Friday, July 03, 2009

WaPo: Haggling over the price

I have a pretty good idea of how this happened. Suits with MBAs have some pretty standard questions when trying to generate revenue for a mature company:

(a) can we find new customers for our existing products?

(b) can we sell new products to our existing customers?


(c) are there underexploited assets we can monetize?

Finding new customers for their existing product?  Hah.  They moved online, but (a) the money generated has been minimal, and (b), as the Froomkin saga shows, there are some real incompatibilities between old and new.

Selling new products to existing customers?  Well, that depends on how you define "customer."  If you define it as "subscribers," well, good luck with that.  But I strongly suspect that subscribers are merely tolerated lubricants of the real market -- the Beltway glitterati.  They seem to actually like what the WaPo does.  And by the twisted internal logic we are talking about here, it would make sense to find new ways to do business with them.

But what to sell them? Some very senior people at the Post obviously agreed that their biggest underexploited asset was access.

What is most instructive about this is that they saw nothing objectionable in auctioning off that access in such a direct and explicit way.

And you can look at that as part of another classic MBA move: redefine the market. A high-priced management consultant would challenge them to stop thinking of themselves as being in the newspaper business -- a dying industry. Some brainiac probably asked, "you have easy access to powerful government officials. That access is very valuable. Who makes money selling it?"

Duh.  Lobbyists. So acting like lobbyists, and monetizing the very thing the WaPo has spent decades hording, must have made perfect sense.

Somerby has a slightly different take. He knows his stuff, but -- if the goal of the evening was to impose the establishment line on the WaPo's own reporters, why take the risky step of charging corporations to "Sponsor" (and print up flyers)?

And so, in a more dramatic fashion than I would have ever imagined, they have confirmed every bad thing bloggers believe about them.  Most impressive.


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