Seth Godin picks up on the long established, death by a thousand cuts currently infiltrating the US newspaper industry. What is interesting about this piece is not so much the blow by blow account of the declining circulation and advertising figures, but the missed opportunities for leadership and innovation.
If anything, Seth's piece highlights once again the strengths of an organisation's values, as opposed to its processes or resources.
Of the 6 items detailed, three jump out at me;
Ten years ago, the paper knew what it had to do. They had a shot at inventing the future, but compromised their way to it instead of leading. Here are some simple ways they could think big instead of merely failing to defend the status quo:
Use their influence and brand to enable users to spread their content: Why, precisely, aren't the Zagats guides a NY Times product? Or Yelp? That's a quarter of a billion dollars worth of value that the paper with the most influential restaurant reviews page didn't create. Why didn't they build Wikipedia? Or a platform to influence the way politicians govern? Hiring and promoting David Pogue is a great example of expanding that base into the online world. Buying about.com was smart, but being afraid to put the Times name on it was an error... an opportunity for leverage, wasted.
Build a permission asset: Times readers are among the most informed cultural consumers in the world. They tend to have money to spend and are eager for new ideas. What an opportunity to build 10 or a 100 or ten thousand silos. Carefully focused free email newsletters, and then blogs, each with an editor and plenty of relevant and useful ads. Well-written ideas, delivered with authority, are as important as ever. The Times sat back and let hundreds of other micro-sites deliver this instead.
Keep score: The New York Times bestseller list used to matter a great deal. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy, because bookstores discounted and promoted the bestsellers, which helped them sell more. We still want to know what the bestsellers are, but the Times works hard not to tell us. There are literally a thousand categories of media that people want to know about (top blogs, top DVDs, etc.) and the Times abdicated their ability to keep score, to be the trusted referee and to drive the short head in almost every form of culture. Consider this for a moment: Oprah is able to sell ten times as many copies of a book than the New York Times can. The Times abdicated their role as the leader of the conversation about books.