New York Times and Paid Content

The New York Times has announced a new paid content model for their online content. The announcement is here:

A Letter to Our Readers About Digital Subscriptions – NYTimes.com.

The upshot is that occasional website visitors will not have to pay for anything but people who read many articles online with the Times will be asked to pay after using up a monthly free quota of content.

There has been a lot of hue and cry about this, just like there was when they tried to charge for their opinion content way back in 2005 or 06. Here is my take:

Any company like the NYT can be successful with a paid content model. The problem with this change is that they are removing content from their most loyal readers online. They are not offering anything new to their best prospects, they are removing what draws them in the first place It is also rather complicated which will suppress sales a bit.

Why not offer new value to your most voracious online readers and charge for that? The Wall Street Journal does just that with the top end of their online subscription options, providing new in depth content in focused areas. I might pay for an online subscription that provided access to more photos for each article (or the NYT’s photo archive, which is massive), podcast interviews with reporters on the ground where the news is happening, etc. Use what you have to create new offerings that you’ve never provided before but can scale in the online world.

Getting people to pay for something they already had for free is simply a tough row to hoe when there was no expectation set of that free access being temporary.

Lessons from Start-ups

Fred Wilson, an investor and partner in many technology start-up companies, recently posted some key themes from successful start-ups he has been involved with. These came from a talk he gave to an MBA class recently. I pulled out a few of the items below, follow the link for them all: A VC: MBA Tuesday.

- There is a very high correlation between lean startup approach and the top performing companies in our two funds.

- Lean startup methology is great, but it is really a lean startup culture you want.

- Lean startup is a machine, garbage in will give you garbage out.

Lean in the context of NPOs and associations means you don’t throw large teams, budget, or formal volunteer committees at the challenge as you start up. Being starved for resources forces you to focus on only those actions that will move you toward your goal rather than building process for the sake of process. My good friend, Seth Kahan, wrote extensively about this in his book, Getting Change Right.

More from Fred:

- Early in a startup, product decisions should be hunch driven. Later on, product decisions should be data driven.

- Hunches come from being a power user of the products in your category and from having a long standing obsession about the problem you are solving.

- Domain expertise to the point of obsession is highly correlated with the most successful entrepeneurs in our portfolio.

Associations have a huge advantage in this arena: our most active members are the most obsessed about their field or industry in the world! The trick is to work with them to inform and energize the start-up project rather than saddle both them and you with an unwieldy process that stifles precisely the creativity you need to be successful.

- Monetization should be native and improve the experience for users.

If you expect the new product, service or outcome to pay for itself in the future then it should have revenue built into it from the get-go. If not, you’re unlikely to add it in successfully later. This doesn’t mean it’s profitable from day one. But a product or experience with a revenue component built in from the start doesn’t have to be reinvented to add it in later and it trains your customers or users to pay for it over time.

Old Members Are The Future!

Deirdre Reid wrote a post this week about dealing with a dearth of young leaders in associations. I’m going to take a good crack at the idea we have to increase the percentage of young people in our organizations and I wanted to give Deirdre credit for kicking off this idea when I read her post.

By 2050 over 25% of the population in the U.S. will be 60 years or older according to government projections. 1 in 4! That’s compared to about 18% today. Given overall population growth, that represents more than 50 million new people 60 years or older in 2050 compared to now.

Old people are the future.

A lot of associations complain about how old their membership is. Given the way demographics are going, we better get used to it!

I also wonder how many of the 50 and 60 year old members of today were active leaders of their association 30 years ago. I’d wager a beer that it’s a very low percentage for many organizations. Our personal activities are driven by the professional and life stages in which we are immersed. Perhaps we are being too hard on ourselves about not having a lot of youth involved in the organization. Perhaps they just truly don’t care or we aren’t in the business of providing the value they are looking for at this point in their lives. Or there simply aren’t enough of them!

It is always worthwhile to take a step back and give our assumptions a few solid kicks and see which of them fall over and which stand up to scrutiny. Maybe you should be trying to get more ‘old’ members engaged rather than tilting at the young member windmill.

Opening the Books to Staff

Great story in the New York Times today as part of their series on small businesses. The post is about how a new factory owner revealed and explained the financials of the company to the staff and placed accountability on them to make the changes necessary to save turn the operation around. A choice quote:

Starting Over in Lexington: Blowing the Doors Off

Seeing an opportunity to diversify the plant’s products and clients, we took it over, saving 100 in jobs in the process. But we didn’t write a blank check: we told the employees that we would teach them financial literacy, that we would open our books to help them understand how the place works and think more like owners, and that the onus was on them to turn the place around. We also told them they had 36 months to turn it into a sustainable operation.

I talked about this in one of the e-mails sent as part of my Orgpreneur Weekly Tip (you subscribe, right?). If staff don’t know where the money comes from and how it gets spent they can’t predict or help with causes and effects that influence the bottom line for your organization.

