An immature industry requires some mature professionals

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Can you remember life before the Internet? When a personal computer was another name for a handheld calculator? When publishing was a process that required a printing press?

If you’re old enough to remember hot type, the pica stick, and manual typewriters, and you’re active in 21st century online publishing, you’re a “retread.” Congratulations on being smart, adaptable and unafraid to embrace technological change.

I’m 53 years old. I’m a retread, too. And proud of it.

I made the conscious decision back in 1995 to learn everything I could about online publishing. By 1999 I had sold off all my print publishing businesses and was focusing 100 percent of my attention on online publishing and marketing.

I was 43 when I made the transition — successfully, some would say. But I’ll never match the enthusiasm and understanding that my 20-something colleagues have.

At one of my recent workshops, four of the six professionals were former print publishers who have become responsible for online publishing.

Actually, two are essentially print publishers who are trying to do online publishing in their spare time — and struggling.

Two have made the transition from print, and are truly now full-time, online editors.

The other two are online marketers, and that’s all they had ever done professionally.

“What did you do before your were an online marketer?” I asked.

“Drink beer,” was the straight-faced reply. “I was in college.”

Our industry now has a whole workforce of publishing professionals, with three to five years of experience, who have never done anything else.

We all know 24-year-olds who have 10 years of documented experience in website design. They’ve grown up with the technology. And they recognize that it’s still evolving.

The value of diversity in age and experience

The successful online publishing teams that I see regularly have a diversity of contributors. Usually there is someone leading the group, who is probably in his or her 40s or 50s, who is a print publishing retread.

The leaders understand copywriting, headlining, demographics, human behavior, publishing economics, meeting the reader’s needs — all the factors that are not platform-specific.

And they really want the 20-somethings on their team who think that online publishing is absolutely all that matters.

These young people don’t read print newspapers. They think of newspapers as being websites like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

Today’s youngest publishing professionals have no nostalgia for the demise of the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. They think it was overdue.

Digital publishing is an immature industry

The evolution of the World Wide Web in 2009 is equivalent to where television was in the 1950s. Or where radio was in the 1930s. Or where newspaper publishing was in the 1700s.

All the rules are not yet clearly established. The technology is not yet firmly footed.

Digital publishing is an immature industry. It won’t be a mature industry for several more decades.

The transition is not complete. The technology is still evolving.

Today, both old and new experiences can inform the current digital publishing process.

If you are running an online media operation, don’t underestimate the value of diversity in age, opinions, experience and skills.

There should be plenty of room on your online publishing team for 40-something and 50-something “retreads” who have been retrained. They bring a wealth of valuable experience.

And make certain you recruit some young people who are impetuous and impatient, and are not nostalgic about dying print publications. They are grounded in the present and typify the future.

This blog post was originally published by Mequoda Group. Reprinted with permission


Don Nicholas is Managing Partner for Mequoda Group and the firm's lead media strategy consultant. Over the past 30 years, he has guided the media strategy for hundreds of companies in the areas of content development, information product design, marketing, economics, mergers, acquisitions and organizational development. He has a talent for identifying new media business opportunities and creating media strategies to pursue them.

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