Media can no longer force people to buy what they don’t want

William Bulkeley has a very simple observation: Old media survived on a business model of forcing people to buy things they didn’t want.

Photography and publishing companies shouldn’t be surprised when digital technology upends their industries. After all, their business success relied on forcing customers to buy things they didn’t want.

Photo companies made customers pay for 24 shots in a roll of film to get a handful of good pictures. Music publishers made customers buy full CDs to get a single hit song. Encyclopedia publishers made parents spend thousands of dollars on multiple volumes when all they wanted was to help their kid do one homework paper. The business models required customers to pay for detritus to get the good stuff.

Inevitably, their industry revenues are shrinking now that consumers can use digital technology and the Internet to select only what they want.

This is just another variation on the Innovator’s Solution: Figure out the job consumers will hire you to do and then do the job.

What do people want from newspapers? Well, they want a lot of different things, but most people don’t want it all all of the time. And often they don’t want ink on their fingers or a stuffed recycling bin to get it. Advantage digital.

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1 thought on “Media can no longer force people to buy what they don’t want

  1. […] I linked yesterday to William Bulkeley’s piece on forcing people to buy what they don’t want, and today Jack Shafer expands on the theme related to newspapers. Bulkeley could have easily applied the wisdom of his lesson more broadly to newspapers. It’s not that the complete gestalt of local, state, national, and international news plus sports, comics, classified, opinion, and hints on fashion, home, entertainment, and food isn’t still useful. It is. But given a choice, and the economic means to make a choice, many buyers prefer to make an unbundled purchase. Unbundling the news they want from the news they don’t want is what the Web allows readers to do now. […]

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