Last month, Advertising Age reported on the return of “chief digital officer” as a job that old-media companies increasingly feel they need to staff. In a refreshing bit of honesty, one of those chiefs described his job as “what you get when you don’t get ‘president’.”
The Ad Age article came to mind this week, when Time Inc. appointed Randall Rothenberg, late of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, as its chief digital officer. Among other responsibilities, he’ll be “uncovering new revenue opportunities and potential digital acquisition targets.”
The message is none too subtle: sell advertising and buy into the market. It’s not a bad tactic, but it is a bad strategy.
Building communities around and through the distribution of content fundamentally changes the nature of publishing from “one to many” to “many to many”, and two-way. Trying to graft an old-line ad model onto the chassis of a bunch of national magazines wholly misses the opportunity in front of Time Inc., among others.
It’s possible to replace the old model, but not from within. If Time Inc. really wants to innovate, it should do what the New York Times or Indigo did: separate the new, digital business. You can bring the new business back later, when it is established and successful.
Unfortunately, exhorting the old order to “become digital” (even through acquisition) isn’t likely to work.