In his media column on BusinessWeek.com, Jon Fine posts a headline that says it all: "Time Inc. Mulls Health Portal." Why is it mulling, not moving and playing in traffic like the rest of us digital newbies? Incidentally, Time Inc. has used focus groups to come up with this plan. Focus groups. I haven't run one of those in 10 years. Secondly, why is Time Inc. entering the over-crowded health space?
My gut tells me that Time Inc. is trapped in its digital vision by its sunk costs. As Fine explains, the health and fitness web site would be built on its already existing platform health.com associated with its HEALTH publication. Also, it probably has the expertise down cold to do focus groups. So it does them. They would have learned plenty more by navigating around the Internet, soliciting opinions of bulletin boards such as mediabistro.com's and testing out ideas the way Shel Israel has been doing on his blog.
What I discovered when I was in a pickle like Time Inc.'s is that I didn't have the luxury of protecting sunk costs, whether it was my earlier investment in skills, a network, or a brash persona that used to work but no longer did. The beginning of the upward trajectory started when I recognized that I had to start over. It was tough. Many of the early experiments failed. I had no idea if my new investment in social media skills would pay off.
It did, but as Seth Godin emphasizes in his book "Small is the new big," it takes more time than we expect. Only now, after 26 months is serious money coming in from social media assignments and only after I realized that I had to position my expertise in digital communications as part of an integrated approach of old and new media. A career column in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL couldn't have told me that. I had to figure it out myself, by trial and error. When clients ask me for a book to read on what's going on, I tell them: There's no book. There's only you out there trying and failing and sometimes succeeding, maybe big.
Can Time Inc. approach the digital marketplace with a clean sheet of paper? This is one to watch.