@ SIIA: Gordon Crovitz: Consumer Media Woes A Warning To Biz Media; ‘Hybrid Model Works Very Well’


Future of Business Media: The ConferenceThough he didn’t directly come out and say it,ex-WSJ publisher Gordon Crovitz, had a different message in his SIIA keynote than what we heard yesterday from Reuters CEO Tom Glocer. While Glocer expressed confidence that business media was not in as much trouble as consumer media, Crovitz contends that it’s only a matter of time before the disruptive forces affecting consumer media will affect the business side. Eventually, he argued, consumers of business news and information will demand the same ease of use and availability that they get from consumer media. As a canary-in-the-coal-mine example, he cited Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) Finance, which is used by a lot of business professionals, despite the fact that they all have access to more professional tools at work.

Hybrid model: Although Crovitz does not have to face shareholders anymore, he’s still an ardent defender of the WSJ’s hybrid model. “I think the hybrid model works very well… it is unfortunate that other have abandoned the paid model… Deeply engaged users are highly valued by advertisers.” He noted that there are now as many paying subscribers to the online edition of the WSJ as there are paying readers of the print NYT: “Brands and content that people pay for will have a better chance of thriving than brands that people do not value enough to pay for.” He denied that the hybrid model is confusing to users, suggesting its more confusing to analysts that don’t have access to all of the internal data

.– Dow Jones: “At Dow Jones (NYSE: NWS), we had the advantage a real crisis a couple years ago… in 2006, we completely reorganized our operations.” By integrating print and online, circulations grew and money-losing operations turned profitable. “Change is a lot easier to make when there’s no choice.” He also mentioned the increasing role of private equity in the media industry as a potential powerful force for change.

Disruption Crovitz likened disruption to a “series of waves” of varying sizes and intensity: “Traditional models have been tossed around by the waves of change.” By analogy, he discussed some of the disruption to traditional models that occurred when the first transatlantic telegram cable was installed. At the time, many warned that the Atlantic Ocean had been rendered irrelevant and that the separation of the US from England had been undone. The significance: it’s difficult to know what the impact of disruption will ultimately be, or how quickly it will occur. The tendency is to overestimate the changes in the short term, while underestimating how much consumer behavior changes over the longer term. The industry got ahead of itself during the bubble. (He also called paidContent.org a disruptive force, which, of course, we appreciate.)

Local papers: He spent a little time discussing the challenges facing true local papers, like the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Unfortunately, he didn’t say whether he thought the hybrid model would make sense for a paper like that, but he did say that editors and publishers there would be forced to do a radical re-think of what the paper is for: “Daily newspaper will increasingly have the job of helping people understand their local news.” The assumption will be that consumers already know the facts, but the newspaper can still provide context and understanding.

Software and information: At the time the SIIA was formed, when the software and information associations merged in the late 90s, people didn’t understand how the two industries fit together. But the timing was excellent, as “content is enhanced with context.” Examples: Google (NSDQ: GOOG), user-gen media “Who knew that millions of people would blog if only they could?”

WSJ.com vs. Forbes.com: During the Q&A, Crovitz was asked how WSJ felt about Forbes’ digital efforts. He rejected a suggestion that WSJ.com vs. Forbes.com was similar to Coke vs. Pepsi, and said that at the time, they viewed it more as Coke vs. Diet Rite. That was meant as a joke, obviously, although when he lauded Forbes’ digital efforts, he cited the organization’s SEO efforts. Yesterday, Caroline Little of WPNI actually said the same thing about the NYT, when asked what other companies were good at. It’s a bit of a backhanded complement.

Newspapers as news aggregators: Crovitz was also asked whether newspapers could embrace a role as an aggregator of news, not just a producer of news. He acknowledged that this is a tough cultural issue for newsrooms: “The idea of a newsroom acknowledging that someone else may have had a big story is a big leap”. But he cited, as a DJ example, the launch of AllThingsD, which, among other things, curates important articles and blog posts from other sites.

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