Old content formats are an anchor to innovation

New media are new archetypes, at first disguised as degradations of older media.

- Marshall McLuhan

Perhaps the fastest way to find yourself on the wrong side of history is to predict the future relevance of any technology, especially those in the world of content.

In February of 1995, the national magazine Newsweek predicted that “no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.” In the richest of ironies, 26 years later Newsweek is now available only online, tens of millions of students across the world attend school virtually, and the effect that social media networks have had on government can only be described as transformational. These trends, however, don’t mean that content formats ultimately die. Rather, while legacy formats such as print, radio, and broadcast television haven’t been (and won’t be) completely replaced by the multimedia internet, they have mostly become servants of nostalgic, or stubborn, niche audiences.

In either case, they are usually anchors; a weight slowing the modernization of business approaches. For example, the world-famous New York Times still prints 80,000 newspapers every day because it believes it still needs to serve that format to an audience that hasn’t gone purely digital yet. But the company is quite aware that print is an anchor on the business moving forward. In fact, in 2014, in its groundbreaking – and leaked – internal innovation report,” the company said exactly this. The internal team called the transition to fully digital “most difficult” and said:

Companies with no legacy platform have the advantage of being able to focus entirely on creating the best digital [experience]. For newspaper companies, making this transition can be so challenging that several of our competitors have handed responsibility for the daily [print] paper to small, stand-alone teams so that everyone else can focus on digital.”

For each and every company that transitions from legacy content experiences to new, modern content experiences, there is a fundamental disruption to the entire approach of communication. As such, there can be a reticence to make the move. But, arguably, those companies that lead the way are in the best position to reap the early advantages.

The New York Times is no exception here, as last year the company’s digital revenue exceeded its print revenue for the first time ever. So, for any company, there is little doubt that keeping up with the evolution of content experiences is a critical piece of a smart business strategy.

The only question that remains is: when do you make this move?