It is an over-simplification to say that businesses behave and grow like people: from selfish baby, to disruptive toddler, to self-conscious and defensive teenager, to the increasing comfort and complacency of the twenties, thirties and forties. Still, I’ll stick with it. And I’m intrigued, at the moment, by the transitions between stages. There have been many examples in recent months of businesses which have attempted to grow up. And some that just haven’t tried.
Children in their early years expect everything to be given to them, and – despite last year’s John Lewis advert – expect to give nothing in return. Matt wrote yesterday about Xavier Neil’s attempt to block Google advertising on his ISP, Free. His stunt was overturned by the French government; but what lay behind it was a serious question. The content – and advertising that goes with it – that Google and others provide requires ever greater bandwidth; but, like spoiled toddlers, they expect the ISPs and telcos to pay for the infrastructure without any share in the advertising revenues. It is not sustainable; the industry needs to mature, and find a compromise, this should help the development of further media recruitment.
Similarly, Amazon/Kindle needs to behave less like a cuckoo in the nest and more like a member of the publishing community. As we have written about many times, e-readers present a huge opportunity for a struggling publishing industry. But only if the bounty is shared. Repeated stories about Amazon seem to suggest that it has not learned the simple lesson that a sustainable model creates value for consumers, retail partners, publishers and authors alike. Let’s hope that it will; ultimately, despite its monopoly in the e-book market, it has to rely on the goodwill of its contributors.
So is there reason for hope? Maybe I’m misreading the signs, but I just saw the end of a play (the repeat of last year’s The Snipist) on Sky Arts. It was exactly the kind of challenging one-off drama with almost no chance of gaining an audience in which the BBC used to specialise. But Playhouse Presents allows Sky to encourage new creative talent and, at the same time, ensure that new generations of talent come first to them. It follows a series of intiatives which has seen Sky increasingly produce its own original content. They have turned from cuckoo to incubator.
If Sky – the most aggressive and uncompromising of competitors in the broadcast space – can reach their thirty-something stage without losing their edge (see Now TV), find appropriate moments to cooperate with rivals, and start to contribute to the overall well-being of their medium, perhaps other companies can learn valuable lessons.