Real estate lessons from the newspaper nosedive

I caught this on boingboing this morning:



It’s kinda funny. But it also reminded me that newspapers, now on the precipice of oblivion, were actually pretty quick to jump on the Internet. This piece is but one example. Newspapers were logging into (albeit proprietary) networks years before the 1990’s boom. Early newspaper website efforts like Mercury Center and, later, networks like RealCities, were online early in the game.

But newspapers are nonetheless in dire straights today. Sure, craigslist was a withering blow, but I think there’s more to it than that.

I think newspapers, like the real estate brokerage business, tended to approach innovation in a “same thing, different place” manner – meaning structure of the business, and its culture, remained the same even amid significant moves to embrace new media.

So, today, a newspaper can have a great website, yet still have a newsroom full of journalists from journalism schools that prepared them for a world that no longer exists. It can build significant online readership, but fail to effectively monetize it for fear of cannibalizing what remains of its legacy business.

This is starting to change, but it may be too late.

Think about this in terms of real estate. Is a great website going to save a brokerage unless its structure and culture changes? Can its (independent) workforce be expected to help drive change when they are almost congenitally wired not to?

I have more questions than answers at this point. But the newspaper case seems to suggest that if the real estate brokerage business is to survive, deeper, more structural change — executed now — is in order.

What do you think?

Brian Boero