Successful business strategies are characterized by hard work and patience. But as newspapers fumble online their tendency is to favor low-effort, high-return schemes.
Take for example the partnership of Jeff Jarvis and the New York Times. They plan a handful of "hyperlocal" sites that are uniformly named "The Local." Each site is led by one NYT reporter who it seems will eventually be responsible for covering multiple locales with the aide of Jarvis' students.
Howard Owens is peeved that Jarvis and the NYT pin their financial success on "scalability." (Churn out more sites without hiring more people.)
Why would anyone build a site targeted toward a small group of people and then worry about whether it can "scale" to serve a large group? That smacks of a confused business strategy. A hyperlocal business must first be able to make money by standing on its own -- even if it never becomes a franchise.
That's real scalability. Quite frankly, it's dumb to start any business that can't break a profit unless it rapidly expands. I'd be leery of anyone pitching such an idea, which isn't much sounder in strategy than a Ponzi scheme.
Rolling out a new product as quickly as possible to as many places as possible inherently means reacting to how it's received isn't a priority, which is further proof these ideas are schemes, not strategies. Beware any one-size-fits-all idea that hasn't been tested on some, nevermind all.
Believing the if-they-build-it-the-audience-will-come pontificators who have long peddled these schemes to newspapers requires buying into the same sort of get-rich-quick thinking that has crippled newspaper Web solutions. User-generated! No work! Great pay!
There is no shortcut to online success. Media companies look at their competitors from the technology world and see only what exists now, conveniently overlooking the immense effort and sacrifice it took the founders of Facebook or MySpace to attain. They see the traffic successes of Huffington Post or DailyBeast and overlook the quality of the content -- at least for their audiences -- and dismiss it as "user generated" or "freelance" when in fact it took a lot of effort to cultivate. Oh, and they selectively forget that profits at these success stories are still nonexistent or took a long time to appear.
I'd recommend that the Times take a bit of Howard's advice and hire a few people who are willing to put in the sort of effort that doesn't easily "scale."