Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Blogging as a Disruptive Innovation

The Instapundit linked to an article by Daniel Harrison over at discussing blogging as a disruptive innovation. I'm a big fan of Clayton Christensen's theories, and if you haven't read The Innovator's Solution, I would highly, highly recommend it.

I agree with Mr. Harrison that blogging is a disruptive innovation impacting traditional journalism, but not in the way he suggests. In order for something to qualify as a disruptive innovation in Christensen's sense, it must satisfy at least one of two conditions:

  1. It must be a lower-cost alternative for a group of customers who are overserved by the current solution, or
  2. It must create a new value chain by introducing new consumers who did not have the means or the expertise to use the current solution.
Neither one of these conditions applies to people who read blogs. Blog readers are almost always news junkies- it's not that they are overserved by traditional media, they're underserved by it. They want more opinions and perspectives than they can get via traditional means. They are the most demanding news consumers, and the current solution is not good enough for them.

However, blogs are disruptive for another important category of consumers: advertisers. Advertisers are the true customers for media organizations- it's their advertising that pays the bills. I believe that advertising on blogs satisfies both criteria for a disruptive innovation. Advertising on a blog is a cheaper way to get a highly targeted audience of informed, passionate media consumers. As blogging/podcasting/etc. expand to cover every aspect of the media universe, they will continue to lure advertising dollars away from traditional outlets.

The only thing I wonder about is whether bloggers are motivated to do what it takes to go after higher margin, more demanding advertisers. The best blogs I read are written by experts who are passionate and knowledgable about their subject areas for their own sake, and I don't feel the profit motive drives them the way it drives a normal businessperson. Would a blogger be willing to go after higher margin ad dollars by incorporating popups or streaming video to their blog? That seems like the sort of thing that drives people away from traditional media sites in the first place, and could place a cap on blogging's disruptive growth- at least as far as advertising goes.

On the other hand, if the money is there, I expect there will be someone who figures out a way to take advantage of it.


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