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February 28 2012

18:12

From Salinas to Burlington: Can an army of paywalls big and small bouy Gannett?

Brick wall with window

Gannett is mounting the biggest campaign yet to make readers pay for journalism online. And the newspaper company’s size means its success or failure could ripple throughout the marketplace.

By the end of the year Gannett plans to launch digital subscriptions for almost all of its newspapers, a kind of unified paywall that would operate on the web, mobile and tablets and cover 80 of the company’s news sites, with the exception of national flagship USA Today.

For newspapers it may signal a turning point, since readers are now looking around the marketplace and finding fewer free papers. That doesn’t mean a change in the amount of free news (aggregation and sharing remain rampant), but it could have an effect on people’s perception, or even willingness, to pay for news. It’s like looking around for cheap gas in your neighborhood: If all the stations list unleaded at $3.85, you’re more likely to believe $3.85 is the going rate for fuel.

Until now there has been no paywall rollout of this scale for U.S. newspapers, with most digital subscription plans emerging piecemeal at places like The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, and The Boston Globe. The Gannett plan reaches readers across 30 states (and Guam!). In other words, the number of paywalls in the United States will jump dramatically, as well as the number of people exposed to them.

Gannett is pushing a total digital transformation, not just a paid content strategy.

Like all paywalls, the success of Gannett’s plan largely hinges on people’s willingness to pay for news online. (That, and how easy it is to pay. More on that in a bit.) The company is betting readers will pony up, projecting at least $100 million from the new subscription program by next year.

The paywall should be easily scalable, since Gannett likes to take advantage of consolidating resources within the newspaper group. The paywall mechanics and back end will be the same for all 80 papers, but details about pricing and metered access get decided on the local level. Gannett’s papers run the gamut of small to big, and no two communities are alike when accounting for factors like Internet use and penetration of mobile devices. That’s likely why the company began testing digital subscriptions at select papers in St. Cloud, Minn., Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and Lafayette, Ind., among others.

If Gannett has any data about its paywall experiments, it’s keeping it quiet. (The company has, however, been preparing employees to answer questions about the change.) Since the paywall test sites were announced in 2010, no numbers have been released on subscribers or circulation revenues. So what have they learned? Here’s what a Gannett spokesperson told me via email:

On the previous pilots, we learned a lot about consumer engagement and willingness to pay for unique local content from our experiments in Greenville, Tallahassee and St. George. This new model builds on that, responding to consumer demand to have the news and information they value available on whatever platform they choose. Obviously, we feel those early tests were successful or we wouldn’t be building a new subscription model around those learnings. However, we are not going to discuss confidential business data at this time.

Gannett is pushing a total digital transformation, not just a paid content strategy. There will be dozens of tablet and phone apps, which, aside from color schemes and branding, will likely look and work similar across the 80 properties. Again, Gannett’s size is a boon for small and mid-sized papers, as the company can bring them to market faster than the individual papers could have alone. As tablet usage continues to grow, apps or other digital access can incentivize digital subscriptions.

There is some evidence that paywalls for small and mid-sized newspapers can succeed, or at least shore up circulation and not be a drag on revenues. At the same time, in some cities a paywall has boosted circulation of the Sunday paper in particular (the “Frank Rich Discount”). Newspapers in Memphis and Minneapolis have seen bumps in the Sunday circulation, but for others that increase has has yet to fully materialize.

For each community it comes down to how a digital subscription plan is executed, said Ken Doctor, a media analyst and the Lab’s resident expert in Newsonomics. Specifically, he said, it’s a question of how to charge readers, existing versus new, or whether to offer a print discount versus an additional charge for web access.

“What Gannett is saying is, ‘We think we can bump revenues by 10 percent from essentially being flat.’”

For other publishers the decision is simple: Increase subscription prices across the board and promote the value of bundled access to mobile, tablet and desktop. Taking all of that into consideration, and Gannett’s $100 million calculation, doesn’t seem impossible. “What Gannett is saying is, ‘We think we can bump revenues by 10 percent from essentially being flat’,” Doctor said.

