The Atlantic Learns To Out-Innovate Itself

from the key-lessons dept

Last year, in doing my two minute video presentation on the innovator’s dilemma, my final point in the video was that “out-innovating yourself, always beats being out-innovated by someone else.” This isn’t an original idea, certainly, but what always amazes me is how few companies actually understand it. They get so hung up on keeping their existing product in place, that they fail to recognize that the market is changing around them. They’re so afraid of cannibalizing their own business that they don’t realize that others are cannibalizing it for them. It’s a key theme throughout many of the posts here, as businesses seek to prevent others from cannibalizing their own business, without realizing they need to do it to themselves or go out of business. Even in cases where companies claim they recognize this, actually implementing a self-cannibalization strategy is quite difficult. It often gets killed by internal politics from legacy players (the Time Warner/AOL merger was a huge case study in this phenomenon).

That’s why it’s always great to find the rare examples of an organization that seem to not just recognize this need to out-innovate yourself, but to also successfully implement a strategy for doing so. FolioMag has a short story about how the magazine, The Atlantic totally reinvented itself and did so successfully. Atlantic Media’s President even made the point directly:

“If our mission was to kill the magazine, what would we do?” said Smith, who added that a digital competitor was going to do that anyway, so they did it themselves.

Read that again. There are so few companies that realize this needs to be a key element of their strategy. Someone else is out there trying to kill them. So do it yourself and reap the rewards. In the case of The Atlantic, it appears that the strategy they took was twofold: first, they realized they needed to be a “digital first” operation. That is, they recognized that digital wasn’t just an adjunct to the print product, but a core element of the brand and the publication. So, they didn’t look for ways to enhance the print product with some digital trickery — but instead, looked for ways to make the digital product be fantastic on its own. And, now, nearly 40% of the brand’s revenue comes from its online properties, at a time when many other publications that come from the print world are still struggling to get online revenues out of the single digits.

On top of that, it looks like Atlantic Media really did search for additional scarce reasons to buy that applied to the media field. The Atlantic realized that events (scarcity: access) were a big idea that many consumer publications ignored:

Smith has also built up the company’s live event platform, and noted this is an area where consumer publishers often fall flat. “Consumer publishers don’t view events as a profit center,” he said. Accordingly, live event revenues have doubled over the last two years.

It’s always great to see a company making smart strategic decisions, even if it conflicts with a legacy line of business.

This will also likely be one of the topics we touch on tomorrow night at the Techdirt Saves* Journalism event. If you haven’t signed up yet, you’re missing out. The signed-up attendees represent a fantastic and diverse mix of thinkers and doers from a variety of different fields (well beyond just journalism — though, there are plenty of traditional “journalism” folks coming too). As I’ve been preparing for the event, talking to the other speakers and some of the attendees, it’s getting more and more exciting. Getting lots of smart people together to brainstorm is always so much fun.

Hopefully, you can make it.

Filed Under: , , ,
Companies: atlantic media

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “The Atlantic Learns To Out-Innovate Itself”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:

Up or out

“There are so few companies that realize this needs to be a key element of their strategy. Someone else is out there trying to kill them. So do it yourself and reap the rewards”

Steve Jobs said something similar when it was pointed out that the iPhone et al. were going to encroach into the iPod market. He said (paraphrasing) “If anyone is going to eat Apple’s lunch, I want it to be Apple.”

Too bad that the more common response is to litigate.

mdominguez2nd (profile) says:

Re: Up or out

I’m presently reading “Unleashing the Killer App” by Larry Downes. In one section he writes the following:

“The Twelve Principles of Killer App Design

Reshaping the Landscape
1. Outsource to the customer.
2. Cannibalize your markets.
3. Treat each customer as a market segment of one.
4. Create communities of value.

Building New Connections
5. Replace rude interfaces with learning interfaces.
6. Ensure continuity for the customer, not yourself.
7. Give away as much information as you can.
8. Structure every transavtion as a joint venture.

Redefining the Interior
9. Treat your assets as liabilities.
10. Destroy your value chain.
11. MAnage innovation as a portfolio of options.
12. Hire the children.”
(Table 2.A p77)

Funny how this book was written in 1998 and 12yrs later people are starting to wake up…

Dark Helmet (profile) says:


Goeth before the fall, as they say. I think it takes so much ego to get yourself into the upper echelons of some of these ginormous companies that it’s hard to admit that what you once did is not the end all be all and should be innovated upon….

Sort of like these rating buttons on comments. No “funny”, “comical”, or “helmety” button? WTF, Mike? Have I had ZERO influence on you these past two years???!!!

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...