Thursday, November 3, 2011

'Digital First' quickly becoming a worthless slogan

Sometimes I dream that some of these newspaper executives who spout off about going "digital first" are sitting before me, dressed as if they are ready to go to Studio 54, wide lapels, lots of polyester. They turn sad when I tell them that the 70's are over, and disco dancing is what old people do on Caribbean cruises.

Most, if not all, newspaper companies that say they are going "digital first" are really just saying that they are no longer making enough money to sustain their current business models and so are using the new, hip slogan as an excuse to cut staff.

Businesses that transition to an entirely new platform do so only when the profits from the new platform so grossly exceed the profits from the other that the move is preordained.

Take Apple, for instance: Apple became a consumer electronics company with the launch of the iPod in 2001. Most people are so familiar and comfortable with the iPod now that they forget what a controversial move this was. The first iPod was unveiled in October of 2001, only a month and a half after 9/11. One analyst said that "Apple is following Sony's lead by integrating consumer electronics devices into its marketing strategy, but Apple lacks the richness of Sony's product offering. And introducing new consumer products right now is risky, especially if they cannot be priced attractively."

Analysts, what can one say.

But the iPod was a success, revolutionary, actually. But Apple didn't change its name from "Apple Computers" to just "Apple" until early 2007, at the same time it unveiled the iPhone. Additionally, Apple hasn't dropped its computer line to concentrate solely on consumer electronics yet, despite the fact that the iPhone and iPad are their two most profitable products.

But newspapers are not moving to so-called "digital first" strategies because the profits from digital so dwarf the profits they are generating from print that the move is long over due. Rather, many publishers are simply looking to cut the losses they are experiencing with traditional forms of distribution.

For many of these publishers, their digital efforts are still very much in the early stages of development. Yes, these publishers have been online for over a decade, but few have developed a portfolio of online products yet, still very much dependent on one main URL. Developing multiple online products is one of the first signs that a media property has moved into the space seriously.

Additionally, many newspaper companies say they are adopting "digital first" while at the same time giving both mobile and tablet platforms little attention. One newspaper company even has the leading anti-Apple, anti-iPad advocate on its board of advisors. Presumably this company's idea of digital is solely about the web.

I continue to see "digital first" as the lead of these company announcements, while "layoffs" is buried further down. Until I read of a company stating that their "digital first" strategy will force them to increase their staffing I will always be skeptical of these announcements.

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