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Notes: September 23

Online Publishing

I have been watching the recent discussions on the existential crisis in media, aggregation and other related topics with interest. Not so long ago, I was part of the brigade whose primary responsibility was to publish content in various domains. And one thing I can say (this includes myself too) is that we really don't have much of a clue. Most of the current strategies can be roughly split into 1) Continue doing what has been done all the time and turn a blind eye to the elephant in the room 2) Try anything and everything, hope something sticks.

Everyone is constrained by the scale available in the publishing business, which means that even with a big money push, you can't flip it since there is a glass ceiling that you can't seem to break through. Even the cluster-of-verticals strategy is limited by cost. Just because content is abound does not mean that it is cheap to create, especially if you are focussed on quality. The numbers simply don't add up. What is then left is to explore brand new forms of advertising, which has shown some promise, but even that won't go too far before market saturation catches up with it.

The Instamedia story is pretty interesting on this front. If you take away the corporate speak, the company runs a set of vertical blogs and has a content publishing and monetization platform. But $10 million is still a pretty big round, which I think will compromise the company's approach to the business it is in. I know, there is the age-old wisdom about raising as much money when you can, but I do believe that the size of the round will create a lot of trouble for them. Businesses like Instamedia work only at a particular scale/burn rate. Mess around with the economics of it and you will see the model evaporate before you can spell the word.

Leadership

One lovely thing about the rags that cover the industry is that everyone is an expert in it. Companies are never built in a day, nor are they taken apart in a day. Both processes take periods of time that are much longer. In this context, I find all the rucks about whether Carol Bartz should be fired or retained to be quite funny. I can bet that 90% commenting with a great deal of expertise have never sat on the board of a company or been in a leadership position in a company that is even 1/1000th of Yahoo!'s scale.

I have no love lost for the big Y!. I find the company to be overstaffed, way too layered and stagnant. But, you need not always build a Twitter every year to to be a successful company and if the market valuation is the only benchmark you are going to use to see how successful a company is, I guess you would then term Microsoft as a pretty dismal player.


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