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Plus Report - By Thomas Baekdal - August 2018

Future of Media: From Generalist to Focused

One of the absolute most important trends that defines media today is how the more generalized middle-market is being replaced by a more atomized, specific market. On one side there are big platforms and on the other are niche verticals.

We see this trend in so many different places.

To give you a simple example, the New York Times recently wrote about the problems facing Barnes & Noble, and in it was this delightful graph.

As you can see, the number of B&N stores are in decline, whereas there is this amazing growth in independent bookstores.

If you think back to the market that we used to know from the 1980s, this concept shouldn't be possible. Barnes & Noble, with its wider inventory, should surely be winning.

But in today's world, this is no longer true.

Obviously, it's not just the independent bookstores that are growing, it's also massive platforms like Amazon. So we are seeing this clear shift away from the middle-market.

As all the big platforms take over the generalized markets, there is this amazing counter trend of small independent places bringing back the more specific value that people are looking for.

As Ramez Naam put it:

Today, this is such a common pattern, and it doesn't just apply to books of course, it applies to everything.

So, if you are a publisher or a media startup, or anyone else trying to create something, your biggest obstacles are not Facebook, Google, Amazon, or any of the other big platforms. The real 'enemy' is generalization.

Because, if you generalize your focus, you end up in the middle-market, which is not really a market anymore. And this is a key element of why so many publishers struggle to make things work today.

But, wait a minute, you might say. Isn't Amazon generalized as well?

Well, not exactly.

You see, while Amazon certainly has a very wide and generalized product inventory, they are also very specifically focusing on just being this gigantic platform. So, their product inventory is very generalized, but their focus isn't.

In comparison, Barnes & Noble have a somewhat generalized inventory, but the stores themselves are also very generalized (compared to many independent stores). In other words, Barnes & Noble are not a platform, or a niche. They are in the middle.

This is the difference between them.

So, the key for any business today is to get out of this middle-market as quickly as possible, and shift away from being a generalist to create a specific focus.

The problem here is that it isn't really about focusing on a specific topic or area. It's about defining focus in a different way to what we are used to.

So in this 35-page report, let's talk about how to define this focus.

In the past, growth came from widening your market

One of the biggest obstacles I come across when I try to talk about focus is that it goes contrary to the way things have always been done.

Let me ask you a simple question:

Imagine that your product/publication has stalled and that you struggle to get new subscribers, what is then the most effective way to grow?

Well, the default answer that pops into your head is to 'expand'.

This is how everyone thinks by default. If your current product isn't growing anymore, add another. And when that stops growing, add yet another ... and then another.


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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