Content’s Reign As King Is Short-Lived

Era of Discontent

With the recent demise of Automatic Media and its attendant Web content sites Suck, Feed, and Plastic, the phrase “Content is King” now takes its rightful place next to “The Earth is flat” in the Bad Call Hall of Fame.

The problem with these sites, plus other strugglers like Salon, isn’t the writing, much of which is engaging, if not a little precious. They don’t lack a readership either, although their populations never did match the buzz they created at one time. The problem is the misperception that journalism, whether printed between paid advertising online or on dead trees, can sustain hyperinflationary profit levels.

This problem, also known in some circles as greed, has crept across the news industry as a whole. Corporate behemoths like Knight Ridder force buyouts and lay off staff even as profit margins ride close to 20 percent, down somewhat from the absurd levels of 2000.

“There are journalists who want to do good journalism and feel it would be nice if we also make a nice profit doing it,” said former Philadelphia Inquirer Managing Editor Don Drake in an interview after accepting his buyout this month. “The other camp, the Ridder camp, wants a good bottom line, and it would be nice if we could do good journalism, too. If we can’t, it is the bottom line that is going to be honored.”

Speaking of bottom lines, this is my last Daily Insight as the acquisition by AOL Time Warner becomes, if you’ll pardon my French, fait accompli. I want to thank everyone who has engaged me in this great ongoing debate. DL24 is dead! Long live DL24!

Some parting memories

It’s Been Real

In case you haven’t heard, some changes are under way here at DLandroid24. I’ve decided to take this opportunity to take some time off. As such, this will be my last column for DLandroid24.

I thought I’d leave with some fond reminiscences from the last three-and-a-half years–from the front row seats to the Internet Bubble that I was lucky to score (privileges of being a founding editor at this publication).

Certainly one of the bigger stories of the last four years has been Napster. I journeyed down to San Mateo to interview Shawn Fanning and then-CEO Eileen Richardson in December of 1999–the day after the RIAA sued them. During the interview, I asked Richardson if she had a message for the RIAA. She laughed and flipped the bird.

DLandroid24 was also on top of the Y2K story, exposing numerous frauds and warning businesses about hysterical doomsayers. What we didn’t realize at the time was how much Y2K contributed to the Internet Bubble. With companies spending ghastly amounts to upgrade or rebuild networks and systems, companies such as Cisco reaped tremendous benefits. Of course, when the Y2K bug was quashed, many CIOs had a far harder time convincing the other top brass to spend anything on new technology.

There are many more stories–most of which are just now coming in to focus. And there are definitely too many for this short column. So I’ll enjoy the summer off, and who knows? Maybe then I’ll write a book. To reach me in the meantime, drop me a line at ehellweg@hotmail.com.

Ebusiness Books Worth Reading

Readers offer their recommendations.

In my last column, I asked readers to recommend New Economy and ebusiness books that still hold up. I was flooded with responses. Two books were mentioned most.

One is The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business As Usual, a fun-to-read four-author effort that does in fact offer practical insight into how easy-to-use networks fundamentally alter the ways customers communicate with businesses. It’s crucial to note that Cluetrain emphasizes how customers communicate with businesses, not vice versa. Any top-down communication strategy is bound to fail.

The other is Information Rules, by Carl Shapiro and Hal R. Varian, published in 1999 as the strategic bible for the “network economy.” A lot of the ground covered is now familiar, but the book is worth a read or even a re-read because, as one reader wrote, the authors “got nothing wrong.” That overstates the case a bit, but Information Rules is refreshingly earthbound and blissfully low on hype.

Another popular recommendation is Crossing the Chasm, by Geoffrey A. Moore. UK-based reader Adrian Camilleri sent along the following synopsis, under the subject line, “EBusiness books that aren’t crap.” Camilleri says, “If some of these upstart companies had read this book and understood that moving from a good product idea to a mass-market product is a slow but steady process, some of them would have grown to become market leaders rather than has-beens who relied on spin and vaporware.”

A couple of interesting suggestions came in from Earl Mardle, who teaches at Sydney Technical Institute and asks his students to read Faster, by James Glieck. “I want them to think about the difference between the information environment in which real people actually live, and the picture drawn by the purveyors of the next big thing in technology.” He also mentions a Web project I hadn’t heard of, “After the Goldrush,” which can be found at www.innosight.com. It points out, Mardle says, that “in all industries … competition doesn’t move to the next level until the present level is in oversupply.” It explains why the PC business is having such a rough time by describing the lowest, and last, level of competition as “‘one size fits more than all,’ which also applies to the mobile phone business, although it has yet to wake up to it.” The oversupply gives new companies with interesting products–RIM’s Blackberry, for example–a fighting chance to break in.

Several readers also backed up my suggestion to read Michael Porter’s classic Competitive Strategy, but noted that Porter wrote an excellent article in the March issue of Harvard Business Review entitled “Strategy and the Internet.”

Posted by on July 2, 2001