Thanks to the people at Infopresse magazine who had invited him to speak at one of their conferences, I had the chance to sit down one-on-one with renowned online guru Seth Godin last week. I was interested in getting his perspective on today’s Web and collecting his thoughts on the newspaper and directory publishing industries.
When asked where the social media Web would be in 10 years, Godin told me that he thought many opportunities we see today would be locked down, that now was the right moment to try to get a dominant voice in the space and that it was a land grab. He also feels we will live our online lives in private networks possibly centered on zip codes. Why private? Because “if you can get kicked out, you’ll behave better” he answered. He said “generalist” networks would not make sense in the future. He also mentioned identity and trust will be fundamental element of those networks.
When we started talking about newspapers and I pointed out that it seemed to be a topic of interest for him these days (he wrote a couple of good blog posts in the last six months on the subject), he reminded me that he was already discussing the future of newspapers in his blog 4-5 years ago.
Regarding print newspapers, he told me bluntly that “dead wood is going away”. He also told me that the move from print to online created a major monetization problem because of “lack of scarcity”. Offline, you could easily erect barriers to entry via the need for printing plants, trucks, paper supplies, etc. All that friction created the ability for publishers to generate revenues and because the Internet brings abundance, they lost that ability. When asked what he would do if he ran a newspaper, he said he would evaluate if current assets were transferable to the Web. If they were, he would use the print vehicle to push for online usage and subscriptions as much as he can, delivering smaller atoms of news to subscribers many times per day, and centered around a specific geography. He also mentioned he would simply shut down the company if assets could not be migrated online.
Regarding the Yellow Pages industry, he said that, in the past, it was a perfect industry (like the music industry). Small businesses want to pay for media that works with an easy-to-prove ROI (i.e. phone calls) and directory publishers were the top dogs in that space. But things changed with the arrival of Google. He simply told me “Google is the Yellow Pages now” because of completeness of data and a ROI-driven business model. He then wondered out loud if Google would be a monopoly in local search, i.e. that they would be so powerful that consumers would want only one player. His answer was no. There’s certainly some place for another major player in the space.
When asked if he thought social media was a threat to Google, he answered he didn’t think it was. He said the signal-to-noise ratio might become too high once everyone has joined social media sites and are sharing information all sorts of information. He told me he thought the Google’s major strength was the fact that it was a productivity tool and that social media was a productivity killer.
What it means: some interesting thoughts. Regarding the opportunities in social media, I agree with him that now is the time to go for a land grab. The window of opportunity will be closing in the next 18-24 months and winners (or winning systems) will be very clear by then. Regarding the Yellow Pages industry, I think he’s right about the analogy with Google. It’s certainly one of the reasons why directory publishers have been playing catch up with the leading search engine in the last five years. The only place where Godin and I didn’t agree was on the social media threat to Google. I believe that having too much noise will bring the creation/introduction of filters and that it’s through those filters that we will consume social media information. I think Google has to be worried about real-time conversations and real-time search.