Leadership / Management

Changing times bring a new message: Adapt or die

News What happens when your entire business model goes down in flames? When the world around you changes so dramatically that the one thing you're all about -- an idea, a product, a service -- no longer sells?

The heck if I know. The organization I work for is doing fine, and the people we serve -- CPAs -- are going strong as well.

But I know this: There are some cautionary tales being told out there, and we'd all be wise to listen.

The first centers on the newspaper industry. American print journalism is as old as the country itself. It's protected by the very first amendment to our Constitution. Americans have always gotten their news from newspapers. Sure, TV has become a more popular medium in the last 50 years or so. But when Americans think of news, they've typically thought of newspapers.

Not anymore. New numbers from the Pew Research Center for People and the Press show that more people get their news from the Internet than from newspapers. Circulation is plunging at papers across the country, and at least one -- the Christian Science Monitor -- has decided it will publish its daily edition only on the Internet. With fewer people buying papers, owners are resorting to layoffs and staff furloughs to cut costs, which mean fewer reporters, which mean less news, which means fewer readers, which mean cost cuts, which mean ...

You get the picture.

So we have a product that no one wants anymore -- and one that, thanks to its reliance on paper, ink, energy and transportation, leaves an awfully big carbon footprint as the green era dawns.

Funny thing is, more people are reading newspapers' articles than ever before -- they're just doing so online instead of in print. That's what former Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. recently told NPR's "Fresh Air," anyway.

So what's to become of newspapers? Some believe they're slowly going extinct, but I don't agree. Print journalism isn't dying -- it's evolving. By the time it's done, it won't look anything like traditional print journalism, but rest assured, it will still exist. The challenge for newspapers, as Seth Godin says, is to adapt to a new era, to figure out how to successfully move their ink-and-paper products to the Web and still be competitive.

Speaking of evolving, let's talk about the recording industry. Record labels made money hand over fist until the digital age arrived. With it came file sharing and sites like Napster and Kazaa. Suddenly, people could share music digitally without paying for it.

So what did the recording industry do? It sued. The Recording Industry Association of America sued Napster, Kazaa and other similar outfits and won. Then the RIAA went nuts and tried to sue ordinary folks -- more than 35,000 of them -- who shared music digitally. It made its point, but it lost a larger PR battle in the process.

Today, the recording industry is struggling to survive. It refused to evolve with the times, thinking it could sue its way out of trouble. Instead, it's trying to play catchup by cutting deals with iTunes ... and hoping to reinvent itself in the process.

What's my point?

Simply put, it's this: The world is changing quickly these days, and we have to change with it. Stubbornly doing things the same way simply because we've always done them that way doesn't cut it anymore. (Come to think of it, did it ever?) We need to be alert enough to spot changes in our environments ... and be brave enough to change ourselves.

Otherwise, we're nothing more than a print product in a digital age.


Bill Sheridan