What’s in a newspaper anyway?

One phenomena to hit publishers in the 2000s was “The Great Unbundling.” From one perspective, media used to be prefabricated and distributed. It was bundled. Here’s what I mean:

When you buy a paper, or listened to the radio, all these things came packaged together.

You only had to choose the medium, brand, or station. If you needed something specific you might search through the material until you found it.

Think: rush hour traffic radio includes a news piece, a DJ mix, maybe a commercial free hour sponsored by some brand, contests to pay your bills, listener call-ins, interviews and so on.

News papers were hit hard by this unbundling. As classifieds moved online, separating them from physical papers, publishers lost important revenue streams.

The web became the place to find things more directly and simply. This is referred to as the “dethroning” of legacy publishers as information gatekeepers. We no longer have to wait for news and print cycles, we always search around them.

Sticking with the general concept of unbundling, we might also recognize this occurring within tech companies themselves. Not long after NYT erected its first paywall around 2013, Facebook unbundled itself with Facebook Rooms… and it also erected walls around new products cut out from some of Facebook’s core application including Messenger, Slingshot, Paper, and Poke. You might recognize one or two of these, the rest are considered relative failures.

Unbundling and Specialization

First off, the idea of “unbundling” seems to be another way of thinking about specialization, and specialization has a long and interesting tension in our economy.

Today employers may want the know-how of experienced specialists, yet the same time, feel increased need for specialists to perform a greater variety of tasks.

In the video below, Vinay and Scott claim this is an attribute of businesses being constrained by growing uncertainty about the future.

Back to the Bundleship

Two things are happening now, (1) self publishing is the norm and (2) consolidating and curating information is a new vertical.

With the ability to self publish, we might be able to reframe what we’re seeing as a return to the bundled, a “rebundling” – cross fabrications of culture and disciplines into new specializations. I am thinking of people like Logan Paul and PewDiePie. Even Adobe and Google release regular video updates on products and development, and the industry in general.

On the user side, unbundling might be harder to scale. For any number of interests I may have, I need to have in mind some additional number of sources. I need to check them for updates, and I need to synthesize greater information. As we see, people might just prefer to log into Facebook or Twitter and have more of that work done for them.

On the business side, it’s also clear that companies like Amazon aren’t only entirely driven by users. It’s been stated that their core business is relatively low-margin, and so they are more likely to enter other business models and industries with higher margins.