Hitting that target is easy when you factor in the conversion of existing print subscribers to digital subscribers. The challenge for most local and regional papers with paywalls is bringing in new readers, who are getting their news elsewhere. And most people signing up for digital subscriptions are older readers, he said. “I haven’t heard of any regional paper that produces substantial digital only customer numbers and revenue numbers,” Doctor said. These are problems that point to whether paywalls can have long term success for locally focused journalism.

Since each site has the ability to determine the pricing for its subscription plan, there will undoubtedly be tension between what individual markets will bare and what the mothership needs to improve its bottom line. For Gannett, one paper’s success with digital subscriptions can be another paper’s failure. The fate of Gannett’s plan rests in whether the Sioux Falls Argus Leaders of the world offset the likes of The Indianapolis Star or Cincinnati Enquirer.

Image by Darwin Bell used under a Creative Commons license

December 22 2010

17:00

Keeping Martin honest: Checking on Langeveld’s predictions for 2010

Editor’s Note: This year, we’re running lots of predictions of what 2011 will bring for journalism. But our friend Martin Langeveld has been sharing his predictions for the new-media world for a couple of years now.

In the spirit of accountability, we think it’s important to check back and see how those predictions fared. We did it last year, checking in on his 2009 predictions. And now we’ll check in on 2010.

Check in next year around this time as we look back at all the predictions for 2011 and how they turned out.

Newspaper ad revenue

PREDICTION: At least technically, the recession is over, with GDP growth measured at 2.8 percent in Q3 of 2009 and widely forecast in Q4 to exceed that rate. But newspaper revenue has not followed suit, dropping 28 percent in Q3. McClatchy and the New York Times Company (which both came in at about that level in Q3) hinted last week that Q4 would be better, in the negative low-to-mid 20 percent range. This is not unexpected — in the last few recessions with actual GDP contraction (1990-91 and 2001), newspaper revenue remained in negative territory for at least two quarters after the GDP returned to growth. But the newspaper dip has been bigger each time, and the current slide started (without precedent) a year and a half before the recession did, with a cumulative revenue loss of nearly 50 percent. Newspaper revenue has never grown by much more than 10 percent (year over year) in any one quarter, so no real recovery is likely. This is a permanently downsized industry. My call for revenue by quarter (including online revenue) during 2010 is: -11%, -10%, -6%, -2%.

REALITY: CLOSE, ONE CIGAR. Actuals for Q1, 2, and 3: -9.70%, -5.55%, – 5.39%. And Q4, while not a winner, will probably be “better” than Q3 (that is, another quarter of “moderating declines” in news chain boardroom-speak). So, a win on the trendline, and pretty close on the numbers.

Newspaper online revenue

PREDICTION: Newspaper online revenue will be the only bright spot, breaking even in Q1 and ramping up to 15% growth by Q4.

REALITY: CLOSE, ONE CIGAR. Actuals for Q1, 2, and 3: +4.90%, +13.90%, and +10.7%. Since Q1 beat my prediction and was the first positive result in eight quarters, I’d say that’s a win, and pretty close on the ramp-up, so far. Q4 might hit that 15%.

Newspaper circulation revenue

PREDICTION: Newspaper circulation revenue will grow, because publishers are realizing that print is now a niche they can and should charge for, rather than trying to keep marginal subscribers with non-stop discounting. But this means circulation will continue to drop. In 2009, we saw a drop of 7.1% in the 6-month period ending March 31, and a drop of 10.6 percent for the period ending Sept. 30. In 2010, we’ll see a losses of at lest 7.5% in each period.

REALITY: HALF A CIGAR. Actual drop in the March 31 period was 8.7%; actual drop in the Sept. 30 period was 5.0%. So, half a win here.

Newspaper bankruptcies

PREDICTION: I don’t think we’re out of the woods, or off the courthouse steps, although the newspaper bankruptcy flurry in 2009 was in the first half of the year. The trouble is the above-mentioned revenue decline. If it continues at double-digit rates, several companies will hit the wall, where they have no capital or credit resources left and where a “restructuring” is preferable and probably more strategic than continuing to slash expenses to match revenue losses. So I will predict at least one bankruptcy of a major newspaper company. In fact, let’s make that at least two.

