While some years I'll post some thoughts about what may or may not happen in the year ahead, this year - the changes are so clear and the drivers so much in place that I'm going to go out on a limb and say what WILL happen in 2009: trends you can bet on.
1. The Growth of the Curation Economy
As the cost of the creation of content continues to come down, more content creators will come online. This will create a huge influx of unfiltered material, and create a significant demand for filters and editors who can find/sort/select and recommend contextual quality content within verticals. This "Curation" function has the potential to give media enterprises whose current business models are under tremendous pressure a new and important role in the web media world. What makes the Curation Economy so powerful, and so disruptive, is that the core resource required to building a high-quality curated experience is not capital, but knowledge. This will drive an emerging class of content entrepreneurs - people who are able to turn their trusted personal brands into high-quality filtered content destinations. As the number of publishers grows dramatically, content consumers will hunger for new trusted sources. These many creators and consumers on the move will fuel whole new businesses and categories.
2. The Emergence of targeted CPA / CPC as Contextual Content Revenues
The assumption has always been that as more and more users shifted their media consumption habits from print and TV to the web, big brand advertisers would come along and bring their wallets with them. Well, so far that hasn't been the case. As Bob Garfield wrote in his prescient "Chaos Scenario," mainstream cash just hasn't signed on to this whole 'new media' thingy. The result has web sites scrambling to invent new revenue sources, subscription fees, or simply close their doors. But wait - not so fast. Consumers ARE spending money on the web. They're arriving with intent, finding what they want, and swiping a credit card. This means there IS revenue - just not for big broad unfocused ads. So, watch 2009 as the year that Cost Per Action (CPA) and Cost Per Click (CPC) advertising starts to generate real revenues for content sites. And - don't count out pre-roll video either. One New York based media co is reporting $40 CPM's for their pre-roll ads, and they aren't one of the existing cable channels re-purposing content from linear TV to the web world. This is a real magazine co with original content for the web and a $40 CPM. Stay Tuned!
3. The Merging of eCommerce and Content
It used to be that video content (what was then called 'Television') was little more than material used to fill in the space around the ads and attract viewers. Ok, that may sound grim, but it's true. Content was there to draw 'eyeballs' so that large groups of people could be sold stuff. Yikes! That doesn't sound very nice. Well, a few things have changed. While this Holiday Season was the worse ever for retail, Amazon posted the best sales in their history. Really. So, how did that happen? Well it seems folks who knew what they wanted went to Amazon and searched, and then compaired prices, and purchased. This idea of intent driving commerce, rather than advertising creating a 'demand' for a particular brand or product, is turning Madision Avenue on its head. But, at the same time - there is some evidence that ecommerce and content are about to switch roles. Sites like Thwoop.com have created children's destinations with free content, and given themselves a first crack at any purchases that the visitors might want to make. The idea that watching content is expressing 'intent' is both novel and explosive. My son likes Ben10, so he watches it on Thwoop.com, and then - well, he asks about buying a Ben10 lunchbox, or shirt, or dvd, or something. Content drives Commerce. Expect to see AmazonTV, EBayTV, LLBeanTV and tons more content channels from ecommerce biggies in 2009.
4. Digital Goods - Consumers begin to pay for content
Digital Goods is a broad concept for anything delivered in code. Music, eBooks, iPhone apps, photos - the list goes on and on. While we've seen the idea of 'shareware' on so many little bits of code for so long, the fact is that 2009 will be the year that Digital Goods will take off. Already the numbers from the iTunes store sales are dramatic - almost a million dollars a day in sale of iPhone Apps. That's huge. Sure, folks look at the free apps first - but it becomes clear quickly that a few dollars can often get you a much better product. Apple has created a safe, trusted micro-payment economy around iTunes and the fact that only software that is tested gets into their iTunes systems is evidence that the Curation Economy is at play here too. But in 2009 you'll see more video series, ebooks, photo collections, memberships, and subscriptions gain a foothold. There's some real world reasons for this - web based digital goods are a better value than their real world counterparts in many cases. And other than the legacy of the physical experience (the paper of the New York Times, the Album Covers of old records, the binding of books) the reality is that digital delivery is better for the planet, and has both the long-tail efficiencies and creative freedom that gives digital creators the ability to lower costs (and therefore price). MIddlemen who don't add value should beware, Digital Goods delivery doesn't require both a wholesale and a retail seller.
5. Cottage Media Takes Off
Media is a good word. It gets confused with journalism and other more narrow words - but used properly it's a big tent that includes digital content in all its forms. Historically, Cottage Industries have been small mom and pop operations that run out of someone's home office. And already we can see the emergence of a number of new voices and sources that are essentially 'Cottage' operations. More of the brand name content creators we know and enjoy reading/watching are building their own brands while they remain employed by their big media publishers. In 2009 this will change. While advertising may not be jumping into pure UGV anytime soon, the idea of trusted content brands moving to self-publishing is likely to cause quite a stir. Om Malik was one of the first to make the move - though his operation is clearly much larger than a 'cottage' it's a whole lot smaller than his previous home at Forbes - his network of blogs has already become influential and respected. He's hardly alone in this regard. Fred Wilson (avc.com) Chris Brogan (chrisbrogan.com), Michael Arrington (Techcrunch.com) Howard Lindzon (howardlindzon.com) are all building "Cottage" media businesses, some with a journalism focus, others simply blogging a point of view or to built community or conversation.
2009 will be a year of gut wrenching, dramatic, roller-coast change. Big things will get smaller, or die. Little things will survive and start to grow. Consumers will become creators. Lurkers will become participants. The volume of voices will expand exponentially - and the need for clarity and trusted filters will go from being useful to being essential. Just as MP3s turned the music industry on its ear, and Craigs List turned newspapers upside-down, the emergence of personal publishing and new forms of both trusted and Community Curation will have an immediate and long-lasting impact on media, commerce, community and politics.
2009 will be a year of change. And change is, by its nature, full of surprises. Stay flexible. Stay curious. What's being constructed is a global knowledge eco-system that has world changing implications... for the better.