Sunday, March 4, 2012

Battleships or Motorboats: Which Publishing Model Will Thrive?

In the new world of multichannel publishing, is it better to be a big company with well-known brands or a small and nimble outfit?

Industry pundit BoSacks, who has worked for magazines at both kinds of outfits, has definitely made up his mind: “There are people making it on the web, but it’s not the big giants,” he told Dr. Joe Webb of WhatTheyThink? recently. And he doesn’t think the big publishers' recent scramble to change CEOs is paying off.

“They’re just shifting one corporate head for another, and they need to reach deep and get an entrepreneur there who understands this new environment that we’re in.” (Question for Bo: Does anyone really understand this new environment that we’re in? Or how it will look two years from now?)

A major publishing company “is a big battleship, and it’s awfully hard to turn,” BoSacks (AKA Bob Sacks) said. “When you spend 35 years learning how to make money with ink on paper and then you try to make that adjustment [to the web], that adjustment is not what you know best.”

But navigating stormy seas in a motorboat has its own challenges, entrepreneurial publishers tell me. Nimbleness alone doesn’t cut it when the waves are as tall as your boat is long. (Plenty of small publishers have shown that they too can run crappy, ill-conceived web sites.)

How do you thrive on the Web with a one-person IT department that occasionally needs vacations and could be hired away at any moment? How do you “mobile optimize” your Web site when your tiny staff is already swamped? How do you make your publications available on the increasing variety of e-reading devices, in ways that are acceptable to your advertisers, when you don’t have the deep pockets to afford big mistakes?

One entrepreneur tells me the answer is to do what magazine publishers have always done – outsource. We don’t do our own printing or deliver our own magazines, so why do we have to build our own apps?

“It’s not about knowing how to do everything that needs to be done,” this small publisher says. “It’s about knowing what you do best and figuring out who you can get to do the rest.”

Perhaps the real competitive advantage that the “motor boats” have is absence of the kind of hubris that makes the “battleships” think they can do everything themselves.

The BoSacks interview, by the way, has additional Bo insights, including why “print is not dead” and how “Flipboard and Twitter can be a horrible experience” – the latter an interesting comment from someone who has created a pretty good online “daily newspaper” from the Twitter feeds he follows.

Editor's Update: BoSacks chastized me in his newsletter for misrepresenting his view of Twitter. These quotations from the interview provide a fuller picture of what he said: "Twitter can be about painting your wall green or using onions with your tomatoes at dinner, or it can be about extremely relevant things about the industry. . . .  I have cut my list down to 100 of what I think are the best agents in the business. . . . I use Twitter as a filter for information without branding."
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Re:becca said...

The link to Bo's newsletter isn't working. Can you repost? Thanks.

D. Eadward Tree said...

Thanks, Re:becca. Link is now fixed.