases to provide surprises and fodder for speculation — that’s what makes this year-end round of prediction posts so much fun and, often, so far off base. For example, none of the Lab’s prognosticators a year ago predicted that one billionaire would toss $250 million into a business that has been dying for years, while another would pony up the same sum to launch an as-yet un-named and largely mysterious “new mass media organization.”

So the big question is what will these gentlemen bring to the table besides money — in particular, can they find business models around digital news that have so far eluded everyone else?

My (newspaper-centric) predictions for 2013 in a nutshell:

  1. Because of the rapid adoption curve of tablets and the convenience of news consumption on them, the business model for seven-day printed newspapers in most markets is toast. We’ll start to see frequency reductions to two or three days a week at an accelerated pace. By the end of 2015, fewer than half of the current dailies will still be on that schedule.
  2. While we’re still seeing more papers hopping on the paywall bandwagon, there will be a growing realization that simple paywalls that just provide access to the content of a single newspaper are not the answer. So paywalls will begin to morph into membership models, where subscribers get access not only to content but to a range of services and benefits.
  3. As part of membership thinking, newspapers will finally start adopting the “jobs to be done” thinking advocated in the American Press Institute’s Newspaper Next project (2005-2008) — the idea that the resources of the news organization can address a wide variety of problems that readers and advertisers need solutions to.
  4. Membership thinking will also encourage the idea of paid (or unpaid) access to content from a network or cooperative of news organizations — sort of an E-ZPass approach, in which your paid digital subscription at a local news site might also provide you with access to regional and national news sources along with topical news from sites that specialize in business, finance, travel, sports, food, design, or whatever suits your fancy.

Let’s look at each of these in detail.

Yesterday’s news that Journal Register Company was filing another Chapter 11 bankruptcy could signal the end of any options for Digital First, or any other industry player, to engage in what Ken Doctor described here as a “roll-up” or consolidation strategy.

journal-register-medianewsLast year, looking at the Alden Global Capital acquisitions of MediaNews Group and Journal Register, I speculated that Alden, working through industry veteran John Paton, could be aiming for a consolidation strategy that would combine many more newspapers under common control. A bit later on, MNG’s outgoing CEO, Dean Singleton, confirmed this strategy in an interview with me.

MediaNews Group, the second-largest US newspaper company in terms of weekday circulation, a company I worked for some 13 years, publisher of the Denver Post and newspapers from California to…