Is it possible to predict the future of digital publishing?

Future of publishing
Via Unsplash

The speed of change in digital publishing is sometimes breathtaking. But does that mean that it is impossible for executives to make meaningful predictions about how technology and consumer trends will impact the future of publishing? No, say to two senior executives who recently offered the industry a 30-year outlook.

  • Alan Hunter, former Head of Digital at the Times, and Nick Petrie, Deputy Digital News Director at have published a 30-year outlook for the media. Dismissing the idea that the digital world is moving too fast to predict what’s going to happen next, they have released their take on media in 2050.
  • They wrote: “News media executives often comfort themselves that the digital world is moving so fast that you can’t predict what’s going to happen next year, let alone in five years’ time. We say that’s nonsense. Just as we could have told you about today’s obsessions five years ago, we can tell you now what will be the main concerns of the news media in 2026.”
  • Hunter and Petrie say a quick look back at the past shows how you can predict what’s going to happen. They illustrate the point using Nikolai Tesla’s vision of a telephone carried in a man’s vest pocket in 1926 and follow this up with a 1963 newspaper report with an actual picture of a mobile phone mockup of a pocket-sized, wireless phone of the future.

Media 2050

  • The five-year vision in this report is similar to those made in a regular digital news forecast: growth in reader revenue as digital display advertising declines; competing with Facebook, Google and Apple’s; the rise of analytics-led journalism and the imperative to consider user needs; plus innovations in AR, VR and video.
  • But the authors emphasise the need to look further ahead. They highlight how leading technology players make ‘super-long-term’ forecasts – Jeff Bezos’ long term thinking at Amazon and the multi-decade abstractions developed at payment gateway Stripe. “This allows them to sense-check their current tactics against a long-term strategy. There is no reason, we would argue, that the news media cannot do the same.”
  • In considering ‘longer-term or ‘meta’ media trends, Hunter and Petrie’s starting point is that in ‘30 years’ time there will be more of everything…
    • More user time
    • More information
    • More data
    • More content
    • More access points
    • More bandwidth

“Broadly speaking, there will be an explosion of both information provision and capacity, and the time to consume it.”

From this base the predicted 2050 media landscape will feature ‘incredibly engaging’ discreet 1-2-1 personalisation made available by off-the-shelf cloud services.

Continued globalisation will see readers being more likely to consume news from foreign publications, with translation software making local news sources much more accessible.

A continued convergence in media formats will see publishers web content, podcasts, video and social media in single environments. Innovations in AR and VR will enhance storytelling and make the Metaverse an increasing reality.

Publishers are advised that in planning for the future, “It is not enough to find a single knockout product and rely on it providing income ‘for ever’. We must be inventors, risk takers and life-long learners.”

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