Are you the “Best in the World”?

From the New York Times:

Print advertising sales dropped a record 14 percent in the first quarter, reports the Newspaper Association of America. Real estate and recruitment ads fell 35 percent. Meanwhile, newspapers’ online revenue grew 7 percent over last year: the smallest gain since the industry group began reporting online sales growth in 2004.

There’s a real question, I think, whether a media entity with monopoly distribution can replace what it loses in that monopoly world with what it stands to gain in the particularly non-monopolistic world of the Internet. Put out a shingle for classifieds online if you want, but Craigslist and scores of other players are already there. And they are as local as you are.

Radio, likewise, has had a monopoly over the ears (not one station, but the medium itself). If you want a dynamic and ever-changing selection of music, not to mention the other joys of radio, the radio itself was then only way to get it. Until iPods. And the Internet. And so on.

Can radio swap conventional dollars for digital ones in equal (or better) proportions?

Only to the degree that distribution is broad enough and the product being offered is unique enough.

Too much of radio today is utilitarian – used because it’s there and there without adequate substitutes. Creating popular and utilitarian products is a fine strategy – an ideal one, even – in a world where Arbitron is the only measure which counts.

But in the world after Arbitron – the world where almost anything is available almost anywhere almost all the time, the distribution advantage of radio shrinks as it shares shelf space with tons of alternatives and substitutes.

At that point, as our pal Seth Godin says, the question is what makes your particular product the “best in the world.”

As an industry, we would be wise to invest more of our time creating “best in the world” products.

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