No use crying over print milk: how to DEAL with disruption? #Newsweek

"Non-linear is a nice word for: it will slit your aorta"

As we all know by now, Newsweek shut down its print activities and will continue as an online (daily) beast. A lot of people are saying how right they always were – which is fine, but which doesn’t exactly help along the cause of journalism or the media.

The question that publishers need to answer is: how will we DEAL with this disruption? How to deal with the vast inflation of available eyeballs that were unlocked by Google, Facebook, or any other advertising based business models that  developed over the last years and that is pushing ad revenue down? How do we deal with business models that are essentially man in the middle attacks, like algorithmic aggregators?

Histrionic covers that didn’t bode well for Newsweek.

[Side note: in an interview with Whiteboard, VC Guillaume Lautour of IDInvest was unconcerned about  ad revenue 'on average' going down, since 'no brands target averages'.

Which is probably another way of saying that it's especially the generalistic print magazines and newspapers that will go off the proverbial cliff in the years to come, because they do target  segments so overly broad that they might as well be targeting the average. This is another huge threat for the European print business - apart from the ones I mentioned in a blog yesterday.]

But how to deal with disruption in your sector? Nieman Lab has an excellent interview about this with Clay Christensen of Harvard Business School, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution. The interview is very useful for every business model that is facing disruption now or in the next years.

And we can summarise it in six lessons:

1. Stop reassuring yourself about your QUALITY

Stop telling yourself that your competitors are ‘low rent’ as opposed to your high quality product. Aggregators are on the rise these days, because they work cheaper. And yes, they produce lower quality than you, but they are ‘good enough’ to fill a few minutes of a reader’s time, and that’s why you ARE in a competition with them.

By the way: Time Magazine (yes, THAT Time Magazine) started out as an aggregator. Oh, and HuffPo won a Pulitzer. Quality will not save you.

2. Stop thinking you still have TIME

Your metrics might still look good, but the disruption will be non-linear.

Non-linear is a nice word for: it will slit your aorta and you will bleed out before you know it. Christensen makes a comparison to Harvard Business School, who have known for years that they would be facing tough competition from large corporations who create their own in house business schools, but felt reassured by their good numbers:

we’ve been saying for about 13 years now that management education is going to be disrupted by in-house corporate universities. And nobody just ever imagined that it would happen. In fact, every metric of goodness at the Harvard Business School continues to improve — even as last year the number of people applying to Harvard MBA programs dropped off 22 percent. In the prior year, it went down 11 percent.

3. Organize  your OWN disruption in a SEPARATE skunkworks

Start thinking about how your business will be disrupted and take the lead in the disruption as The Atlantic is doing with Quartz. Important: the research shows that you can’t do it in house, says Christensen. Why? Because of politics: there might be forces in your organization that will try to block your new initiative, or even kill it off when it gains traction.

If you are going to create a new unit to respond to a disruptive threat, it really needs to be kept at arm’s length. If you keep them together, historical parts of the organization can stop it from getting off the ground in the first place, or it does start to gain traction, start to see it as a competitive threat. Politics within the organization can try and shut down the new disruptive business unit.

 4. Stop CUTTING, start building

Another point Christensen makes is to stop cutting pieces of your business to a point where you hope it will fit into the new disruptive model of doing things. (For the newspaper business, that would be: keeping all the overhead, departments, management layers but cutting in the newsroom.) It’s never going to work, and it kills morale.

You think about it from a completely clean slate, and you say, “Okay, what do we need to add to create something that’s going to be able to compete with the Huffington Post?” That difference in perspective is critical in responding to disruptive threats.

5. Find a JOB-TO-DO

Your job might not be what you think it is, says Christensen.

If nobody’s asking for your kind of journalism, maybe it’s time to find another need you can fill while using your editorial and media skills. He gives the example of the Deseret News, which is touted as one of the examples of media organizations who are Getting It Right. The job they found for themselves was simple: provide a destination for people all over the world from Deseret. They had to cut 50 or so people from the staff first, but then they pivoted into another business:

they were just driven on the jobs-to-be-done concept, and realized that, nationally, on the web, there were a lot of people whose job was, “I want to keep in touch with my hometown.”

They started other businesses on the web that are all focused on jobs to be done — and so now the number of people employed by the enterprise is about 400, because when you look at the world from a jobs-to-be-done perspective, you see things that you otherwise just don’t see.

6. Your industry is NOT in decline

This one’s not bad to remember either: the media and news business is actually THRIVING. When everybody carries a smartphone, everybody will be reading ALL THE TIME.

The demand for information has never been greater. The business model might change, the job might change, you might have to learn some new stuff and change too. But there will always be opportunities.

Know media? Have an opinion?

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via Clay Christensen on the news industry: “We didn’t quite understand…how quickly things fall off the cliff” » Nieman Journalism Lab.

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About the author

Raf Weverbergh

Editor of whiteboard. Raf Weverbergh was a magazine journalist whose work appeared in magazines like Rolling Stone, Playboy, Mail on Sunday, Publico and South China Morning Post. He is the co-founder of FINN, a corporate communications agency where he advises startups and multinationals on their PR and Mustr, the easiest media database for PR professionals. You can contact him on Twitter, Linkedin or Skype (rafweverbergh).

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