Maybe I’m just old, or maybe I just don’t get some aspects of modern business – or are some people online purporting to be business experts just arrogant and opinionated folks with insufficient experience and a habit of stating the bleedin’ obvious as if they’d just discovered a Unified Field Theory?
And what triggered this off? As frequently happens these days, I came across something on Twitter that just bugged the Hell out of me. And it was the following:
“Book publishers. Stop talking about cannibalisation. Create and invest in businesses and services which destroy today’s model.”
I guess the reason why this statement annoyed me is that I’ve had books and magazine articles published, starting in the early 1980s, and I suppose I have an emotional attachment to the whole paper based ‘traditional’ publishing business. One of the aspects of that business I like even now is that there was an element of quality control involved that the current ‘anything goes’ online world lacks. Those nasty gatekeepers called ‘editors’ used to brass all of us off, but they at least ensured that what was published fitted the style of the magazine, was reasonably well written and was believed to be good enough for other people to spend money on.
Because the traditional publishing business did something that most modern online publishing isn’t managing to do – make money based on quality, focused product. Why buy content when the Internet is full of it? Getting people to buy text content is increasingly difficult and I’ve seen more than one magazine that I used to buy regularly go to the wall because of the free availability of published material on the Internet. So what’s the problem? The problem is that whilst there might be items of high standard on the Net (I hope I produce a few myself) what is lacking is the focus and selection that went in to a magazine – in one pace you had a series of relevant articles, of high quality. Over the years we’ve kept getting the promise of ‘The Daily You’ online – a one stop web site which you will be able to configure in such a way as to get material that interests you. That promise has never delivered. Whilst there are a number of issues that I have with the concept in general (not going to go in to them here – that’s for another day) the basic problem is that whatever ways have been used to try and put something together that gives us relevant and quality content, like RSS feeds, it’s never quite worked.
To be told by someone ‘go and destroy today’s models’ sounds like iconoclasm of the worst sort. Destruction of what doesn’t work is one thing; destruction of a market place and set of products that does work is quite sad, especially when the new products and services coming to replace what is going has elements of ‘The Emporers New Clothes’ about them. And a lot of ‘new media’ stuff does start with cannibalisation – when you aren’t paying for content, you start by linking to it, re-hashing it, etc. Whilst there are markets for new, paid for content on the Internet it’s frequently poorly paid and provides little stimulus for authors to spend time in developing engaging content when they’re going to see very little recompense for it.
The freetard mentality is again coming through with so many of these Business 2.0 zealots – I have news for you. Free doesn’t survive hard times. It’s not enough to say ‘the content is out there, just find it’. People like to pay for organised and focused material because it saves them time. Destroying today’s models before there is anything to replace them is simply the business plan of the would-be market dictator – those who would come to lead a mediocre market with mediocre products because the good stuff has already gone to the wall.