For all the talk about the importance of digital media, most traditional brands boast cultures, people, and processes that protect their dying assets (ie. print) at the expense of what is growing (ie. digital). There are a lot of reasons for this, and some of them are good ones. Print still brings in the vast majority of revenue. It somehow feeds in a more satisfying way the ego of editors and writers. And because the most resources are always devoted to the print product, the digital side remains a stepchild to the so-called main act--even when that act is unprofitable and dying.
As John Gardner once observed, most of the things that prevent the renewal of an organization can be found in the mind. It's not a matter of new ideas. "There is usually no shortage of new ideas," wrote Gardner in Self-Renewal. "The problem is to get a hearing for them. And that means breaking through the crusty rigidity and stubborn complacency of the status quo." Yet the rules, customs, and procedures in organizations always favor the past. That's why culture trumps strategy all the time. The cultural cues are that print (the past) is more important than digital (the future).
No traditional media player has a web-first culture, yet that is exactly what is needed to make an online operation really successful. It's another reason why newcomers have all the advantages in this game, and incumbents will never really get it. Sure, there are a lot of other mistakes media companies make online. But they aren't as fatal as the culture problem which leads to the protection of a high cost structure to support a dying medium and the refusal to embrace radical transformation.
My Tweeps offered up plenty of valid criticisms of traditional media's approach to digital. I tend to think that Mike Duda, Michael Bigley and Chris Hardwick (see directly below) get closest to the truth. But that culture problem is a deal breaker. Others weigh in :
- That online began as a stepchild and core people still are hanging on to the economics of "old" media and not embracing the reality or the opportunity of the web. @MikeDuda.
- Media companies want their old business model to work online. It won't. They are failing. Pretty simple. From @michaelbigley.
- Giving away product for free is biggest mistake. How can that ever be an effective business model? From @cjhardwick.
- They focus too much on hits to the detriment of usability, e.g. having to click 20x to see the "Top 20" whatever. Usually abort after 3. From @ddudgeon.
- Failure to engage the audience as peers in real conversations the way people really talk to each other. (Failure to be real.) From @jterrito.
- Shoveling stories from the paper to the screen and not considering the capability of the Web to tell a more complete story. From @annatauzin.
- An us/them approach vs a community approach. From @littlebrownpen.
- Not listening to what's being said in social media channels. Simply carrying broadcast mentality to a new channel. From @xybrewer.
- Portals like My Yahoo offer customization. All others dump everything on us then expect us to sort it out - daily. No time for it. From @winequester.
- Putting their content behind paywalls and not exposing it to search engines--and failure to take risks. From @jaybryant.
- Poor reader targeting; trying to be everything to everyone; de-valuing their content by making all of it available for free. From @jeffschmitt.
- They want to make rules, but they're immigrants to an existing community with existing standards. When in Rome..., etc. From @trymaster.
- Tweeting every headline they run. If I wanted RSS, I'd use RSS! From @lorakolodny.
- The wholesale sacrifice of narrative in the name of being the first to break news. From @jpolicastro.
- Using Facebook & Twitter but not using social media tools to reach their audiences in new, more effective ways. From @CPry.
- The single biggest mistake: not engaging audience enough. From @alexlcohen.
- Not engaging their readers. Pursuing a monologue rather than a conversation. Which is the exact opposite of what you created at BW.com! From @GeriRosman.