REALITY: CORRECT — TWO CIGARS. Well, MediaNews Group filed its strategic bankruptcy in January, as did Morris Publishing. So this was a quick win. Canwest Ltd. Partnership, publisher of 12 Canadian papers, filed in January as well.

Newspaper closings and publishing frequency reductions

PREDICTION: Yup, there will be closings and frequency reductions. Those revenue and circulation declines will hit harder in some places than others, forcing more extinction than we saw in 2009.

REALITY: WRONG. Nope, everybody managed to hang on, nobody of any size closed.

Mergers

PREDICTION: It’s interesting that we saw very little M&A activity in 2009 — none of the players saw much opportunity to gain by consolidation. They all just hunkered down waiting for the recession to end. It has ended, but if my prediction is right and revenue doesn’t turn up or at least flatten by Q2, the urge to merge or otherwise restructure will set in. Expect to see at least a few fairly big newspaper firms merge or be acquired by other media outfits. (But, as in 2009, don’t expect Google to buy the New York Times or any other print media.)

REALITY: WRONG. Google didn’t buy the Times or any other newspaper, but by the same token, there were no significant mergers or acquisitions all year. So much for Dean Singleton’s promise of “consolidation” in the industry after MediaNews emerged from its quick bankruptcy.

Shakeups

PREDICTION: Given the fact that newspaper stocks generally outperformed the market (see my previous post), it’s not surprising that there were few changes in the executive suites. But if the industry continues to contract, those stock prices will head back down. Don’t be surprised to see some boards turn to new talent. If they do, they’ll bring in specialists from outside the industry good at creative downsizing and reinvention of business models. Sooner would be better than later, in some cases.

REALITY: NOT FLAT WRONG, BUT NOT CLOSE. Perhaps the closest any company came to truly shaking things up was Journal Register Company, which in January appointed as its CEO John Paton, an executive with experience in Hispanic media. He’s not an outsider, but he’s preaching a very different gospel that includes a clear vision for a web-based future for news. Elsewhere, Tribune, still dealing with bankruptcy, tossed CEO Randy Michaels, not for strategic reasons but because accusations of sexism and other dumb behavior were “tarnishing” the company’s name.

Hyperlocal

PREDICTION: There will be more and more launches of online and online/print combos focused on covering towns, neighborhoods, cities and regions, with both for-profit and nonprofit bizmods. Startups and major media firms looking to enter this “space” with standardized and mechanized approaches won’t do nearly as well as one-off ventures where real people take a risk, start a site, cover their market like a blanket, create a brand and sell themselves to local advertisers.

REALITY: CORRECT. This is happening in spades. AOL’s Patch launched hundreds of sites. It may be a “standardized” approach, but it’s not “mechanized,” and hired more journalists than any company has in decades. At the same time, one-off ventures continue to sprout in towns and cities everywhere.

Paid content

PREDICTION: At the end of 2008, this wasn’t yet much of a discussion topic. It became the obsession of 2009, but the year is ending with few actual moves toward full paywalls or more nuanced models. Steve Brill’s Journalism Online promises a beta rollout soon and claims a client list numbering well over 1000 publications. Those are not commitments to use JO’s system — rather, they’re signatories to a non-binding letter of intent that gives them access to some of the findings from JO’s beta test. Many publishers, including many who have signed that letter, remain firmly on the sidelines, realizing that they have little content that’s unique or valuable enough to readers to charge for. JO itself has not speculated what kind of content might garner reader revenue, although its founders have been clear that they’re not recommending across-the-board paywalls. So where are we heading in 2010? My predictions are that by the end of the year, most daily papers will still be publishing the vast majority of their content free on the Web; that most of those experimenting with pay systems will be disappointed; and that the few broad paywalls in place now at local and regional dailies will prove of no value in stemming print circulation declines.

