Finding Bright Spots In A Lackluster 2011

Guests

Alexandra Alter, books and culture reporter, Wall Street Journal
Marilyn Geewax, senior business editor, NPR
Eric Deggans, TV/media critic, St. Petersburg Times
Richard Knox, science correspondent, NPR

2011 was a tough year in many ways: The economy is still struggling; Europe is dealing with a debt crisis that threatens the entire European Union system; and Japan is still recovering from a devastating tsunami. But from gold and protests to TV dramas and HIV treatment, there are many ideas and products that had a banner 2011. NPR's Neal Conan speaks with four reporters on concepts that did well this year.


E-Book Sales And Self-Publishing

e-book readers
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E-book sales have been skyrocketing in recent years, and they continued to soar in 2011 — driven largely by the arrival of newer and cheaper e-readers and tablet computers, says Alexandra Alter, reporter for The Wall Street Journal. The shift to digital is transforming the publishing industry, Alter says, much like the way digital music players revolutionized the music industry. Digital self-publishing also experienced a banner year, says Alter, due in part to the growing digital book market. A growing number of authors are now reaching readers directly through e-book retail outlets.


Gold And Bond Investors

gold
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For most investors, 2011 was a lackluster year. Insured savings accounts offered virtually no interest, says NPR senior business editor Marilyn Geewax, and stocks mostly moved sideways or down. But there were two big winners this year: bond holders and gold bugs. People who invested in U.S. Treasury securities early in the year were smart, says Geewax, because 10-year Treasuries were yielding about 3.4 percent interest in January 2011. Almost one year later, those securities yield only about 1.9 percent. Because those older bonds have become so much more attractive, people are willing to pay more for them. People who bought an ounce of gold in January also are happy today; they paid about $1,450. Now, that ounce is worth about $1,600, roughly a 10 percent gain.


Sean Bean of Game Of Thrones.
Nick Briggs/HBO

Cable TV Dramas

Several cable networks invested heavily in new dramatic series in 2011, and those investments paid off, says Eric Deggans, TV and media critic for the St. Petersburg Times. HBO launched two series to wide acclaim: Boardwalk Empire and the lavish Game of Thrones, based on the popular books by George R.R. Martin. Showtime's Homeland, starring Claire Danes, has also been hailed as both engrossing and creative, Deggans says. AMC also had hit seasons for Breaking Bad and its zombie series, The Walking Dead.


Bottles of antiretroviral drug Truvada are displayed in San Anselmo, Calif.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

HIV/AIDS Treatment

Optimism is rare among HIV/AIDS experts, says NPR science correspondent Richard Knox. But many feel that 2011 will be the year the world learned how to wind down the pandemic. That hope stems from accumulating evidence on four different prevention strategies — plus one older proven approach. In other words, says Knox, the same drugs being used around the world to treat HIV infections can also prevent infection. Called "treatment as prevention," the approach also involves prescribing antiretroviral drugs to uninfected people at risk of infection — individuals such as sex workers and those in relationships with infected people.

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