Sunday, November 11, 2007

Spin out or not, that's a question

We've seen a lot of newspaper setting up their websites to upload the content. I had some discussion last week with classmates on if the websites should be spinned off from the newspaper.

I argued that it should be spinned off if the newspaper didn't consider the online business as a long-term plan. Management of the newspaper are always forced to consider the profitability of the online business before the investment. To me, that doesn't make sense. Competitors of those websites, Google, Yahoo or small start-ups, are all funded by venture capitalists targeting at a break-even of at least five years. How could a newspaper website targeting at a one-year profitability compared the other websites targeting at a five-year break-even? That doesn't make sense.

Newspapers still want to leverage their existing resources. However, that's not very true. There are three different dimensions. First, the content is very different between the online version and print one. Online verson focuses more on its quantity, while print one should be more selective because of the space limitation. The second different thing is the advertisement. Advertisers have certain appetite on print and online business. Big ones still prefer print media because of the brand, while smaller advertisers prefer online ads due to budget concern. The third dimension is the content supply. Print media has all its content produced by reporters and editors, while online media should rely more on the grassroot journalism, allowing freelancers and readers to contribute more.

So to me, leveraging the newspaper's resource to set up a online brand is not very attractive. Online readers are too spoiled to be loyal to one brand. That's why Google and Yahoo News are more popular. Online readers need more news portals or news filters, instead of a newspaper brand. So spining off the online business from a newspaper, and developed it creatively, is one of the options to be able to stay in media business.

Of course, my point is debatable.

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