Friday, August 22, 2008

Who's your competition? (Part 3)

My previous two posts talked about reasons why newspapers should not view each other as competitors and instead should collaborate to discover new methods to generate and deliver news. Here's the last reason.

When I talk to friends at newspapers, I get the sense they think that discovering those new methods will give them a competitive advantage over other news outlets. If they discover some clever new way to direct traffic from Google to their news sites, they'll be ahead of the game.

If I've learned anything from my time in Silicon Valley, however, I've learned that this is not the case.

Anyone who discovers a nifty new way of doing something has a competitive advantage for a few short moments. And then everyone else figures out how to do the thing the first company did. And then that new method becomes standard. At this point, having access to the method doesn't give anyone a competitive advantage. It's how different companies apply the method that puts them ahead.

Take printing presses, broadsheets, and photography. Those are all methods. Every newspaper uses them. No one has a competitive advantage simply in the use of the tools. What differentiates them is how they put them to use. The New York Times and the Podunk Review both use printing presses, broadsheets, and photography. Yet it's how the New York Times puts those to use that sets it above the rest.

All of which is to say: Not joining forces to discover the new tools and methods is a fatally short-sighted strategy. Smart news organizations will join forces with others during this phase. Then, once the industry as a whole has figured out how to generate and deliver news in an economically viable way in the new environment, only then will it make sense to start competing against each other again.

Photo courtesy of Herkie. Creative Commons license.

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