Is news dying, or are newspapers dying? That's a critical question. Most of us know the demand for news is not dying - and if you needed reinforcement a recent McKinsey & Company study verified that the demand for news has increased (McKinsey Quarterly "A Glimmer of Hope for Newspapers"). And a lot of the increase comes from people under 35 who are escalating their news demands. Of course, most of this increase is coming from the web and mobile media.
Too often, however, we don't see our business growing. Instead, Lock-in to old definitions make us think our business is shrinking when it is actually doing the opposite! And that's the Re-invention Gap. Manufacturers of small printing presses said demand was declining in the 1970s, when in fact demand for copies was exploding. Only the explosion was from xerography instead of presses. So A.B. Dick and Multigraphics, small offset press manufacturers, went out of business when demand for the output of their product was exploding! The market shifted, but it kept growing, and they missed the shift.
Today we see this behavior in most news publishers. Those who print newspapers and magazines are talking about how horrible business is. Only the demand for news is growing more quickly than ever. It's just not demand for print, which arrives too late for many customers. And because print is too slow a distribution method for these customers, advertisers are abandoning print as well. But only if you're Locked-in to printing do you say the market is horrible. Because with demand for news growing, if you reposition yourself to serve the growing part of the market you should say business is great!
Tribune Corporation, owner of The Chicago Tribune newspaper is still in bankruptcy. And its future relies entirely on how well it will serve the needs of on-line news readers. According to Crain's Chicago Business, in "Former Sports Editor Bill Adee Steers Chicago Tribune's On-line Strategy" print advertising revenues fell by 9% versus last year in the most recent quarter. And according to a quoted investment banker, nobody would have much interest in the value of a print newspaper. That business is destined to keep declining.
But simultaneously the volume of on-line ads tripled! And that's what a business has to do to cross its Re-invention Gap. It has to move from the old business into the new business - from the declining elements of its business into the growth elements.
What most businesses do wrong is try to apply their old business model to the new business. The old Success Formula has Lock-ins to metrics, schedules, processes, frequent decisions, decision-makers, strategic plans, etc. which the leadership tries to apply to the new business. For example, most newspapers are used to selling ads for several thousand dollars, based upon the number of subscribers. These are pretty large price points. But on-line, ads are sold per page view or per click. Now we're talking pennies sometimes. And to make money, you have to get a lot of views. Likewise, newspapers work on a 24 hour cycle of news accumulation and publishing, whereas the internet is 24x7 with the opportunity to change headlines and what's reported continuously. If a newspaper tries to apply the old Success Formulas related to sales, pricing and editorial process they fail.
And that's why crossing the re-invention gap requires a big Disruption. You have to get the organization to understand that while you are managing the old business, it is destined to eventually go under. So you have to be prepared to Disrupt the Lock-ins, to discover a new way to do the business. And that can only happen if there is a White Space team dedicated to building a business the way the new marketplace will pay for it. Totally separated from the old business. And exactly the opposite of what Tribune is doing by placing the team in the middle of the old newsroom!
At Tribune, one of the big problems is not only the ad pricing model and news scheduling, but the fact that the leadership is still trying to drive content like they did at the newspaper. Over a decade ago Tribune took a direction of accumulating less news on its own, and as a result it republished lots of content. But now on the internet republishing (or content aggregation as it is called on-line) is far less valuable because readers can go to the source. There are thousands and thousands of aggregators - making competition intense and profits negligible. Why page view a Chicago Tribune web page that's feeding info from the New York Times or Marketwatch or MSNBC when you can go directly to the New York Times or Marketwatch or MSNBC and get it yourself - possibly with other interesting sidebars? Succeeding in the new market requires developing an entirely new Success Formula - which Tribune Company has not done. It's still trying to find that magical "leverage" which will allow it to preserve its "history" (its old Success Formula) while tiptoeing into the new marketplace.
I don't know any newspaper or magazine publisher that has really attacked its Lock-ins, really Disrupted, or set up a true White Space team to explore how to make money in the growing new news market. News Corp. had the chance when it bought MySpace.com, but failed as it destroyed the MySpace business by "helping" its leadership. This market requires understanding how to get the news and report it cheaply and very fast, to computer and mobile device users. That is necessary to obtain the traffic which would be valuable to advertisers. And simultaneously the new team must package ad sales so as to maximize revenues from page views. Most are far too reliant on single ad sales, and not effectively linking the right ads to the right pages to generate more click-throughs as well as views.
Re-invention Gaps emerge because we let Lock-in blind us to growth opportunities. We define the business around the Lock-ins (such as printing a newspaper) rather than defining it around what the market wants (news). Then when revenues stumble, starting a growth stall, the energy goes into preserving the old Success Formula (and its Lock-ins) first with cost cuts, and later with efforts to "synergize" or "leverage" the old Success Formula into the new market. And this never works. The growing part of the market is entirely different, and requires developing an entirely new Success Formula. That's why even in growing markets businesses fail, unless they commit to Disrupting the Lock-in and using White Space to move back into the growth Rapids.
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Adam Hartung, author of "Create Marketplace Disruption", is a Faculty and Board member of the Lake Forest Graduate School of Management, Managing Partner of Spark Partners, and writes for "Forbes" and the "Journal for Innovation Science."