Friday, June 06, 2008

The model no longer works

The media world is abuzz today with word that Sam Zell is planning a massive revamp of Tribune Co. -- cutting staff (which the company thinks it can do without hurting content after it began measuring the productivity of journalists and learning, presumably, who could be dropped), reducing the size of the news hole and printing fewer copies.
Other coverage of the announcement is here and here.
But you can skip almost everything that's been written about the announcement and go straight to the coverage by the New York Observer. Because that's the only paper I've seen that didn't bury the lede, and instead opened its story with this quote from Zell: ""What has become clear as we have gotten intimately familiar with the business is that the model for newspapers no longer works."

I agree with Zell. And I've often expressed gratitude in the past few years that I no longer make my living in newspapers. Because I don't know of another part of the media that has done a worse job of adjusting to the new era of Web journalism.

But this blog isn't about the newspaper industry. This blog is about B2B journalism.
And although it's true that B2B has done a better job on the Web than the newspaper business has, I think it's also true that "the model for B2B publishing no longer works."

With some exceptions, the B2B world is saddled with the same problems that are plaguing the newspaper business: the wrong staff with the wrong attitude producing the wrong product in the wrong way for the wrong audience.
I see the same issues nearly everywhere I go in B2B:
-- journalists with a skill set from the 1970s and an emotional resistance to change;
-- workflow rules that focus on producing weekly or monthly products rather than real-time news;
-- advertising sales people who are paralyzed by the idea of learning Web metrics;
-- circulation departments that are still worried that Google is delivering them the "wrong" readers while somehow "stealing" content;
-- entire publications that seem dedicated to producing content only for some target market of 72-year olds that have "always read us" while refusing to lead their readers into a new era;
-- and, most importantly, enormous and growing costs related to print.

B2B journalism itself is not broken. The core of what we do -- produce and distribute industry-focused news and information -- remains valuable.
And as bad as things may be, there are, as I've said before, answers to what ails us.
But the first step has to be for more of us to do what Zell has done and speak aloud the difficult truth: the model for B2B publishing no longer works.

tags: , , , , , , , web-first publishing, advertising


  1. Nice post. Totally agree. But many B2B pubs are seriously bloated. Getting to the right edit/ad staff size in each vertical will be the challenge to avoid the fate of once-great, soon-to-be-ruined newspaper franchises owned by zillionaires.

  2. Paul, I know this is seriously late, but I just want to say that I wouldn't take ANY advice about the newspaper business from a man who spent $8 billion for a company and is having to sell money-making properties just to make interest payments.

    Seriously. The newspaper business model may be somewhat broken (although how much of that is due to unrealistic quarterly profit expectations?), but Zell is not the best mouthpiece for that news.

    And how many of his measures are meant to refocus the publications, and how many are meant to save his butt from defaulting on all his loans?

  3. Hi Bryan,
    Just to be clear ... I agree with Zell that the business model is broken. I don't necessarily agree with the actions he has taken and will take to fix it. Or, to put it another way, I'm hoping that someone like Zell who can see the problems in newspapers so clearly will also be able to see some solutions.