Sunday, December 25, 2011

My year-end waste of time: Predictions for 2012

I've decided to participate in one of the most potentially embarrassing annual blogging rituals: Predictions for the coming year. So, for what it's worth, here are my predictions for 2012, in no particular order:

eBooks and Publishing

  • Both the European Commission's Directorate for Competition Law and the U.S. Justice Department will file suit against Apple and five of the "Big 6" trade publishers (Lagadere's Hachette publishing group, News Corporation's Harper Collins, Holtzbrinck's Macmillan, Pearson's Penguin Group and CBS' Simon & Schuster) for eBook price-fixing under the agency pricing model. Bertelsmann's Random House most likely won't be charged, because it joined in agency pricing long after the other five publishers. All the companies charged will strongly deny any conspiracy to fix prices, but they'll all eventually agree to a consent decree (and the European equivalent) before the cases go to court. The settlement will require Apple and the publishers to make cash payments for consumer damages, and the agency model will be discarded. eBook distribution will go back to the wholesale model.
  • There's also a possibility that the U.S. government and European Union will use the antitrust litigation as a lever to force the Big 6 to make their eBooks available to libraries on commercially reasonable terms. Currently, only Harper Collins and Penguin make their titles available for library lending, and both companies impose significant restrictions.
  • eBook sales in early 2012 will follow the same pattern as the last few years--there will be a huge burst of sales in January and February as millions of consumers who received eReaders and tablets as holiday gifts stock up on titles. However, the year-to-year growth rate in eBook sales will drop, due both to the increased share of eBooks as a percentage of all book sales and higher prices from the Big 6 publishers.
  • Even though the growth of eBook sales will slow, print sales will continue to decline. Independent booksellers in the U.S. won't pick up the slack from the closure of Borders, nor will they make big strides in increasing their overall share of U.S. book sales.
  • The Big 6 publishers' pricing policies will continue to encourage sales growth for smaller publishers and self-publishing authors, as consumers experiment with less-expensive titles and find that many of them are just as good as titles from the top publishers.
  • While the number of titles from medium, small and self-publishers continues to grow, the Big 6 will continue to cut back on the number of titles that they release, focusing even more on pre-sold authors and titles, series and backlist titles that are reissued with a variety of value-adds.
  • The "eSingle revolution" (short eBooks, no more than 50,000 words and typically 30,000 words or less) will grow, with more conventional book publishers offering titles. In addition, more media companies from other fields (magazines, broadcasting, cable and the web) will enter the eBook market with eSingles, either by themselves or in partnership with established book publishers.
  • $99 will become the top-end price for dedicated eReaders sold in the U.S.; someone (probably Amazon) will go to $49-$59 for an entry-level model. The ad-supported/no-ads issue will become moot, as consumers show that they're perfectly happy with a cheaper, ad-supported eReader.
  • The tablet market in 2012 will look very much the same as the market at the end of 2011: Apple will continue to dominate the high end of the market, with two lines of tablets: A new "iPad 3" (although I'm not sure that'll be its name) at the current iPad 2 prices, and the existing iPad 2, possibly with fewer storage and broadband options, at $100 or so below its current prices (for example, $399 for a 16GB model). At the low-end, a variety of tablets will compete in the $149 to $249 range, led (at least for the first few months) by Amazon. I wouldn't at all be surprised to see Barnes & Noble drop prices of both the Nook Color and Tablet by $50, to $149 and $199 respectively.
Cameras & Camcorders
  • We're almost certain to see new cinema camera models from Canon in 2012. The prototype cinema camera based on the EOS body will be launched, as well as at least one new model in the C3XX range, with improved electronics including auto-focus, auto-aperture and auto white balance and 10-bit log output. The new EOS model could be announced as early as NAB in April, and the new C3XX model is likely to be shown at IBC in September.
  • Panasonic's AG-AF100/101 is getting a little "long in the tooth", so I expect a refresh of the model in time for NAB in April. I also expect the GH3 to be announced in the first half of the year.
  • Given all of Sony's 2011 EVIL, DSLR and camcorder announcements, I don't expect any big announcements from Sony in 2012.
  • AVCHD 2.0 (also called AVC Progressive) will become ubiquitous on all new cameras and camcorders supporting AVCHD.
Motion Pictures
  • We'll see major consolidation at the U.S. movie studios, like what we've already seen at Paramount, with even deeper cuts. Studios will become even more conservative about which titles they greenlight for production, continuing to focus on remakes, series and pre-sold titles (very much like the big publishers). This risk minimization strategy will lead to even more boxoffice and home video revenue declines.
  • Online movie rental services such as Netflix and Amazon will continue to increase their share of home video revenues, but what could have been a huge win for Netflix will be a much more competitive market, due to Netflix's self-inflicted wounds from 2011.
  • Studios will rethink the value of 3D given audiences' rejection of the format, and will put more effort into using 3D well on a smaller number of "event" titles. That means that 2D-to-3D conversion, which has never worked well, will go away. Studios will have to come to grips with the fact that 3D, like Blu-Ray before it, will not be their financial savior. Even well-done 3D won't save movies that audiences don't want to see.
  • UltraViolet, the "online digital locker" system supported by most of the major studios, will fail to get significant market share, although the studios won't give up on it in 2012. Consumers will find it too hard to use, not worth the effort and not a compelling reason to go back to buying DVDs and Blu-Ray discs.
  • With an handful of exceptions, independent films will reach audiences through VOD and online streaming services, not through theatrical exhibition or sales of physical media.
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