Thursday, February 5, 2009

The discussion at Harvard continues

My friends always wanted to go to Harvard. But I didn't want to leave New York City. So I went to a better college. But then I really confused everyone and became a Printer.

At any rate, the discussion is taking place on the thread that grew out of a post about the recent meeting of newspaper publishers. To set the context,
So, “a group of newspaper executives” has launched,* which “will be devoted to insightful articles, commentary and research that provide a more balanced perspective on what newspaper companies can do to survive and thrive in the years ahead.”
Post 30:
All of you (some more than others) are whistling past the graveyard.
If any newspaper model survives (and I have my doubts), it will be the early 20th century one featuring digital tabloids sold on cyberspace street corners, produced by aggressive entrepreneurs.
Because such a model begins with the interests of prospective readers and not with the concerns of self-important editors, “college-trained” reporters and contest-driven egoists, who now dominate our profession.
So I said in Post 31,

You make a point about “self-important editors,etc.”

But it’s not a newspaper problem, it’s a general formal organization problem. The phrase works as well with “senators, auto executives, our last President, school principals, University Presidents.”

If you put a qualifier in front of it, as in “SOME” + “self-important etc” it’s a useful statement about reality.

But disruptive technologies lead to disruptions in the communication ecology. People who have to spend most of their day in a bubble have a very serious signal v noise problem. It’s the echo chamber effect that explains how good, smart, hard working people can make really bad decisions.

The good news is that a discussion such as this one might help amplify the signal from the ground to cut through the noise up in management circles.

As for your prediction.

Once the focus on the “interests of prospective readers” is changed, versioned Print + web + delivery trucks can pretty much deliver the same customer experience you describe.

Added for this post, I should have said "no need for those aggressive entreprenuers to wait for epaper. The costs and processes of Print are now so affordable and well defined that most teams can do it today. Check out The Printed Blog. They say they are Coming to a newstand near you."

Epaper, kindle’s and whatever comes along will be great for serving niche markets and identifying fans.

10,000 Kindle subscribers for the NYT is still a tiny niche of 46 million page views on the web. Maybe it will grow to 100,000 or 200,000 with the next release over time. At a $9 monthly subscription fee that could turn into a nice revenue stream.

But newspaper don’t have time. Mostly because of debt obligations.

Netflix destroyed Blockbuster. In ten years, Google reinvented advertising. The trick is not where it’s going to end up. The proximate problem is how to get from here to there, and still maintain the position you’ve earned over the last 100 years.


  1. Hi Michael, thanks for weighing in over there, it's been a good conversation. I'm planning a post about the discussion, as well.

  2. My sense is that this whole thing is finally coming to a place where the signals emitted by the innovations on the ground, and the serious discussion on the web, are breaking through the noise of every day work requirements.

    Workable solutions are starting to emerge from the mist.