There is no lostness like that which comes to a man when a perfect and certain pattern has dissolved about him. – John Steinbeck
MORE DIMES, Part 5 of 5
IV. Economic Models
In an infamous confrontation, Sam Zell, then the [then] new owner of the Chicago Tribune, summed up his financial position succinctly: “I want to make enough money so I can afford you.” A Chicago Tribune employee responded “But what readers want is puppy dogs….” The attitudes of both were summarized by the title of the infamous YouTube video: “Sam Zell owner says’ F*ck You.”
They both missed the point, which is, they’re both correct. That particular reporter [probably] should not be reporting on puppy dogs. But someone should. They have a sports section, a sub-division of the entertainment industry. Why not a puppy dog and kitty section? Go ahead, and have a large button on the Tribune website, in prime real estate, called “Puppy Dogs, Kitty Cats and Other Stupid Animal Events!” Sub Head: “Win a week at the Drake for the Most Watched Submission!” Call the online contest “Get Zelled!” Copy: “Tribune Publisher Sam Zell LOVES puppy dogs and kitty cats! Especially YOURS! Send us you funniest, most outrageous videos, we’ll post them here, and enter you …”.
Voila. Sam Zell has a new audience, more viewers, more dimes. The reporter doesn’t have to do puppy stories; and who knows? She might find doing a report on the new income streams from the embarrassing Cat Video section a business story worthy of her time.
It is, of course, an over-simplification to say that legacy media need only earn “10 times more dimes” to stop losing dollars. But it is a sad and unfortunate vanity for the owners of journalistic enterprises to believe that the way it was is the way that it will be. No matter how cherished and lauded, no matter that they are enshrined in the Constitution, the old financial model is gone. Learn the new ones.
The principles of management apply to every business, every business owner. Legacy media need to diversify, and not only slightly. Fortunately they are already professional content producers; they are already information distributors. They are natural allies to Ebay, Craig’s List, Trip Advisor, Restaurant Guides, Snopes, etc. And if not allies, these online successes are all potential models. These online companies are not gutting staff or seeking grants. They are all making money, 10¢ at a time. Do what they do. Adopt, innovate and survive.