Today’s announcement of a big deal between Yahoo and a bunch of midlevel newspaper conglomerates has its benefits for both. But I can’t help but thinking that this is a meeting of old, old-media companies and the new, old-media company, Yahoo.
The benefits: The newspapers will get local functionality they need and new means of selling automated ads they don’t have and they will tame the beast they thought was a competitor. And Yahoo will get more content (can it ever get enough?).
But they’re both trying to maintain old businesses and old models.
Classified hasn’t just moved online; it’s dead as a category. Craig didn’t kill it. He was merely the first and smartest to see that the internet connects buyers and sellers directly. It massacres middlemen. And both newspapers and Yahoo still want to be middlemen. So the real challenge is to figure out how to enable transactions in new ways.
They talk a lot about content but in a linked world, the goal is not just to own more content but to create a new relationship to more of it: ‘We find the good stuff, wherever it is’ which used to be Yahoo’s goal and should be again — and must become the goal of newspapers as well.
They still operate on the media model of getting people to come into a centralized place and so the newspapers hope that people will go from Yahoo’s gathering point to theirs. Except everyone I know who has done a content deal with Yahoo finds that it is not terribly good at sending them traffic because Yahoo — like newspapers themselves — wants people to stay in its world.
Dean Singleton, one of the moguls in the deal and one of the smartest and toughest newspapermen alive, said this in The Times: “There has been a big question asked for a while as to how newspapers will navigate the online future. I think this is the answer to that question.” I sure hope he said more than that (and I’ll bet he did). For this is not the answer. Is it an answer? Maybe. Maybe not. The challenge is to find many answers and relying on a portal has proven to be an incomplete one. Ditto being a portal. The question is not, ‘How do we get enough stuff to get people to come to us?’ That is their old-media model. I think the question is, ‘How do we go to where the people are with what they need and how do we enable them to do what they want to do?’ That is what Google asks itself.