What happens when you fail to innovate? Just ask a journalist – not because he or she is an expert on innovation, but because his or her job is in dire jeopardy because of the news industry’s failure to innovate when it had the chance. Unfortunately, there are very close parallels between the news industry’s refusal to get ahead of the curve 20 years ago as the Internet gathered momentum, and the conservative market research industry’s widespread reluctance to embrace the challenges and opportunities of the Smartphone Era.
It seems incredible, but the Pew Research Center reports that 2016 marked the 28th consecutive year of declining circulation for the U.S. newspaper industry. Combined online and print circulation tumbled 8%, and the revenue picture was even bleaker – an estimated 10% decline that was even worse than in 2015, when revenues fell 8%.
The Washington Post presents a good example of how the news industry looked a gift horse in the mouth and failed to respond in time to a technological sea change. Now the Post, to its credit, is belatedly taking its best shot at survival under the ownership of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who knows a thing or two about generating revenue in the age of digital technology. If Bezos and his smaller but still-potent newsroom succeed, the Post may yet manage to buck the news business’ long, downward trend.
History records that 25 years ago, the Post latched onto a revolutionary idea: develop an electronic edition to go with its highly profitable print paper. Attending a 1992 conference organized by Apple, the Post’s then managing editor, Robert Kaiser, saw the business implications of the rising but not yet dominant Internet. He wrote a long memo urging the Post to innovate and “be on the forefront” of the coming communications and information technology breakthrough — “not for the adventure, but for important defensive purposes.” The Post did, in fact, launch a website a few years later, but it never went all-in on the new technology. Like every other major daily, its finances eroded, until Bezos emerged as a white knight and came to the rescue, buying the Post in 2013 for $250 million. Post officials said it turned a profit in 2016, although as a privately held company it no longer publicly reports financial information. If revenues and profits are indeed growing, the Post is an exception to the rule.
Now the clock is ticking on another industry: market research. June 29 marks the 10th anniversary of the first mass-market smartphone, the iPhone. What the Internet was to news, the smartphone is to research. It can be a destructive force, or a brilliant opportunity. It’s all up to you – stay with the old (online surveys and panels) or adapt to a new era of exciting mobile research solutions.
Everyone agrees that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” which is why we shared this slice of history. But not everyone is able to act on it. If you think it’s time to take a step toward flourishing in the mobile present and future, then let’s talk about it. Just get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.