Monday, March 9, 2009

Bottom's up

David Carr, in his Sunday column, stated the obvious: "At the best of times, newspaper publishers are not a risk-taking bunch, and these aren't the best of times." The list of the risk-averse goes far beyond publishers, actually. Many (if not most) of the people in senior leadership in any newspaper company were groomed, elevated and trained to be good stewards of mature businesses. Innovation and entrepreneurial spirit weren't part of the equation. And probably shouldn't have been at the time. But the times, as we know, have changed. The question is whether we can hold on long enough for a new generation to take over before many of our companies cease to exist at all.

So what do we do? Carr advocates collusion between papers in different markets as a path toward a sustainable future business model. It could work. But I think all those risk-averse editors and publishers and vice presidents of marketing are scared enough at the moment that they're looking wild-eyed around the country for anybody with a great new idea. Innovate, in other words, and everybody else will follow in a hot flash if it seems to be working.

We don't need to collude, or try to scrap the Newspaper Preservation Act. We just need to be bold despite our leadership, to find ways to innovate in spite of the systems we work within. When some of us come up with new ventures that start to get traction, the sheep will follow in short order. We will collude without ever having to collude. So much simpler that way.

Just for the record, Carr is right about free content, aggregators, commoditized ads and even the JOA law. It's just that we don't have time to be playing political games at the moment. Better to take control and start writing the industry's new business plan from wherever you happen to be sitting at the moment.

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