I learned about Michael Jackson's death yesterday on Twitter about an hour before CNN reported it.
I use TweetDeck on my Mac, and one of the columns I keep open is TwitScoop, which flashes Twitter's hottest topics and newly trending items. The trending words and phrases literally grow in size with their increasing popularity. As I watched late yesterday afternoon (at 5:36 p.m. EDT — click image on the right to magnify), I started to see "Michael Jackson," "MJ," "hospital," and "died." Pretty soon, that's all anyone was tweeting about. CNN and other traditional newsmedia websites had nothing. As I said, it took a full hour before the networks "confirmed" his death.
There will be many stories written about this new phenomenon of news dissemination; that the story first broke on a blog (TMZ.com — click image on the left to magnify) and was tweeted around the world at lIghtspeed; and that the old media couldn't compete with the new social media. Digital-journalism guru Jeff Jarvis is already the leader in the clubhouse with his post, "The King of Twitter." (I'm a big fan of Jeff and his book, What Would Google Do? See my earlier post covering it.) Here is the money quote from Jeff's piece:
If the Iraq War was the birth of CNN could Iran and Jackson mark the start of their decline in influence?
Jeff answers his own question, "Too soon to say." But he follows this up with what I find to be a more important conclusion:
Journalists end up playing new roles in the news ecosystem.
To that I would add the qualifier successful. Successful journalists and media organizations will play a new role, but many will shuffle off into oblivion, carping about the death of newsprint.
Now don't get me wrong: I love newspapers. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law have been print journalists. I get two newspapers each day: The Boston Globe seven days a week, The Wall Street Journal six days, and The New York Times on Sunday. A few weeks ago, I was quoted for the first time in a Journal article about a noncompete case I litigated. I read the story online the night before, but it wasn't real for me until I saw it in print. But I suspect that that's just a generational thing, and my millennial colleagues wouldn't have had that same reaction.
But no one will deny that newspapers are in serious trouble. The old model doesn't work anymore. Fewer people will accept the rising subscription costs for something that they can read online on their iPhones and not have to worry about recycling.
This brings us to one of the central themes of The Client Revolution:
A business model succeeds, and then the world changes. The most successful players under the old model resist the change, and then the old model gets replaced.
In this blog, we talk mostly about the guild model of law firms with their anticlient legacy systems like hourly billing, lockstep salaries, and legalese. But we're seeing it in many other industries, where market dominators with previously successful business models are slipping away as the world changes out from under them. Newspapers, television networks, record companies, American automobile manufacturers, real-estate agencies, video stores, airlines … and, yes, law firms.
Management über-guru Peter Drucker had this to say about how successful companies greet innovation:
Market domination tends to lull the leader to sleep; monopolists flounder on their own complacency rather than on public opposition. Market domination produces tremendous internal resistance against any innovation and thus makes adaptation to change dangerously difficult.
The story of Michael Jackson's death will inform on the need for newspapers and cable-news companies to change — and fast — before being made irrelevant by blogs and Twitter and other forms of Media 2.0. The newspaper model succeeded for more than a century, but it might not survive this decade. The CNN model took off during the first Gulf War, but its demise may be reported alongside stories of the Iranian elections and the death of Michael Jackson.
Even Michael Jackson himself could be a case study. He released the most successful album in history, with twice as many copies sold as the runner-up. Pundits explained his unmatched (and unmatchable) commercial success with his ability to appeal to audiences black and white, male and female, American and international; he was the first real "crossover" star. His success led the way for countless other artists to broaden their appeal. He changed the music business.
But he released Thriller nearly 27 years ago. He enjoyed incredible success, but then the world changed, and he never reinvented himself, and his leadership was gradually replaced with nostalgia. He released just four more albums with declining sales figures. Unlike other artists who were able to reinvent themselves over time to maintain their success — the Beatles and Madonna come to mind — Michael Jackson did not. (None of this is intended as serious music criticism. "Paul, I think I told you, I'm a lawyer, not a fighter.")
Reinventing a successful business model is very difficult. It will be hard for the newsmedia. It will be hard for law firms, especially the ones that have been so successful.
But their futures depend on it.