Being in a competitive market with low margins is a tough business to be in. Even more so when differentiating your product is both expensive and challenges the status quo.
I like to get some of my exercise via bouldering and one of the key things I learnt early on is how important it is to know the difference between lacking the skills and strength to be able to complete a route and being afraid of what was required to get to the end.
In the first scenario you have to work out what is missing, is there a technique I need to improve on an easier route, do I need more core strength? These are identifiable and addressable.
In the second scenario I have to overcome my fear in order to progress and each time this requires taking a calculated risk - of falling, of failing, possibly of hurting myself. But I know if I don't, I am unlikely to progress as a climber.
This is what it feels like in the media right now.
There is so much safety and comfort in 'but that's how 'X' does it. This is a great way to stay climbing the same routes forever. In the past newsprint provided the margins for us. It dictated, this is what's possible via a printing press. Nothing more. Every paper had to work out how to be distinctive within those limitations.
In contrast the wide open frontier of the internet, of digital storytelling is too intimidating, so we stick with what we 'know'. Defining ourselves by our closeness to our competitors, rather than by the distance between us.
By standing out, it is too easy to say why you failed. If you stick to the status quo then it is the 'industry', or 'market forces' or 'changing consumer demands'. Anything but inaction. As discussed in a previous post, what is the point of speed, if you can't learn quickly?
What is the point of learning if you don't apply what you have learnt?
I believe the power, the opportunity and the creativity of the internet is only just getting started. Publishing news 'online' is barely 20 years old and by and large we still define our digital products in relation to our print form.
'Stories' (the social media kind) is the first original digital format. Only possible when a high quality camera, a multitouch screen and a good internet connection are combined. It isn't defined by how it recreates or reimagines how we told stories in print or on TV. It defines a new format, one that constantly evolves as platforms provide new features to their creative users.
Why wasn't stories invented by a media company looking to bring their journalism to life on mobiles? Because we're not set up to do so, we're too busy with other priorities and we don't have all the skills we would need.
There is tremendous opportunity in choosing to be different, in ensuring your readers and their needs are at the heart of your decision making. It does mean you won't be for everyone, but it also means those readers that choose your product know for sure why they like it.