Shareholder cries to break up or sell Knight Ridder begs the question, once again, of where newspapers are in Clayton Christensen’s “disruptive technology” cycle. Are they still facing the beginning of disruption, where newcomers are focused on new audiences that newspapers don’t care to reach? Or are they in the middle of disruption, where those newcomers have begun to repackage their products so they compete more directly with newspapers? Or more disastrously, are they at the end of disruption, where newspapers are much on the defensive that they cannot win, even in their traditional markets?
Harvard Business School Professor Clark Gilbert worked under Christensen at Harvard, and has made media disruption a specialty of his own. In a Nov. 8 Manager’s Journal Column in The Wall Street Journal, written with Innosight’s Scott Anthony, the suggestion is that newspapers are probably in the middle of disruption – a stage in which it is not too late to remake themselves for the future. Gilbert and Anthony also suggest that newspapers have been moving in the right direction with a stream of acquisitions that specifically address new audiences, including Careerbuilder, About.com, Slate, MarketWatch, MySpace.com and Topix.
Gilbert and Anthony say it is too early to definitively assert how successful newspapers will be in their efforts not just to turn back the clock, but reach new audiences. But the acquisitions that newspapers have made “appear promising. Not only do these companies have large audiences. They provide newspapers with new business models and access to segments where online brokers are actively participating.”