The Original Sin Of Newspapers: Not Innovating

from the yes,-indeed dept

There's this concept out there in the newspaper world, pushed by Alan Mutter more than any other, that the "original sin" of the newspaper industry was failing to charge when they put their content online. This is simply wrong. Many did try to charge, and they failed, because no one paid. However, Steve Buttry has a post making a much better point. The real "original sin" by newspapers wasn't failing to charge, but failing to innovate. Basically, the entire competitive landscape and the entire marketplace they were used to changed. Entirely. And nearly all of them seemed to think that they could get by doing the same basic thing they had always done.

These days, they're blaming everyone else for their problems: bloggers, readers, Craigslist, Google, some unknown "aggregators." But the simple fact is that these newspapers were incredibly fearful of innovating themselves, and basically let all those other sites online do the innovation for them. And now they're upset that the traffic goes to the innovators? At every turn in the game they were free to innovate themselves. They didn't. To then step up late in the game and look for legal and regulatory support to hold back those who did innovate seems inherently ridiculous.

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  1. icon
    BobinBaltimore (profile), 18 Aug 2009 @ 5:05am

    Re: You're forgetting history

    Adam, really good point. There is so much more to this "lack of innovation" than just a confused web strategy. Newspapers are saddled with history, decades or even a century or more of union domination, complex labor and distribution agreements and such. Some of that is self-inflicted, some of that was mandated from without. Newspaper companies had diversified to a degree, but that was largely destroyed with all sorts of government administrative rulings over how many papers, or paper + TV, or paper+ radio combinations could be owned within one town or nationally. There are a few that have navigated all that and kept a somewhat diverse footprint, but most bailed and stick pretty close to print.

    It's also important to note that newspaper printing is a capital-intensive operation. Printing plants and distribution networks take a lot of money to build and maintain. This creates cost overhead and operational inflexibility which is difficult to overcome.

    I'm not suggesting that we weep for newspapers, but you are right to point out that there are factors - internal, contractual and governmental - which have stifled innovation for 30 years.

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