Big Companies Can’t Change and Newspapers Can’t Do the Internet!

More and more, I see large companies failing with new technology. Condé Nast is struggling to publish digital content to tablets and newspapers can’t figure out their own websites! Where to start?

Let’s start with Condé Nast. I recently read Nitasha Tiku’s article “Condé Nast Is Experiencing Technical Difficulties” in The New York Observer, and it brought to mind the inflexibility of large companies. While Condé Nast is one of the leading print publishers of many popular titles, it has struggled with offering its titles in a digital format. For many at Condé Nast and other print publishers, they think that taking a static print design and putting it on a screen constitutes a digital version. But what is the value in that? I would rather read something static in printed format so that I can feel the pleasure of throwing it in the recycling bin when I am finished (or sick of the boring type). A digital version is something that can offer much more than print. I want to interact with it, gather more information on the parts I like, and ultimately share it with my friends on social media to see what they think, too. Pictures should turn into photo albums and videos streams, text should link out to related content, and it should look different on everything, optimizing the content for the screen it’s being displayed on. If it has none of that, no one will see the value in spending more on the digital version, or even buying the device to begin with.

The whole problem boils down to people. The suits empowered with making decisions are old-school corporate big wigs used to pasting headlines on a cover and passing that collage off to one of their designers. These designers––who have primarily only print design experience––are laying out the print file and then trying to repurpose it for the digital version. This is the most common mistake: trying to convert the static print version into a digital version without making a substantial amount of changes. The digital version should be treated as a totally separate element, not a hybrid from the print version. It’s OK to start with the text and graphics from the print version as your base, but you have to reengineer the piece to add the value consumers expect from digital media. It’s not about taking the old and making it new, it’s about starting with good content and making two separate pieces for two totally different markets.

Next we have the newspapers. The inspiration for this section of the post came to me from “Why Newspapers Suck at the Internet!” on Gizmodo. Since I was a little boy, I have been reading the newspaper––and then promptly using it to start a campfire! I actually grew up living next door to the owner of our local newspaper in Erie, PA. I was, and still am, fascinated by how quickly a newspaper can acquire a lead, write a story, and get it on the newsstands the next morning. But they are all dying a slow and painful death. Over the past five years, hundreds of newspapers have gone out of business. One may ask why, and I would answer: the almighty Internet. Why would anyone wait until the next morning to get his or her news when it’s free and available online immediately? Unfortunately, the newspapers were slow to react to this, and when they did, they didn’t take the time to do it right. They have the best reporters and the best process to push out good news quickly, but they didn’t make it user-friendly or profitable. Just this year, The New York Times, for the tenth time, put up the pay wall, and it actually might be working now, let’s wait and see. But they are one of the few who have done something to capture their falling profits from the decline in printed subscriptions. Hopefully all the others will jump aboard Apple’s Newsstand and go from there.

Here is that graphic from Gizmodo depicting the user experience with newspapers’ websites.

Gizmodo's Newspaper parody

So what is the lesson from these three failures? Its attention to detail, living and breathing that 99% right is 100% wrong. Making sure that when you execute technology, you do it right and to the fullest potential of the medium. We are for the most part smaller companies who can be flexible and agile in these turbulent times. Now is the time to shine above the rest and show the big guys what we are really capable of.

So, what do you aspire to do with new emerging technologies?

Author: T. John Mehl

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One response to “Big Companies Can’t Change and Newspapers Can’t Do the Internet!

  1. Pingback: Facebook to Die Under the Knife of Magazines and Newspapers? Your Crystal Ball Is Malfunctioning. | utterlyorange

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