Turning Cash Cows into Mini-Moos
What Would Google Do? By Jeff Jarvis. HarperBusiness, 2009.
In the previous three parts of this review of What Would Google Do?, I’ve looked at how Jarvis’s ideas apply to B2B in terms of its relation to readers, the impact of hyperlinks, and the shift from product journalism to process journalism. The last subject I’ll address is in some ways the most obvious and dramatic: the impact of these areas on the way we do business.
To begin with the most obvious point, as succinctly phrased by Jarvis, “print sucks.” He’s talking here not about the usability of print—give me a hardback over my Kindle in terms of sheer reading ease and pleasure—but about the burden it places on a print-based publisher. “It’s expensive to produce content for print, expensive to manufacture, and expensive to deliver. Print limits your space and your ability to give readers all they want. It restricts your timing and ability to keep readers up-to-the-minute. Print is already stale when its fresh.” And so on. Sure, there will always be a role for print—but it will a very small role indeed. So to the extent that you’re still in print, you need to think carefully about whether you should be.
The big mental road block to dumping print, of course, is cash flow. Jarvis calls this the Cash Cow in the Coal Mine problem. The challenge for traditional print companies, he says, is to be able to change early enough—a challenge because to do so means giving up or threatening an existing, if doomed, source of revenue. “Beware any strategy built on protection from cannibalization,” he says, “for it probably means the cannibals are at your door and ready to eat you for lunch.”
Jarvis doesn’t hold out much hope for old-media companies, which he suggests are mostly incapable of the bold moves and innovation necessary to survive. “Bureaucracy, task forces, org charts, and formal processes do not breed innovation. They kill it.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve been there, and he’s right.
What does this mean for the future of B2B media? The old cash cows will be replaced by networks of mini-moos. In other words, there will be a lot more fragmentation, and much smaller enterprises. As Jarvis puts it, “small is the new big.” Any of us, he says, “can start a highly specialized and targeted media company using blog software and paying for it with Google ads.” But, he adds, small can only succeed as part of a network—that is, as part of something big. For these small entities to make it, they will have to collaborate with other such entities, through ad networks, blog networks, and so forth.
As noted in part 1 of this review, my goal here has been to highlight four key issues for B2B publishers raised by WWGD. There’s much more of vital interest to media companies in the book. If the trends in publishing today have you uncertain how to proceed, you won’t find a better guide than What Would Google Do?