New Technologies Can’t Save Old Business Models

“Is the iPad Really the Savior of the Newspaper Industry?” by “Amy-Mae Elliott (Mashable.com, 19 October 2010).  The short answer is, no. The iPad will be of benefit to a handful but it is not the savior of the (print) newspaper industry. The main reason is, the old publishing model was based on geography, barriers to entry, distribution, etc., and not so much on content (as is the prevailing myth).

Consumers were forced to buy from their local (news) provider because there were no other options. The reality was, aside from local news and sports, and significant percentage of the content was identical / similar to the next market over, etc. The newspaper model was based on taking what was essentially a commodity, repackaging it and charging for its ease of availability. Once the access limitation was eliminated so was the value add. The fact the barriers to entry (to become a publisher) also dropped significantly only made matters more difficult. For example, look at what Craig’s List did to the newspapers’ local monopoly on classified ads.

The problem right now is that the supply of news greatly exceeds demand. This could explain why we’re increasingly subjected to so much non-news. As many publishers are scrambling for original – but what is ultimately crap – content, they’ll “print” anything. What’s sad is that each individual newspaper still believes they are in the content business. They are in collective denial and refuse to admit they were in the distribution business. Regardless of their stack of journalism degrees, etc.

In short, there’s no needed for the same story to be “reprinted” hundreds of times in an all access, all the time world. It seems unlikely the iPad is going to change that. Some will survive. Many will not. And a handful will morph into something else.

All that said, the magazine model might be a different story. With a higher percentage of original content that often address a niche interest and/or target market. There certainly seems to be a possibility the iPad can help that model.

Conquering Business Superstition

Quite often business life is not much different than personal life—although it should be.  When off the clock,  cause & effect applied incorrectly is called superstition, myth, etc. Yet the same misdirected correlations between 9.00a and 5.00p is called a project, or worse still insight. Same use of illusion but a different belief in its legitimacy.

Let’s discuss an example. Over the last couple weeks I’ve been in two and a half conversations centered around e-commerce. Each conversation naturally touched upon shopping cart abandonment. Before I continue I want to state that I agree that shopping cart abandonment is an area online retail outfits should study and certainly be aware of. That said, some seem to pursue it like the holy grail. Unfortunately, in many cases obsessing on the myth means something else is probably not being addressed.

  • Specifically, the checkout process is not rocket science. If the overall process is that complex then keep rehashing it until it’s concise. Good enough isn’t good enough. Yet somehow we all continue to wade through crummy checkouts.
  • The truth is, regardless of venue/medium, people don’t buy everything they pick up. I believe they call it window shopping.  Online it’s probably even worse. There’s no getting dressed and driving across town. It’s just a matter of clicks.
  • The truth is, people will have to leave a site sooner later. Sure, if there’s a problem on a particular page it should be fixed. But staying indefinitely is not going to happen.
  • Focusing on abandonment is only half the picture. What about all those who didn’t add anything at all? Granted, I’m more casual about my commitment to e-comm but in all my reading and meeting no one seems to discuss such a measurement.
  • What if marketing is driving in leads with the wrong expectations? For example, “free shipping” is not free if there’s a handling charge. While the difference might be correct on a technical level, to most guests it probably qualifies as sticker shock or bait & switch. Yet there are sites that advertise “free” shipping. It’s certainly possible the targeting and/or message is wrong.
  • What if the site just kinda sucks? (Yes, I purposely used kinda.) That is, once the visitor stays a while reality sets in. They don’t like the look. The don’t like the feel. The might not even like the product. Doubt (aka the sales killer) arises and the sale is lost. Let’s face it, abandonment is a function of commitment and some sites just aren’t worth committing to.

The truth (as opposed to the superstition) is that in the 2.5 cases mentioned The Guest Experience of each site is “loose”. The sites do not qualify as awful but they are not tight in a 2010 sense either. If a guest was determined or already comfortable with the brand/site then each are sufficient. One the other hand, it terms of an experience that might inspire someone to part with their money, all three fall under the average column.

Guests want an experience. They want a story. For many, buying online is still a special event. By that I mean when someone asks, “Where did you get that?”, they want to respond proudly and with something meaningful.  Simply throwing some goods online might have worked 5 or 10 years ago. It’s not where expectations are today.

Believe what you want to believe. That is your right.  However, if that belief does not bring about the necessary change (read: results) then it’s probably time to admit you’ve been on the short end of a superstition and/or a myth. Not to worry, the solution is to stop and look at the details of the challenge objectively. Don’t get sucked into the accepted and standard convention just because it’s convenient to do so. There are plenty of people and websites willing to sell superstition and myth (because it was what was sold to them).