You may be wondering why I post so many items about newspapers and the web. Simply put, this is one of the most fascinating business stories of this decade, about how an industry that even today generates a significant percentage of original online content continues to frustrate itself through a reflexive tendency to want to control the medium through which content is delivered to audience.
Shafer’s piece does an admirable job of covering the history up to the web and how newspapers tried and failed over and over to achieve a digital business that represented their existing business model and industry values. I suppose you could make the case that Hollywood has been fighting a similar losing battle and that should be informative to the newspaper industry.
But that’s not the case, and I think I know why: From the beginning, newspapers sought to invent the Web in their own image by repurposing the copy, values, and temperament found in their ink-and-paper editions. Despite being early arrivals, despite having spent millions on manpower and hardware, despite all the animations, links, videos, databases, and other software tricks found on their sites, every newspaper Web site is instantly identifiable as a newspaper Web site. By succeeding, they failed to invent the Web.
In the final equation this is also about how a fragile an industry’s business model can be. What works for newspapers in print doesn’t work to the same contribution level online.