Guardian column: Whither the destination (and brand)?

My Guardian column this week looks at the implications of the death of TimesSelect (nonregistration version here). The bigger issue that keeps hitting me is that this indicates not just the death of pay content — and, good news, we hope, the strength of advertising — but I also think it tells us something about the strength of destinations . . . and perhaps brands. Snippet:

I think the loser could be the power of the media destination or portal – the notion that consumers should come to us and pay us for scarce information that we control. The death of TimesSelect is an affirmation of the new media reality that says the public will seek out our brands less and less and will detour around the front doors we design for them. Instead, they will arrive because of their own need (via search) or peers’ recommendations (via links). So we in media must open ourselves to the public in every way possible. Tearing down walls – pay, registration, archive, or just obtuse navigation – is only the start of it. I believe this also means finding more ways for our audiences to distribute us: we’ll widgetise. And I believe that we must think like Google and see ourselves as platforms on which others build that larger conversation.

At the Online Publishers Association confab in London last spring, Times Company strategic guru Martin Nisenholtz and I got into a theatrical tiff over my contention that we in media should all be asking WWGD (What would Google do) and getting ourselves distributed widely. Martin held that some brands are worth coming to. Is that still the case? Will it be for long? For how many? Clearly, this has big implications for media’s distribution and branding strategies. In a widgetized architecture, they need to figure out how to get their brands and value to stand out in search and links; they need to figure out how to maintain and prove the value of those brands, for Google commodifies everything. They are already beginning to redesign their products around this, opening up to search and links and rewriting pages for SEO and making friendly with linking bloggers. They also need to get their public to distribute them.

The death of TimesSelect is about more than just the death of paid content. It is a fulcrum point in the evolution of media architecture.