An Immigrant’s Dilemma

Today, you are either a digital native or a digital immigrant. If you’re under thirty you’re definitely a native: you speak digital as a first language, digital is in your blood, you inhabit a completely different world to the rest of us.

It’s taken a bit of time for us immigrants to catch on to the importance of being digitally literate, but with e-commerce now 7.2% of GDP it shows that old dogs can learn new tricks after all.

However, there are some powerful old immigrants with well established businesses who are finding it difficult to understand how to adapt their products to be attractive to digital natives. Even semi-digitally literate immigrants are becoming more difficult to please.

A prime example is Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to get people to pay to read The Times online. Results out this week would seem to indicate that they are not prepared to pay for what he has to offer.

The Times online offer is a perfect illustration of immigrant ignorance – and arrogance too. Just to stick The Times on a website, give it a few tweaks and expect people to pay for it, lacks imagination and reveals a worrying lack of understanding about how to generate interest – and revenue – on the internet. It’s a very lazy response to a golden opportunity. The result looks as if as if a digitally ignorant immigrant has been directing semi-illiterate immigrants to produce a product for natives whose language they do not understand.

I would suggest that if The Times Online is to succeed, it has to be a completely new product, innovative, interactive and exciting. It has to have new ideas and create new markets. It has to have an ‘i-pod / i-pad’ excitement factor that has people queuing up to subscribe. If it did, no journalist working for The Times need have any concerns about their long-term future.

By the look of it, it’s time News International gave their creative thinking processes a good overhaul. I would suggest they learn to do some divergent thinking i.e. exploring a multitude of possible answers to a problem, developing the ability to see lots of different interpretations and to start thinking laterally – it’s similar to Charles Handy’s upside down thinking. Times Online is linear or convergent thinking, and it has not delivered.

If Rupert Murdoch had said “We need to create a product that people really want to pay for” and started a process to create something new and very special rather than saying  “why should people get good journalism for free”, Times Online might have been a very different product, but he gave readers of The Times the wrong message, and his staff the wrong attitude.

As I said in my previous post, Rupert Murdoch will probably make the Times online work if it kills him, but it may be a very different animal by the time he’s finished. It needs to be. Last week he accused us Brits of being ‘small thinkers’ – perhaps he is presiding over too many ‘lame thinkers’?

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