REALITY: CORRECT. Most papers are still publishing the vast majority of their content free on the web. ALSO CORRECT: Broad paywalls have done little to stem the decline in print. JURY STILL OUT: But it’s too soon to tell whether those experimenting with paywalls are disappointed. All eyes are on the impending paywall start at the New York Times.

Gadgets

PREDICTION: The recently announced consortium led by Time Inc. to publish magazine and (eventually) newspaper content on tablets and other platforms will see the first fruits of its efforts late in the year as Apple and several others unveil tablet devices — essentially oversized iPhones that don’t make phone calls but have 10-inch screens and make great color readers. Expect pricing in the $500 ballpark plus a data plan, which could include a selection of magazine subscriptions (sort of like channels in cable packages, but with more a la carte choice). If newspapers are on the ball, they can join Time’s consortium and be part of the plan. Tablet sales will put a pretty good dent in Kindle sales. One wish/hope for the (as yet un-named) publisher consortium: atomize the content and let me pick individual articles — don’t force me to subscribe to a magazine or buy a whole copy. In other words, don’t attempt to replicate the print model on a tablet.

REALITY: CORRECT, MORE CIGARS. My iPad description and data plan price point were right on the mark. It’s hard to say for sure whether iPad sales have put much of a dent in Kindle sales, since Amazon doesn’t release numbers, but Kindle sales are way up after a price cut. The magazine consortium, now called Next Issue Media, still has no retail product, but it does look like it intends to “replicate the print model on a tablet” rather than recognizing atomization. Meanwhile, the Associated Press is recognizing atomization with its plan for a rights clearinghouse for news content.

Social networks

PREDICTION: Twitter usage will continue to be flat (it has lost traffic slowly but steadily since summer). Facebook will continue to grow internationally but is probably close to maxing out in the U.S. With Facebook now cash-flow positive, and Twitter still essentially revenue-less, could Zuckerberg and Evan Williams be holding deal talks sometime during the year? It wouldn’t surprise me.

REALITY: WRONG, MOSTLY. Twitter is still fairly flat in web traffic, but it’s growing via mobile and Twitter clients, so its real traffic is hard to gauge. No talks between Twitter and Facebook, though.

Privacy

PREDICTION: The Federal Trade Commission will recommend to Congress a new set of online privacy initiatives requiring clearer “opt-in” provisions governing how personal information of Web users may be used for things like targeting ads and content. Anticipating this, Facebook, Google and others will continue to maneuver to lock consumers into opt-in settings that allow broad use of personal data without having to ask consumers to reset their preferences in response to the legislation. In the end, Congress will dither but not pass a major overhaul of privacy regs.

REALITY: CORRECT. Indeed, we don’t have any major overhaul by Congress, but we’re actually seeing more responsible behavior from all of the big players with regard to privacy, including better user controls on privacy just announced by Microsoft.

Mobile

PREDICTION (with thanks to Art Howe of Verve Wireless): By the end of 2010 a huge shift toward mobile consumption of news will be evident. In 2009, mobile news was just getting on the radar screen, but during the year several million people downloaded the AP’s mobile app to their iPhones, and several million more adopted apps from individual publishers. By the end of 2010, with many more smartphone users, news apps will find tens of millions of new users (Art might project 100 million), and that’s with tablets just appearing on the playing field. During 2009, Web readership of news (though not of newspaper content) overtook news in printed newspapers. Looking out to sometime in 2011 or 2012, more people will get their news from a mobile device than from a desktop or laptop, and news in print will be left completely in the dust.

REALITY: JURY STILL OUT, BUT LOOKING CORRECT. To my knowledge, nobody has a handle on how many news apps have been sold or downloaded, but certainly it’s in the tens of millions, counting both smartphone and tablet apps. One the other hand, a lot of people with apps on their phones don’t use them. As to where mobile ranks among news delivery media, the surveys haven’t picked up the trends yet, but wait till next year.

Stocks

PREDICTION: I accurately predicted the Dow’s rise during 2009 and that newspaper stocks would beat the market (see previous post), but neglected to place a bet on the market for 2010, so here goes: The Dow will rise by 8% (from its Dec. 31 close), but newspaper stocks will sink as revenue fails to rebound quarter after quarter.

