Newspapers Economics and the need for new business models

Hal Varian, the chief economist of Google and co-author of the seminal book “Information Rules” just publishes an article on the changing economics of newspapers. The paper and his blog post is worthwhile reading.

The articles goes well along my analysis of the newspaper market, where I argue that just a transfer of the paper business model to the Internet does not work since the business model of traditional papers is unbundled by the Internet. A newspaper is three businesses (content, advertising (selling of readers’ attention) and classifieds (bringing demand and supply together) bundled together by paper. And on the Internet, the glue of paper does not exists any more. So the revenue model of newspapers will not work on the Internet.

Varian argues that newspapers actually never earned money with news from their frontpages but from special interest sections like Automotives, Travel, Home & Garden or Food & Drinks. These sections attracted contextually targeted advertising which is much more effective than non-targeted advertising like you have in the news section.

And in the Online world, special-interest sites attract the search-engine traffic and not general-interest sites like the Internet pages of newspapers.

Well, when you follow his arguments than a mere transfer of the traditional business model to the web will never work for newspapers.

Simply put. The Internet is different. It has different economics and therefore you have to adapt your business model to the changing economics. Either you do it or you die! And this not only true for newspapers but also for other industries.

[update March 29th, 2010] Seth Godin writes in his blog what it means when the economics are changing in the publishing industry. He highlights the possibility that great authors have the potential to lead their own tribe. They will not be bond to the paper publishers any more. The text is worthwhile reading since it shows new business opportunities for authors.

[update August 5th, 2010] Google posted another paper on the subject. It comments in this paper the Federal Trade Commission’s News Media Workshop and Staff Discussion Draft on “Potential Policy Recommendations to Support the Reinvention of Journalism.” The paper is definitely more interesting than the title.

Google Comments To FTC

Changing financials, changing economics, retailing and business model innovations

In the discussion on business model innovation the focus is often on the innovations regarding the value proposition or on the value architecture but it is interesting to look at the revenue model as well for starting points for an innovation.

Anders Sundelin in a recent blog post reflected on net working capital and the influence of the business model on it.  I can only recommend his post to anyone. He shows how this important financial figure (net working capital)  is influenced by the business model. Actually, almost all innovation in the retail industry change the economics of the industry. They all start by minimizing the working capital needed in the operation. Since the traditional business model in retailing is very capital intensive due to inventory, all disruptive innovations help to reduce the capital tied to inventory. And interestingly, at the same time as the working capital is decreased or in same cases, it even becomes negative the margins on sales go down.

One example: department stores vs. discounters

In the 1960s managers in department stores were having a good time. Department stores ( marked with a 1) went well and their economics were great with gross profits of 40% on sales. Imaging you would have worked at let’s say Karstadt, a German department store. You have a great idea. You believe that the future of retailing will be different and you have the idea a discounter retail outlet with limited stocks and less choice for the clients. You do your economics and you end up with a gross profit of 23% on sales (marked with a 2).

Continue reading Changing financials, changing economics, retailing and business model innovations