So last week, AOL’s latest CEO Tim Armstrong started talking about some plans afoot at the once-and-never-again online activity leader. And I’m glad to see that Tim has a plan.
And it isn’t going to work.
The good news: Mr. Armstrong has quite the media pedigree. Seriously, this guy’s the real deal, experience-wise. The bad news: this is the same plan AOL used in the 1990s. It created mediocre content then, and will do something even worse now. It is not business change.
AOL used to produce their own content and hoped people would buy/follow it. “Buy” is a reference to the position AOL once held as huge (paid) ISP to the non-tech-savvy masses, and “follow it” is about AOL’s total control over what appeared on their closed service.
The other thing AOL did was license content, and pay pretty solid commissions. I wrote IYM Software Review between 1989 and 1995, and in the final four years of that period watched both my readership and income soar under a deal with AOL. And then they proposed cutting what they paid me by 99%. And so I discovered the Internet.
Back in the day content producers were on staff (or in the case of IYM contracted) and well-enough paid to be controlled . What is AOL going to offer content producers today?
So that’s the bad news. While business change can sometimes be repackaging of old ideas, this is an idea with nothing behind it. Journalists and media producers are paid less and less as the number of choices increases, and AOL is not going to magically create enough mass to get folks to write for them exclusively without paying them; and they can’t afford that.
Silk Purse/Sow’s Ear, understand?
I’m all about business change. This isn’t it.