Ghosts in the Machine

This holiday season, get ready for the blitz. We’re not talking football. We’re talking tech.

The National Retail Federation is projecting 2012 holiday sales will rise 4.1% from 2011 levels. A good portion of that will go to consumer electronics. Researchers at Booz & Co. expect a 4% rise in consumer purchases of downloadable gifts such as digital music, movies and books.

The shopping season is already off to a fast start. Amazon reported Thanksgiving holiday sales of its Kindle e-reader products doubled over the same time last year. And Apple alone may soak up a lot of holiday spending. Writing at, Chuck Jones predicts sales of updated iPads and iPad minis should boost the company’s December quarter revenues by 19% year over year.

Sales enabled by technology continue to rise. Online retailers predict a record $43.4 billion in holiday sales this season as shoppers increasingly rely on social networks and mobile devices, according to Bloomberg. It estimates Internet sales will grow 17 percent over last year, or more than 10 percent of U.S. retail spending, excluding gas, food and cars.

What does that mean for those of us looking for gifts this Hanukkah and Christmas? Besides the usual smartphones, video games and big-screen TVs, expect to see a lot of so-called labor-saving devices.

Amazon is selling a wireless child locator shaped like a Teddy bear for $28.99. For the man cave, Sharper Image is promoting a Pac Man Arcade Machine for $2,999, with free shipping. And for people who like to drink, Bed Bath & Beyond offers a carbonator that turns water into soda for $129.99 and a cordless wine bottle opener for $29.99. Too bad they can’t turn water into wine. It would fit with the birthday celebration.

If all this strikes you as commercialized corruption of the holiday, you’re not alone. Charles Schultz expressed the sentiment 47 years ago with “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” As for the rest of us, some will light candles. Some will assemble the crèche and head to church. Others will give quiet thanks for good friends, family and health, realizing that in this holiday season, gratitude is one of the greatest gifts of all.

Study finds news readers shift to Internet

More people say they get their news from the Internet than from newspapers, according to a survey by the Poynter Institute and other organizations. Some 41% of readers say they get most of their news online, besting newspapers as primary sources by more than 10%.

Ad dollars are following the eyes. “Last year marked the first time online advertising outpaced newspaper advertising,” Jolie O’Dell reports at Mashable.

Poynter Print-and-Online-Advertising-Revenues-Fall-in-2010The numbers come from the State of the News Media 2011, the eighth edition of an annual report on the health and status of American journalism. The survey results are drawn from a sampling of more than 2,000 adults in January 2010. The report was produced by the Project for Excellence in Journalism and funded by the Pew Research Center.

The study finds the state of newspapers, and journalism by proxy, is more problematic than other media. In an essay based on study results a trio of writers — Rick Edmonds of the Poynter Institute and Emily Guskin and Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism — predict cultural and economic shifts will continue to batter the medium.

Last year, as other media rallied, advertising revenues at newspaper organizations fell by more than 6% — that after a recession-led drop of 26% in 2009. Print circulation declined by 5% daily. That means more job cuts in newsrooms, which the study estimates have shrunk by 30% in the last 10 years. Despite the declines profit margins remain around 5%.

Unfortunately for those organizations, the survey found newspapers still haven’t discovered how to generate revenue from digital initiatives. Ad revenue increasingly comes from independent networks, aggregators such as Google and social networks such as Facebook. Newspapers also have little control over content and access to reader metrics when companies like Apple deliver their product.

“The clock,” the report concludes, “continues to tick on finding strong supplementary revenue streams as print seems certain to stagnate or decline further.”