Don't Weep For The Past; Plan For The Future
from the disruption-in-action dept
And, of course, it didn't work. Because it couldn't.
Shirky angrily bashes them for jumping on the hype bandwagon in a way that gave false hope to others wishing to bring back a glorious past (that wasn't as glorious as people remember) and which is long gone:
Of course, the print-first folks have an obvious comeback: plenty of digital businesses are flopping (often badly) too. Just a couple of months ago, one of the people that Shirky calls out in his post, Ken Doctor, was writing about the demise of an ambitious digital effort from the aptly named Digital First Media, which is trying to reinvent the newspaper business for a bunch of legacy newspapers while building a brand new digital airplane mid-flight. That effort has run into lots of trouble as well, as have plenty of purely digital news businesses.
There’s no nice way to say this, so I might just as well get to it: Kushner’s plan was always dumb and we should celebrate its demise, not because it failed (never much in doubt) but because it distracted people with the fantasy of an easy out for dealing with the gradual end of profits from print.
The most important fight in journalism today isn’t between short vs. long-form publications, or fast vs. thorough newsrooms, or even incumbents vs. start-ups. The most important fight is between realists and nostalgists. Kushner was running a revival meeting for nostalgists: “The internet’s not such a big deal! Digital readers will pay rather than leave! Investing in print is just plain good business!”
That was some old-time religion right there. It was fun while it lasted, for people who miss the good old days. For people who do not miss the good old days, it was not fun.
It turns out that running a successful media business is not an easy thing.
And, of course, the nature of innovation often involves a lot of experiments, many of which will fail before people find the things that do work. So while I hesitate to jump on the singular failure of Kushner's OC Register efforts as signalling much more than a single failure (in the same way that Digital First Media's troubles may only really be indicative of the unique issues that company faces), Shirky's overall point is still an important one. While experimenting with new business models and new ideas are important in this ongoing effort to figure out what might work (and discovering first hand what doesn't work), if you're going to experiment, you have to experiment with an eye towards the future, rather than nostalgia for the past.
In short: not all experiments are equal. Experiments that look to embrace new opportunities and to leverage what's powerful about new media are attempts to understand and plan for the future. Experiments that look to just recreate a past world that does not exist any more are destined for failure, while (as Shirky notes) bringing false hope to those who wish to bring back those times.
Another way of thinking about it: if your experiments are about leveraging what's changed in the world to your own advantage, it's a worthwhile experiment. If it's about trying to deny what's changed in the world and hoping you can swim upstream against the larger direction of the world, you're just asking for trouble. Innovation is often about surfing waves. Many people wipeout along the way, but you have no chance at all if you're trying to surf at the wave rather than with it.