I recently had the opportunity to attend the recent Vail Roundtable and listen to some of the greatest minds in the news media industry discuss various innovative business models.
It is my opinion that we will never see the digital dimes add up to support anything close to what we have as a current journalism model. Drastic and wholesale changes will need to be made on both the journalism and business side to sustain our information stream as it must be maintained.
As with most conferences, the roundtable was digitally dominated. While digital is a huge player — as it should be — I still haven’t seen the silver bullet that will come close to sustaining journalism.
Another opinion, and I have plenty of them: The advertising side of the digital world will never sustain us, as there are far too many players in that arena and there will be plenty more to come.
The one side of digital that gets me excited is the e-commerce side of the equation, and I haven’t seen much in that arena as of yet. (But I am working on it feverishly.)
That said, I did see two powerful presentations, featuring newspapers quite capable of sustaining the journalism model as we know it or as it transforms itself.
In a nutshell, events and equity stakes are powerful ideas transforming the business model in their locations.
Jason discussed how Chattanooga has grown its events division from zero dollars just three or four years ago to more than US$6 million today. Events from bridal fairs, best of the best, best of the preps, senior expos, kids fairs, man fairs, and much more dominate the landscape in Chattanooga.
Who is better positioned to market, promote, and pull off a big event than the local media company?
All of the above events are typically organised by traveling national companies that come into hundreds of markets each year and extract local dollars. What better community service than to keep those dollars local to further aid the local markets?
Ravindra discussed how The Times of India leverages its marketing and advertising expertise and vast array of products into equity stakes for nearly one hundred business ventures in India. All told, The Times of India has more than US$1 billion of equity in these businesses, which cost them little or no cash outlay.
The Times simply parlayed its core strength into equity by solving a huge problem for these businesses. The newspaper agreed to advertise, market, and promote these companies at no cost other than equity stakes ranging from 10% to 51%.
A win-win for all because it the newspaper doesn’t help the company grow, it’s equity stake is small or even worthless. If it grows, it’s equity stake can be quite substantial.
Yes, there are plenty more details that would need to be provided on both of the above programmes to assure success, and both would need to be entered into cautiously and possibly differently in each market. But the time for over-cautiousness in this industry is over; the time for a vastly different and innovative strategy is here.
Waiting any longer is not an option. Those who continue to do business as usual are simply “dead-men walking.”
I left the Vail Roundtable more optimistic about the future of our industry than I have felt in sometime. I don’t have false illusions; many companies and newspapers will be unable to make the needed changes and will continue toward their slow death and subsequent burial. Others will do just enough to hang on by the skin of their teeth and their death, while still assured, will drag out a few years longer.
Others will see a bright future and be willing to take some calculated risks and find those risks aren’t as risky as they first thought. They will not only survive, but they will thrive.
Which group are you? Are you willing to take the risks needed to survive? Or are you simply copying the herd, going through the consolidation, cost-cutting, and hanging on?
It doesn’t take a great leader to manage the demise of an industry; any semi-comatose manager can do that. Great leaders look at the current situation as a challenge to their ability to lead and come up with ways to rise to the challenge.
Just as Michael Jordan wanted the ball in crunch time or when the game was on the line, great leaders will rise to the pressure and find ways to win. Our industry is in a time in its history where we need great leaders to demand the ball to lead the team to victory. Who will those leaders be?