REALITY: ON THE MONEY. As of mid-afternoon December 15, the Dow is up 10.19% for the year, so I claim a win on that score. The S&P 500 is up 11.11%, and the NASDAQ is up 15.63%. Among newspaper groups, McClatchy (up 33%), Journal Communications (up 26%) and E.W. Scripps (up 44%) handily beat the market, but all the other players indeed sank or underperformed the market: New York Times Company is down 23%, News Corp. is up 5%, Lee Enterprises is down 30 percent, Media General is down 30% and Gannett is up 4%.

September 23 2010

15:00

The Newsonomics of Apple’s “digital circulation” share

[Each week, our friend Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of the news business for the Lab.]

So the newspaper business is now figuring out how to deal with a new middleman, Apple. The last decade has been about moaning and groaning about The Google, how it has become the mass medium, leaving newspapers in the niche, and how it has gotten the big share of digital ad revenue as an aggregator while news creators have gotten the short end of the hockey stick. The new decade looks like it’s bringing up a suite of similar questions, with Apple first in focus (and maybe Facebook coming next).

Just when newspaper companies thought they’d seen a big, new opportunity to establish strong new reader revenue lines on the tablet, their dreams have hit the pause button. Apple says it wants 30 percent of that emerging reader revenue — including ongoing digital subscription streams — telling publishers that they, like everyone else, have to go through the App Store to do the transaction, giving Apple its due cut. Publishers are now figuring outhow to respond, and as they do, let’s look, briefly, at four sets of numbers that tell us why this Apple/newspaper company tiff matters so much. Within those four sets, we can see the emerging newsonomics of tablet reader revenue.

  • Let’s start with a global number: $34 billion. That’s the amount of circulation revenue — almost all of it print-based — that newspaper companies around the world took in last year, according to research I do annually for Outsell. That number is about 34 percent of total newspaper company revenue, which came in at $99.8 billion. So if it is newspapers’ strategy to transition paying readers to digital devices, charging them along the way, some part of that $34 billion will move to tablets, ereaders, iPads, Streaks, and whatever the next generation of devices are called. If Apple snapped its fingers and transformed the print industry tomorrow, its 30-percent take would be $10.2 billion. That’s a fantastical number, of course: No fingers can be snapped, not all print readers will transition, pricing will change, and so on. But we can see globally how much money may be in play over time.
  • Let’s move to a real-life example, The Wall Street Journal’s $17.29 monthly iPad subscription rate. It’s reportedly sold well, though we don’t have good numbers on it. It’s the major standalone, separately priced news app, and that got it a lot of attention when it was announced. While we can debate the merits of standalone iPad pricing vs. bundling the price with print/web/smartphone access, the pricing itself is of interest. The Journal understands that some readers will abandon print for the iPad. When they do, the Journal doesn’t want to exchange print circulation dollars for iPad pennies. An annual iPad subscription costs $207.48. That compares to $249 for the print edition, although the Journal’s been doing a lot of heavy discounting of its flagship paper. The Journal’s iPad pricing, which itself can be discounted over time as print is, is intended to ease that circulation revenue transition. At $208 a year, Apple would presumably take $62. Overall, the Journal counts more than 2 million in circulation, with more than 400,000 of those online-only and Kindle subs. Pricing will change over time, but just take those 400,000. If they all wanted tablet access, that could amount to $24.8 million a year for Apple.
  • Let’s move on to the New York Times, the company that is going “paid” early next year, and has the best chance of any U.S. general (non-financial) newspaper to pull it off. For the first six months of the year, the Times itself (not the other newspapers the company owns) took in $346 million in circulation revenue. Currently, its web content is free. Let’s say that it prices in a similar fashion to the Journal, keeping about the same amount of revenue as it goes digital and that 10 percent of its sales are on an Apple tablet a couple of years from now. That would mean about $35 million in iPad circulation revenue for a half a year, or $70 million for a full year. Apple’s take of that: $21 million.
  • Finally, let’s look at Apple and the music industry. Today, Apple’s iTunes pulls in about 28 percent of all music sales in the U.S., or seven-tenths of the total 40 percent of U.S. music sales that are now digital. It took Apple seven years to get there, from a dead start. Of course, the music and news businesses are completely different, right? We can name the differences, but let’s concentrate on the main thing they have in common: Many consumers love digital delivery. So that migration — from analog medium (CD, newspaper) to a suitable, finally-it’s-arrived digital device (iPod, iPhone, tablet) — may be another guide that’s useful.

