Can you really transition from print to online?

Fish and chips don’t taste the same out of a laptop

Originally uploaded by Rory Brown

Over the past few months I have done a few pieces of consultancy work for a range of media companies. Most of it has been around managing the transition from an analogue to a digital world.

We talk about the different ‘publishing’ disciplines involved online and of incorporating new tools into their websites with community elements, social media, blogs and video.

We talk about search engine optimisation to open up the content to a raft of new visitors; about different advertising opportunities and the various models for paid content.

We talk about moving our content up the value chain so that it can really become ‘must have’ rather than ‘nice to have’.

It’s all good and exciting stuff. The things that a modern media company must be doing and yet we are still left with a problem.

The problem is that there are hardly any examples of print products that have transitioned online and been a commercial success. Print pounds get turned into digital pennies and publishers are forced to prop up their declining brands rather than turning them off.

In fact the only people who seem to be able to make an online world work are the ones who start from scratch – look at the examples of TechCrunch, Mashable or eConsultancy.

So maybe we need to start looking at things in a different way. Maybe instead of looking at the transition of a product that was successful in a different medium we should be actively looking to bring those products down. We should be launching the very start-ups that threaten our eco-system around the edges of our brands.

If we don’t do it, then someone else undoubtedly will.

As Claire Enders of Enders Analysis said recently “The expectations that the online model is going to replace the print model are totally erroneous. We know now that these are not substitutes. It’s basically an extra feature one way or another.”

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Can you really transition from print to online?

  1. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for Can you really transition from print to online? « Rory Brown [rorybrown.wordpress.com] on Topsy.com

  2. Rory, I saw the tweet, and then found the blog… This argument, for me, has raged since 1992. Then I was 22 and launched my first portal that I hard coded in HTML, with the same arguments then as now – how will online make money?

    Whilst I and many others have been a driving force behind the online model, I have gone from being an adolescent geek to someone who might know what he is talking about, as have my peers…

    I guess I’m most excited now, because in B2B, we are really making significant growth in online revenues. Particularly in the migration from what were traditionally print products 5 years ago. I do however, think, there are a hardcore of people who don’t think they have made money online until the print product has been eradicated. These are the people that will never make money online until they understand that difference.

  3. Rory Brown

    Ben,

    Thanks for dropping by. I think the point you make is an excellent one.

    When I talk to people about the transition from print to online the conversation is generally about an ‘either, or’ choice.

    The point Claire Enders was making, and one that I think you echo, was that this is not the way to look at things. Actually we are building new products around the side of brands that take advantage of developments in online publishing technology.

    I’d love to hear more about how Euromoney is making this work & hope you’re enjoying your time in the States.

    Rory.

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  5. John Waller

    Hey Ror,

    Maybe this debate is just a small part of a much bigger, constant corporate shift. For example, when the Americans set up ‘skunk works’ in the 70s to try to drive new technologies past waning business models and stubborn management, they laid a path to what publishers, anxious about protecting print but excited about online, should be doing now. Schumpeter had the vision in the 40s; online vs print debates are probably just one small part of a bigger converstation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creative_destruction

    I think the point is that there is no proper answer, if it works for your customers and the model is profitable, cool; if not try again. But you’ve got to give it go, right, otherwise someone will eat your lunch AND dinner.

  6. Rory Brown

    Hi John,

    I’ve read some of the creative destruction articles – including one that I remember from McKinsey consultants praising the Enron model…

    Obviously we are operating in a period of experimentation about new media models. A lot of media owners are constrained in those experiments by the need to protect legacy businesses.

    This was why I was suggesting encouraging active competition rather than evolution.

    Thanks for your comments.

    Rory.

    • John Waller

      Great case study, Enron. Easy to knock them – but they did pave the way for some of the most successful and evolutionary changes in financial markets. Electronic trading for example; credit and commodity markets too. (Granted, perhaps they should have been a tad more respectful of accountancy laws.) Those guys had an incentive – participating in profit. Getting legacy publishers to go online requires giving the best people the same carrot.

      JW

  7. Rory,

    You are absolutely right and still no one has really taken the b2b assets they have and created robust e-businesses alongside the legacy bits. I think you are absolutely correct we must view it this way too—i.e. alongside and not an extension of the legacy brands.

    I think Forbes.com comes close. But funny sounding names like mediabistro, Rigzone, and Energy Central have made companies like Crains, Access Intelligence, Pennwell, etc. look like they are asleep. As CEO of one of these, I feel like we keep missing it, but we are trying by driving toward and supporting branded e-media businesses that serve the same markets we participate in with magazines, newsletters, and shows.

    Making excuses and bragging about incremental add-ons based on legacy brands will get us no where. We must be very critical of ourselves, examine the pure plays that are kicking our arses, and empower those within our staffs that can happily cannibalize the products we have that are already in decline.

    Thanks for listening. Let’s not throw in the towel yet, though.

  8. Rory Brown

    Hi Don,

    One of the unexpected benefits of blogging is that you get to form your ideas and experience alongside others in the field.

    The comments I receive here highlight some companies who have made a successful transition – although it is probably that word ‘transition’ that is at the root of the problem for me.

    The digital information world, with its totally different means of discovery, consumption and interaction, often requires a different starting point to have any chance of success.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I appreciate your input.

    Rory

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