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Golf Digest has quite an interesting cover for its January, 2010 edition

December 18, 2009


Right big smack center is a picture of a crouching President Obama geting golf tips from Tiger Woods and it shows how print media, with its long lead times,  can take it on the chin every now and then.  Obviously this was planned months ago, and was printed and sent to their subscribers weeks ago, but still, what timing.  Many people today are debating whether print media is dead, if only electronic media will survive.  My take is less presentation media supremacy, instead focusing on the real values of independence, fact checking and analysis.  Not to mention digging for new facts and exposing cover-ups.

Be it via e-reader or on paper, the real value of journalism is content and that costs a lot more money than assembling a bag of links and sending it out along with some pop up ads.  Is there room for both e-media and accurate, well written content?  The WSJ has a thriving business model; the Times tried a charge for service and failed.  If you ever visit a newspaper building, you’ll see rows of writers and then an entire factory of paper movers and house sized presses, leading to loading docks and trucks.  I recently toured the Bloomberg building in NYC and saw what a 21st Century news organization looks like.  Instead of printing presses, there were rows of programmers and system administrators, along with radio and TV studios.  If in newspaper plants you can sense the ink, here you could sense the bytes.  The number of printing related jobs must be immense and costly, distorting any business model.

Fortunately, there’s a business model emerging here. Many physical businesses use outside parties to provide them with private labeled ebusiness front ends, in many cases ranging from ordering to fulfillment. GSI Commerce and others come to mind, serving such companies as Toys R US, Ralph Lauren, Major League Baseball, and so forth and you can’t’ tell it’s not the actual company.  Another firm, INTTRA, is owned by multiple ocean container carriers (i.e.: Maersk) providing a full online booking, documentation and tracking service.  At some point, the remaining newspaper organizations may have to create an INTTRA like service, in a GSI like wrapper.  Thus, content is delivered via an industry cooperative/association infrastructure, while the GSI component is the custom look, feel and branding of each newspaper/magazine, i.e. no loss of identity.

All well and good, but here’s another approach.  Who has a nationwide set of pipes big enough to handle this bandwidth load without having to re-run cables across the country?  Power companies are using their hi-voltage lines to send internet traffic and are rapidly building out their own last-mile for the smart grid to be used to both conserve energy and to handle the expected loads of a nation of electric vehicles all needing recharging nightly.  Utilities already have massive billing and customer service (and sometimes customer dis-service) organizations and under deregulation, are hungry for new revenues. It can also help transform utilities from slow moving behemoths with ‘go along to get along’ cultures to faster paced agents of innovation. Everyone wins.

Rather than build its own servers and distribution infrastructure, print media should team with these utilities, charging a flat fee for content under their own logo,  included in a regular monthly bill so content becomes another utility – expected to always be available on demand, quality assured.

Rich Eichen is a Managing Principal of Return on Efficiency, LLC, who’s website is http://www.growroe.com and is one of their senior turnaround leaders/CROs, Program and Interim Executives with over 25 years experience reshaping companies, Operations and key initiatives. He can be reached at richard.eichen@growroe.com

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