Those 40 percent (of total U.S. music sales) and 28 percent (Apple’s share of overall music sales) numbers are ones to note. If they held true for news reading, then by 2017, we can be assured of one thing: Apple’s share of news “circulation” revenue would be mind-bending.

January 08 2010

15:00

What 2010 will bring newspapers: Bad revenue news, bad bankruptcy news, and maybe a nice tablet

[Yesterday, we showed how our Martin Langeveld's predictions for 2009 turned out. A few hits, a few misses, but lots of thoughts provoked. Here's his list of what we can expect in 2010. —Josh]

Newspaper ad revenue: At least technically, the recession is over, with GDP growth measured at 2.2 percent in Q3 of 2009 and widely forecast in Q4 to exceed that rate. But newspaper revenue has not followed suit, dropping 28 percent in Q3. McClatchy and the New York Times Company (which both came in at about that level in Q3) hinted recently that Q4 would be better, in the negative low-to-mid 20 percent range. This is not unexpected — in the last few recessions with actual GDP contraction (1990-91 and 2001), newspaper revenue remained in negative territory for at least two quarters after the GDP returned to growth. But the newspaper dip has been bigger each time, and the current slide started (without precedent) a year and a half before the recession did, with a cumulative revenue loss of nearly 50 percent. Newspaper revenue has never grown by much more than 10 percent (year over year) in any one quarter, so no real recovery is likely; this is a permanently downsized industry. My call for revenue by quarter during 2010 is: -11%, -10%, -6%, -2%.

Newspaper online revenue (included in the overall prediction above) will be the only bright spot, breaking even in Q1 and ramping up to 15% growth by Q4.

Newspaper circulation revenue will grow, because publishers are realizing that print is now a niche they can and should charge for, rather than trying to keep marginal subscribers with non-stop discounting. But this means circulation will continue to drop. In 2009, we saw drops of 7.1 percent in the six-month period ending March 31 and 10.6 percent for the period ending Sept. 30. In 2010, we’ll see a losses of at least 7.5% in each period.

Newspaper bankruptcies: I don’t think we’re out of the woods, or off the courthouse steps, although the newspaper bankruptcy flurry in 2009 was in the first half of the year. The trouble is the above-mentioned revenue decline. If it continues at double-digit rates, several companies will hit the wall, where they have no capital or credit resources left and where a “restructuring” is preferable and probably more strategic than continuing to slash expenses to match revenue losses. So I will predict at least one bankruptcy of a major newspaper company. In fact, let’s make that at least two.

Newspaper closings and publishing-frequency reductions: Yup, there will be closing and frequency reductions. Those revenue and circulation declines will hit harder in some places than others, forcing more extinction than we saw in 2009.

Mergers: It’s interesting that we saw very little M&A activity in 2009 — none of the players saw much opportunity to gain by consolidation. They all just hunkered down waiting for the recession to end. It has ended, but if my prediction is right and revenue doesn’t turn up or at least flatten by Q2, the urge to merge or otherwise restructure will set in. Expect to see at least a few fairly big newspaper firms merge or be acquired by other media outfits. (But, as in 2009, don’t expect Google to buy the New York Times or any other print media.)

Shakeups: Given the fact that newspaper stocks generally outperformed the market, it’s not surprising that there were few changes in the executive suites. But if the industry continues to contract, those stock prices will head back down. Don’t be surprised to see some boards turn to new talent. If they do, they’ll bring in specialists from outside the industry good at creative downsizing and reinvention of business models. Sooner would be better than later, in some cases.

