Many news publishing related trends built up speed and began taking hold in 2010, and are worth watching and considering further in 2011.
In no particular order, those trends are:
Coupons and daily deals
Leading the pack in 2010 was Chicago-based Internet coupon service Groupon Inc., which turned down a US$6 billion buyout offer from Google in early December and secured $500 million (of $950 million) at the end of the month.
If 2009 was the year your mom joined Facebook, then 2010 was the year everyone else did, from your grandfather to your 12-year-old niece.
Social networking continued to build up steam and surpassed Google for the first time ever as the most visited website in the United States for most of 2010. Between January and November, it had 8.9 percent of all U.S. visits, while Google had 7.2 percent, online measurement service Experian Hitwise reported.
Microblogging site Twitter was also a winner in the social networking realm again in 2010, expanding its multimedia services and giving users more tools for sharing things like images, videos and songs. Twitter has been partnering with multimedia companies in order to offer more within its website, and had a list of more than 20 partners, including Instagram, Flickr, YouTube, SlideShare, Dipdive and more.
iPad and tablet computers
The launch of the iPad in January opened up new doors for content creators to push innovation and creativity for a brand new platform. iPad apps designed specifically for the platform, and not tablet-versions of websites, are worth noting. A few making news in 2010 have included apps for Bonnier's News+ system for the iPad, CNN, Flipboard (a partnership of eight publishers), The Economist, Wired and more.
It has also heightened the debate over who can profit from content, who controls subscriber information, and where new boundaries should be drawn. These debates are expected to come to the forefront of publishers' plans, strategies, spreadsheets, legal woes and more in 2011.
Apple launched its iAd advertising platform in mid-December, with a bar to entry at $1 million. This means marketers must pay at least $1 million to be allowed into the iAd system to begin with, and must also give much of the creative control over to Apple.
Magazine publishers and Apple also locked horns over terms of app subscriptions. Publishers want a direct link to their clients by being able to sell the subscriptions themselves, or at least keep subscribers' data. Apple says "no." At the end of 2010, Apple instead began offering magazines 70 percent of the revenue from each sale; the ability to offer an opt-in form for subscribers that would ask them for a limited amount of information, such as their name, address, e-mail, etc.; and the ability to sell subscriptions to their apps through iTunes.
Although the publishers have a problem with the 30 percent cut of their subscriptions Apple wants, they are more miffed that the company is refusing to give them subscribers' credit card data, used for marketing and the ability to offer print and digital bundles.
As 2010 began with a discussion on whether the iPad would save newspapers, 2011 will begin from a different perspective.
Many analysts, executives and industry watchers say that iPad apps should be just one of many tools in news publishers' toolboxes. Newspapers have waited for a saviour long enough, they say; it's time for newspapers to save themselves by using all the tools they have, not just relying on a couple old familiar ones, or placing all their hopes on a fancy new one.
And tablets, just like other platforms, will also continue to evolve. Whether and how newspapers choose to use tablets as part of their current and future strategies will be an important part of how they plan on saving themselves.
As online ad prices and paid circulation go down, all while online readership soars, experts predict many newspapers will continue trying out different types of online paid content models. More publishers are expected to add paid content to their list of revenue-makers in 2011, and everyone is watching to see what works, and what doesn't.
However, whether a paid content strategy "works" is different for every publication. As paidContent's Robert Andrews pointed out in August, shortly after The Times and Sunday Times put up its paywall, "one must properly define what 'success' would be for the project... This is about living within their means, courting their existing readerships to stem big losses..."
Of course, the most notable example of a complete paywall - meaning all content must be paid for - is Rupert Murdoch's The times and Sunday Times, which began charging in July.
Other paid content strategies around the world ran the gamut from a complete paywall, to partial paywall, in which some news, such as financial information or hyper-local news, required payment. Some notable examples are:
- In the spring, The Nikkei, of Japan, erected paywalls on its new website and also imposed a policy restricting links to its articles and homepage.
- In March, Le Monde announced it would be offering a new subscription package encompassing all media on which the top French newspaper is offered. Upon the implementation of the paywall, Le Monde's print edition will no longer be available online to anyone but web subscribers.
- News of the World announced it would move its content behind a paywall in October, as an extension of its subscription model approach. The news title's transition to a payment gateway rests on exclusive video content distributed across an overhauled site and app, with an introductory rate expected for the first month. It could be attractive for advertisers, by offering true cross-platform targeting.
- UK publisher Trinity Mirror announced in October it would also make its "unique, high-value" content paid. The Daily Mirror's general news remains free, while content from columnists (such as political journalist Paul Routledge or sports writer Oliver Holt) constitutes the paid-for initiative.
