Update, December 2009: I’ve posted my scorecard on these predictions.
While we’re waiting for the shoes to drop in Detroit, and before everybody drops out of circulation for the holidays, here are my predictions for the U. S. newspaper industry for 2009, listed in no particular order of likelihood:
No other newspaper companies will file for bankruptcy.
Several cities, besides Denver, that today still have multiple daily newspapers will become single-newspaper towns.
Whatever gets announced this week by the Detroit Newspaper Partnership in terms of frequency reduction will be emulated in several more cities (including both single and multiple newspaper markets) within the first half of the year.
Even if both papers in Detroit somehow maintain a seven-day schedule, we’ll see several other major cities and a dozen or more smaller markets cut back from six or seven days to one to four days per week.
As part of that shift, some major dailies will switch their Sunday package fully to Saturday and drop Sunday publication entirely. They will see this step as saving production cost, increasing sales via longer shelf life in stores, improving results for advertisers, and driving more weekend website traffic. The “weekend edition” will be more feature-y, less news-y.
There will be at least one, and probably several, mergers between some of the top newspaper chains in the country. Top candidate: Media News merges with Hearst. Dow Jones will finally shed Ottaway in a deal engineered by Boston Herald owner (and recently-appointed Ottaway chief), Pat Purcell.
Google will not buy the New York Times Company, or any other media property, . Google is smart enough to stick with its business, which is organizing information, not generating content. On the other hand, Amazon may decide that they are in the content business… And then there’s the long shot possibility that Michael Bloomberg loses his re-election bid next fall, which might generate a 2010 prediction, if NYT is still independent at that point.
There will be a mini-dotcom bust, featuring closings or fire sales of numerous web enterprises launched on the model of “generate traffic now, monetize later.”
The fifty newspaper execs who gathered at API’s November Summit for an Industry in Crisis will not bother to reconvene six months later (which would be April) as they agreed to do.
Newspaper advertising revenue will decline year-over-year 10 percent in the first quarter and 5 percent in the second. It will stabilize, or nearly so, in the second half, but will have a loss for the year. For the year, newspapers will slip below 12 percent of total advertising revenue (from 15 percent in 2007 and around 13.5 percent in 2008). But online advertising at newspaper sites will resume strong upward growth.
Newspaper circulation, aggregated, will be steady (up or down no more than 1 percent) in each of the 6-month ABC reporting periods ending March 31 and September 30. Losses in print circulation will be offset by gains in ABC-countable paid digital subscriptions, including facsimile editions and e-reader editions.
At least 25 daily newspapers will close outright. This includes the Rocky Mountain Post, and it will include other papers in multi-newspaper markets. But most closings will be in smaller markets.
One hundred or more independent local startup sites focused on local news will be launched. A number of them will launch weekly newspapers, as well, repurposing the content they’ve already published online. Some of these enterprises are for-profit, some are non-profit. There will be some steps toward formation of a national association of local online news publishers, perhaps initiated by one of the journalism schools.
The Dow will be up 15 percent for the year. The stocks of newspaper firms will beat the market.
At least one publicly-owned newspaper chain will go private.
A survey will show that the median age of people reading a printed newspaper at least 5 days per week is is now over 60.
Reading news on a Kindle or other e-reader will grow by leaps and bounds. E-readers will be the hot gadget of the year. The New York Times, which currently has over 10,000 subscribers on Kindle, will push that number to 75,000. The Times will report that 75 percent of these subscribers were not previously readers of the print edition, and half of them are under 40. The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post will not be far behind in e-reader subscriptions.
The advent of a color Kindle (or other brand color e-reader) will be rumored in November, 2009, but won’t be introduced before the end of the year.
Some newspaper companies will buy or launch news aggregation sites. Others will find ways to collaborate with aggregators.
As newsrooms, with or without corporate direction, begin to truly embrace an online-first culture, outbound links embedded in news copy, blog-style, as well as standalone outbound linking, will proliferate on newspaper sites. A reporter without an active blog will start to be seen as a dinosaur.
The Reuters-Politico deal will inspire other networking arrangements whereby one content generator shares content with others, in return for right to place ads on the participating web sites on a revenue-sharing basis.
The Obama administration will launch a White House Wiki to help citizens follow the Changes, and in time will add staff blogs, public commenting, and other public interaction.
The Washington Post will launch a news wiki with pages on current news topics that will be updated with new developments.
The New York Times will launch a sophisticated new Facebook application built around news content. The basic idea will be that the content of the news (and advertising) package you get by being a Times fan on Facebook will be influenced by the interests and social connections you have established on Facebook. There will be discussion of, if not experimentation with, applying a personal CPM based on social connections, which could result in a rewards system for participating individuals.
Craigslist will partner with a newspaper consortium in a project to generate and deliver classified advertising. There will be no new revenue in the model, but the goal will be to get more people to go to newspaper web sites to find classified ads. There will be talk of expanding this collaboration to include Ebay.
Look for some big deals among the social networks. In particular, Twitter will begin to falter as it proves to be unable to identify a clearly attainable revenue stream. By year-end, it will either be acquired or will be seeking to merge or be acquired. The most likely buyer remains Facebook, but interest will come from others as well and Twitter will work hard to generate an auction that produces a high valuation for the company.
Some innovative new approaches to journalism will emanate from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
A major motion picture or HBO series featuring a journalism theme (perhaps a blogger involved in saving the world from nefarious schemes) will generate renewed interest in journalism as a career.