At this time of a new year I’m usually asked for my predictions of the incoming year. My usual glib answer is something like, “Next year will be like this year only more so.”
As I look back on 2020 and then forward into 2021, I am starting to think my comedic answer was more prescient then humorous. I’m afraid that a good deal of 2021, which we all looked forward to with relish, will be exactly like the tail end of 2020. There is no permanent new normal until the covid plague is defeated, and that I’m sad to say isn’t on the near horizon.
Bummer, yes. I know. And I’m sorry for pointing that out. The best current estimates are that everyone will be vaccinated by June. If past is prolog, I don’t believe that estimate. But let’s say it does work out that way, then the first half of 2021 will be pretty much like the end 2020. The same conditions of personal and business reinvention and adjustments.
Let me start here in the middle of the plague. With all our new covid related problems we have and are still dealing with our old unresolved issues, such as fake news, fake ads, real ad blockers, fake impressions, fake humans (bots), fake ad placement and undeniable declines in magazine advertising.
Are there exceptions to the declines in advertising? Of course, there are. As I’ve stated for the last decade, what really matters is the success or failure of your magazines or media enterprises. It doesn’t matter what the industry as a whole is doing, as many titles are doing quite well. It only matters how you are doing.
I am bullish on the industry as it clearly grows and morphs into something new at an on-going and accelerated rate. More people read, collect and share distributed media information than ever before. There is more revenue being made in media beyond the wildest dreams of our publishing ancestors. The only problem with that observation is that most of the money isn’t in traditional businesses. Facebook, Google, YouTube, and the like are undeniably media companies, although they deny it. They have the lion’s share of the revenue pie and their growth is exponential, while print’s isn’t. Growth, yes. Exponential growth perhaps for some, but limited for most.
With the above as a foundation here are my totally random and unresearched predictions for media in 2021 and beyond.
Will subscription fatigue finally sink in? If we accept the concept that there is a limit to everyone’s disposable income, how will the still growing shift to a subscription model everywhere be sustained? Will there eventually be subscription fatigue? The answer to fighting the fatigue must be like Amazon Prime and the great bundling caper. Subscribe for this cool product, thing and widget and we will give you all these other things and widgets at no additional cost. Mr publisher what can you bundle with your subscriptions?
The growth of podcasting will continue to grow. Ok, that is a no brainer but still must be listed. The growing podcasting technology and accessibility is reaching more and more consumers with a vast assortment of new content. Revenues in the podcast advertising market are projected to grow 14.7% year over year to nearly $1 billion in 2020, according to the IAB and PricewaterhouseCooper.
The Apple and Facebook slugfest. Apple is now letting users decide whether to allow apps to track certain forms of personal data, like the websites they visit or the things they have been shopping for. Apple wants the user to decide what information about them is shared with advertisers. Facebook is worried that this will change the value of advertising, which is the foundation of Facebook’s revenue stream. The adage has never been truer: "If you're not paying for something, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold"
Home voice platforms will continue to grow. Alexa and her competitors will soon be ubiquitous. Each morning I listen to “flash briefings” from publishers such as The Washington Post, ESPN, NPR, The New York Times, and the Harvard Business Review just to name a few. We have reached Star Trek levels of voice activated computer access. This will continue to grow and new “tricks” will be added that will no doubt astound us. I’m not clear about the monetization paths, but with ubiquity almost anything can produce revenue.
Google and Facebook get bombarded by antitrust suits. The end of 2020 saw many actions by governments around the world to try to regulate the media giants. The DOJ is suing Google for allegedly violating anti-trust laws. Facebook has also been hit with lawsuits from the Federal Trade Commission and the attorneys general of dozens of states. Sadly, Google and Facebook have more than enough money to fight in the courts for years. But perhaps in 2021 the legal distraction will help publishers and advertisers get reacquainted with each other.
Social eCommerce Will Increase in 2021. This is nothing new but the speed of change and buying habits of consumers has predominantly and permanently shifted to a digital path. If you as a publisher want 2021 to be a year of growth, your business model will need to focus partly on social ecommerce and multiple paths of revenue.
Working remotely has permanently reshaped the media industry. The adhesiveness of the new pandemic stay-at-home lifestyles will continue well past the end of the plague. When will we all get back to physical workplaces? Never, not all of us, but some of us will with limited business travel, limited time in the office, and executive leaders questioning all expenses as never before. Management has discovered new forms of what they will be calling efficiencies. The enforced quarantine and power of technology has rewritten the workforce rules of the requirements of a physical presence.
The Roaring 20s will be back again. In the last century after the last global pandemic, there was a period of economic prosperity with a distinctive cultural edge in the United States and Europe. It’s as I said last week, “The exuberance of survival can be most intoxicating and long-lasting.” The decade was known as the "années folles" or the 'crazy years', emphasizing the era's social, artistic, and cultural dynamism. There is no reason that that exuberance won’t happen again. A re-birth if you will of entrepreneurism on a global and local level. We will see start-ups galore and new publications popping up everywhere. There will be an emphasis of new local publications to support the new retail scene. This reflowering of the publication business will bring new publications and new ideas in concert with "années folles".
As we move into 2021 with all the changes still ahead of us, remember our purpose. We have the power to make our customers laugh, cry or become more knowledgeable on any and every subject. At the end of our efforts, we hope our work is appreciated, valued and paid for.
Our publishing nation has grown and will continue to grow, but most likely in directions that are still unexpected and unexplored.
The plague has undoubtedly created an interesting time for media professionals. Some of us in media have made momentous leaps while others are still trying to figure out the new rules of engagement. But have no fear -- we as an industry are strong, vibrant and creative. Yes, there will be unexpected changes and unusual turns of events still to come. Rather than fear it, embrace the future, because there is no rational alternative where everyone – even you – is empowered to be a disruptor.