Early in 2011, many more newspapers have announced they will charge for some, or all content. Two noteworthy announcements come from The New York Times and News Corp.'s Australian newspapers, such as The Australian.
Press freedom and laws
Sadly, press freedom came under fire in multiple countries throughout the year.
In May, there was speculation that Saudi editor Jamal Khashoggi, known for building Saudi Arabia's al-Watan into a strong voice for progressives, was forced to resign after many clashes with authorities over the years. Many have speculated that Khashoggi's departure from al-Watan is a sign of what is to come for Saudi Arabia and the Middle East at large: a much less free press, and with it, a roadblock for the growth of media.
In June, citizens in Hungary protested against a press freedom-threatening bill that would give the government a new authority over media outlets. It was announced on the last day of the year that the new law had been published, giving the government power to regulate all media directed at or published in Hungary beginning January 1, 2011. This includes online news portals and online-only publications.
In Fiji, the military regime forced the News Limited-owned Fiji Times to sell the newspaper or face closure. Under the Media Industry Development Decree that went into effect in June, media outlets must be 90 percent owned by Fijian citizens that reside in the country.
The Malaysian government in July suspended the publication of the main opposition newspaper, Suara Keadilan, for "publishing false news that could incite public unrest." It also refused to renew permits for two other newspapers, and renewed the license of Harakah only after it promised to obey government guidelines.
In Bolivia, four organisations, which represent newspapers, journalists and editors, asked for the derogation of an electoral law that threatens freedom of speech. The law, signed on June 30 by President Evo Morales, does not allow candidates to the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Tribunal to give interviews and limits media from publishing electoral polls. It also prohibits the publication of partial results and documents that have not been approved by the Electoral Power.
In Italy, the government in July extended its provision within a law dating back to 1948, the Media and Wiretapping Bill, "obbligo di rettifica," or rectification obligation, which requires newspapers or anyone "responsible for informative websites" to publish corrections, and passed a new law aimed at restraining online freedom of speech under President Silvio Berlusconi's leadership. The law requires Italian bloggers, podcasters and users of social networking sites like Facebook to rectify "incorrect facts" published, and post corrections within 48 hours of receipt of complaint. Any failure to abide by the law within the timeline provided would result in the imposition of a fine of up to €25,000 to be paid by the author or publisher.
In Azerbaijan, 77 newspapers were put on a blacklist in August.
In Rwanda, 30 media outlets were closed a week before August 9 elections.
This summer saw the beginning of a heated debate over tightening of media controls in South Africa. A proposed Media Appeals Tribunal would control print media in order to "enhance accountability and improve reporting," a senior ruling party official said. It would also would investigate complaints against print media, and decide on punishments when it deems irresponsible reporting has taken place. Media groups have denounced the ANC's proposition, saying the tribunal is an attempt by the party to stop investigative reporters who expose corruption in the one-party ruled government.
At the end of the year in Zimbabwe, the country's first lady, Grace Mugabe, sued Zimbabwean newspaper the Standard for US$15 million for reporting on information released by Wikileaks that said she made "tremendous" profits from the sale of illegally mined diamonds. However, legal experts in the country say Mrs. Mugabe is not likely to win the lawsuit, as the Standard simply reported on the leaked cables sent to Harare and did not originate the story.
However, a few rays of light also came through.
In the United Kingdom, the government announced it would review its libel law in an effort to cut down on "libel tourism" and better protect freedom of speech for media outlets and those working in the research sector.
Journalists, academics and people in the scientific community who want to write reports that may be viewed as unfavourable to their subjects or third parties are usually subjected to threats from accusers who know the current libel laws are on their side, as the burden of proof rests on the defendant. Individuals outside the United Kingdom often choose to sue in UK courts because of these laws. The practice is called "libel tourism."
Also this spring, the San Francisco-based start-up Haystack pushed back against government censors, helping online users give censors the slip by providing "high-grade encryption of data, similar to that used when accessing a bank Web site. It then hides that data inside other normal data streams and makes it look like normal Internet traffic itself, which makes the original data difficult to detect and stop."
In Zimbabwe, a victory on behalf of press freedom was celebrated when the government announced it was issuing licenses to four new dailies. Those titles included the Daily News, which was previously banned in 2002. The papers are be the first privately owned in the market in six years.
In Turkmenistan, the government announced it would allow the establishment of private newspapers for the first time in 19 years.
The SFN Blog wishes our readers a happy New Year and all the best in 2011.