What happens when technological changes displace your traditional marketplace environment? How do you survive in business when your “model” is destroyed, sometimes within an exceptionally short time, and your entire infrastructure is built on the old system?
I’m thinking about these issues now, in the middle of an October evening, reflecting on the stories of Kodak, Polaroid, conventional print encyclopedias, the Yellow Pages, video stores and newspapers. Some are dead. And still others are dying.
Our business has so far dodged the bullet. I started this enterprise a couple of decades ago, when desktop publishing arrived on the market, dramatically reducing the barriers to entry in the publishing business. Anyone with a computer and laser printer could do the work that previously required tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital investment.
Of course, just because “anyone” could enter the business, most still failed. I remember well a business advisor telling me that 90 per cent of new publishing businesses fail within the first year. With specialization, painful lessons learned, and some luck, we’ve managed to keep things going, outlasting many competitors and challenges over the years.
In the late 1990s, when the Internet arrived, I realized the rules would change, but didn’t know exactly how. In the early years, I perceived that publishing would become a hybrid between print and electronic media, but I didn’t know about Google, video-on-demand, and the incredible diversity of new advertising options we would encounter.
About five years ago, I realized that one core element in the new era would be a combination of extreme specialization, automation and niche market service, coupled with some old-fashioned touch and feel and human respect and sensitivity. I set out to register some 50 or so local construction market domains, imagining that I would ultimately be able to offer a network of local sites throughout Canada and the U.S., supplemented with print and other resources.
This evening, I reviewed the domains due for renewal. After searching for discount codes, I brought the renewal fee to about $500 for the year. I thought: When am I going to actually put this stuff to work and how can I create an economically valid model, where users at these local sites find information of genuine value, but we don’t go broke providing the level of service that our readers should be able to expect.
Sometimes, in this sort of situation, it is wiser to put the domains on the shelf rather than try to do anything with them. Yet I sense they will have value going forward, so the annual renewal fee is worthwhile. It is a constant challenge. New technology with old, traditional practices and change, and the wonder about whether we can avoid the trap of complacency or a rut because our business is based on outdated models.