Show staff the money! This factory in ‘blowing the doors off’ their revenue goals in part because the employees figured out how to make it happen. They were able to do this because they had knowledge they needed to do so and ownership of the results.

Example of a Goal That Matters in Action

An Apparel Factory Defies Stereotypes, but Can It Thrive

I read this story in the New York Times over the weekend about Knights Apparel, a company that manufactures t-shirts and other clothing for college book stores. The founder and CEO, Joseph Bozich, wanted to not only offer a great and profitable product, he wanted to address a critical issue in the apparel market: being successful without paying wages that keep workers below the poverty level.

As you read it, you can note the passion for their work that the executives, their workers, and their customers have for the idea of creating apparel while paying workers a living wage. This is the dynamic that goals that matter create.

The kind of endeavor you are in, for profit or not, doesn’t really matter. What does is a goal that motivates your leadership and staff while drawing to you the customers or constituents you need to make it happen.

Disciplined Creativity

Early last year I went on a bit of a learning binge, reading books by some of my favorite or respected creators about the process of creativity. I find it a fascinating topic overall but at the time I was ramping up for writing my first solo authored book and wanted to see how they did it. It was highly relevant and urgent for me given the task ahead (new projects are always my favorite way to learn!).

I read On Writing by Stephen King, Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It And Use It For Life, and John Scalzi’s You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing.

(I give Scalzi the best in show award for the title alone!)

King is a horror writer you’ve probably heard of, Scalzi is one of my favorite sci/fi authors (he has interesting ideas about science and the future while still being able to tell a hell of a story), and Tharp is one of the preeminent choreographers today.

The one thing they all had in common: creation is a discipline. The writers all have established a schedule of working on their art that they stick to without much deviation. Equally important, they create whether they are feeling ‘inspired’ or not. The artist burning with the intensity of an idea and then creating madly in an epic session is the rare exception and not sustainable.

These three creators, who have made works highly valued by others repeatedly for years, are workman like about their art. They go at it every day. Is everything a gem? Hardly. But their mix of talent (yes you do need some!) with dedication and consistent effort is why they stand out from the crowd.

As you might guess, this same lesson applies equally well to any other endeavor. With so much work being knowledge oriented today, creativity is worth more than ever.

The lessons from these three creators should give you heart: keep working at it and you will be creative. Don’t worry about inspiration, it’ll happen when it happens. Your discipline is what enables you to take advantage of it.

Bridging Silos

Breaking down silos is a frequent organizational mantra. However, if taken to the extreme, you end up with a pile of rubble and scavengers making off with your grain.

The simple truth of the matter is that no organization can be made perfect, they all have their inefficiencies, politics and barriers. Sometimes the more effective approach is to bridge silos rather than break them down. You are much less likely to bring the whole edifice down on your head if you focus on punching strategic holes in the towers and connecting them rather than trying to take on the entire power structure.

Sometimes the silo is more powerful than you. But almost any organizational silo can be pierced by an intrepid orgpreneur.

Build these bridges based on creating results, getting things done, routing around office politics that have things gummed up. You’ll soon be known as the person who gets it done without trying to reinvent the organization first.

Sacred Zombie Cows: The Cartoon!

Last year I wrote an article about killing the sacred zobmie cows infesting our organizations. That idea has been marinating since then and I ultimately decided to ask Hugh MacLeod to create a cube grenade cartoon around the concept. These images created by Hugh are intended to spark conversations and get ideas moving.

Have You Killed Your Sacred Zombie Cow?

Please head on over to Orgpreneur.com, my new blog for those who use entrepreneurism in the pursuit of goals that matter, to see the full image and essay on “Have You Killed Your Sacred Cow Today?

Orgpreneurs Ship

One of my favorite lines about strategy is that it doesn’t fail on the white board. Your new product won’t ship from the white board either.

One of several things I like about Seth Godin’s book, Linchpin, is his focus on shipping product. Nothing really matters if you don’t ship. So many things can get in the way of moving that new product out the door if we lose focus, lose discipline, allow ourselves to be distracted. Seth’s message is that linchpins ship.

So do orgpreneurs.

Big Shots Who Failed Big Time

Failure is key part of entrepreneurship. As my mentor, Alan Weiss says, “If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.”

This article in the Wall Street Journal points out some rather well known, successful, people who failed right out of high school by not getting into their choice of college. Warren Buffet, Tom Brokaw, Ted Turner, Scott McNealy, the list goes on. A comment from Mr. Buffett:

“The truth is, everything that has happened in my life…that I thought was a crushing event at the time, has turned out for the better,” Mr. Buffett says. With the exception of health problems, he says, setbacks teach “lessons that carry you along. You learn that a temporary defeat is not a permanent one. In the end, it can be an opportunity.”

Mr. Buffett regards his rejection at age 19 by Harvard Business School as a pivotal episode in his life. Looking back, he says Harvard wouldn’t have been a good fit. But at the time, he “had this feeling of dread” after being rejected in an admissions interview in Chicago, and a fear of disappointing his father.

You are in excellent company when you fail at something. No failure, no progress.