James L. McQuivey, vice president and principal analyst for Forrester Research, warned media leaders Monday at the INMA 2012 World Congress that the Internet’s effect on newspapers in an age of digital disruption could be grim.

“Half of the companies that are digitally disrupted don’t make it,” he said. 

After McQuivey’s audience scare — eyes grew wide when he suggested half of all publications won’t make it through the digital transition — McQuivey said he wanted to turn the 300 delegates into the disruptors themselves.

Digital disruptors build better media experiences, stronger customer relationships and worker faster overall Modern digital disruptors include products such as iPads and XBOX 360s, McQuivey said.

“They create a rapidly disruptive experience for the customer,” he said. 

It took Apple two years to sell one million iPods, while there were 67 million iPads sold in the same amount of time, McQuivey said.

“The world has changed significantly, on the supply and consumer side,” he said. “You’ve got to get into their heads and figure out how many new ideas they’re ready for.” 

To explore how digital disruption is different from regular disruption, McQuivey invited the audience to go back in time — specifically, to 1999, when he was having the conversation about the future of consumer trends. McQuivey discussed his research that explored how teenagers interact with technology, as opposed to non-teenagers. 

“When consumers adopt technology, they do old things in new ways,” he said. “When people internalise technology, they find new things to do.”  

McQuivey then moved forward into the future, in particular, talking about how Mark Zuckerberg caused digital disruption with Facebook. Zuckerberg didn’t know what was going to happen with Facebook down the road, McQuivey said. He just saw what people liked, and he delivered. 

McQuivey said news organisations also compete for audiences with media companies who don’t think they’re actually media companies — for example, Pinterest.

“You turn to your peers and ask, ‘How are you surviving?’” he said. “But you need to be asking ‘What in the world is Pinterest doing?’”

McQuivey emphasised that people don’t plan too far into the future, because by the time they reach that point in the future, the idea will change before the person can arrive. To be successful, the consumer must be kept in mind at all times, he said.

“What do they want next?” he asked. “Start where the consumer is right now.” 

McQuivey discussed two phone apps that both dealt with weight loss to demonstrate his point. Both apps catered to what their audience wanted, which is how a digital disruptor operates. 

For the process to work, McQuivey said people should be fearless.  

“I don’t want to pretend that every cool idea you come up with is going to work,” he said. “You will fail, and that’s OK. Because if you fall fast and cheap, it doesn’t hurt. Focus narrow so your risk is narrow.” 

Disruptors will need energy to be successful along with specific skills and policies, McQuivey said: “I believe that you can all be digital disruptors.”