Hyperlocal: There will be more and more launches of online and online/print combos focused on covering towns, neighborhoods, cities and regions, with both for-profit and nonprofit business models. Startups and major media firms looking to enter this space with standardized and mechanized approaches won’t do nearly as well as one-off ventures where real people take a risk, start a site, cover their market like a blanket, create a brand and sell themselves to local advertisers.

Paid content: At the end of 2008, this wasn’t yet much of a discussion topic. It became the obsession of 2009, but the year is ending with few actual moves toward full paywalls or more nuanced models. Steve Brill’s Journalism Online promises a beta rollout soon and claims a client list numbering well over 1,000 publications. Those are not commitments to use JO’s system — rather, they’re signatories to a non-binding letter of intent that gives them access to some of the findings from JO’s beta test. Many publishers, including many who have signed that letter, remain firmly on the sidelines, realizing that they have little content that’s unique or valuable enough to readers to charge for. JO itself has not speculated what kind of content might garner reader revenue, although its founders have been clear that they’re not recommending across-the-board paywalls.

So where are we heading in 2010? My predictions are that by the end of the year, most daily papers will still be publishing the vast majority of their content free on the web; that most of those experimenting with pay systems will be disappointed; and that the few broad paywalls in place now at local and regional dailies will prove of no value in stemming print circulation declines.

Gadgets: The recently announced consortium led by Time Inc. to publish magazine and (eventually) newspaper content on tablets and other platforms will see the first fruits of its efforts late in the year as Apple and several others unveil tablet devices — essentially oversized iPhones that don’t make phone calls but have 10-inch screens and make great color readers. Expect pricing in the $500 ballpark plus a data plan, which could include a selection of magazine subscriptions (sort of like channels in cable packages, but with more à la carte choice). If newspapers are on the ball, they can join Time’s consortium and be part of the plan. Tablet sales will put a pretty good dent in Kindle sales. One wish/hope for the (as yet unnamed) publisher consortium: Atomize the content and let me pick individual articles — don’t force me to subscribe to a magazine or buy a whole copy. In other words, don’t attempt to replicate the print model on a tablet.

Social networks: Twitter’s own site usage will continue to be flat (it has actually lost traffic slowly but steadily since summer), but that probably means more people are accessing Twitter through various apps on computers and smartphones, so actual engagement is hard to gauge.  Facebook will continue to grow internationally but is probably close to maxing out in the U.S. With Facebook now cash-flow positive, and Twitter still essentially revenue-less except for lucrative search deals with Google and Bing, could Mark Zuckerberg and Evan Williams be holding deal talks sometime during the year? It wouldn’t surprise me.

Privacy: The Federal Trade Commission will recommend to Congress a new set of online privacy initiatives requiring clearer “opt-in” provisions governing how personal information of web users may be used for things like targeting ads and content. Anticipating this, Facebook, Google and others will continue to maneuver to lock consumers into opt-in settings that allow broad use of personal data without having to ask consumers to reset their preferences in response to the legislation. In the end, Congress will dither but not pass a major overhaul of privacy regs.

Mobile (with thanks to Art Howe of Verve Wireless): By the end of 2010 a huge shift toward mobile consumption of news will be evident. In 2009, mobile news was just getting on the radar screen, but during the year several million people downloaded the AP’s mobile app to their iPhones, and several million more adopted apps from individual publishers. By the end of 2010, with many more smartphone users, news apps will find tens of millions of new users (Art might project 100 million), and that’s with tablets just appearing on the playing field. During 2009, web readership of news (though not of newspaper content) overtook news in printed newspapers. Looking out to sometime in 2011 or 2012, more people will get their news from a mobile device than from a desktop or laptop, and news in print will be left completely in the dust.

Stocks: I accurately predicted the Dow’s rise during 2009 and that newspaper stocks would beat the market. The Dow will rise by 8% (from its Dec. 31 close), but newspaper stocks will sink as revenue fails to rebound quarter after quarter.

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