When Telstra paid AUD $636 million for he Trading Post in 2004 many questioned yet another wasted acquisition for the Telco giant (the list is long). Today those questions have been vindicated as Telstra has now shut down the 22 print versions of the Trading Post to concentrate on the online edition. Another hit will come as many visitors to the website would have come from the print versions and the final blow maybe the poor structure of the Trading Post website – as only last year I attempted unsuccessfully to post a product (a free trial offer – that wasn’t actually free) and gave up after I could not work out how to post (it kept directing me to pay). So I missed out on saying the phrase ‘tell him he’s dreaming’ all because a special offer I clicked on didn’t turn out out be that special after all.
As for another ‘dreamer’ Ron Walker is trying to paint his tenure at Fairfax as a savior telling ABC PM, “If we had continued to rely on the cash flows from the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age and the Financial Review, the company wouldn’t have existed today, so, it’s paid off for us”. Yes Ron, paying $700 plus million for a ‘New Zealand only’ classifieds site saved Fairfax! Fairfax has some great opportunities but the window is closing very fast and buying up expensive digital assets that do not even cover the interest on the loan to buy that same asset is not the answer. I have no idea what Ron Walker has done in his time on the Fairfax board, but I can assure you he will not be remembered as a savior!
It truly dumbfounds me how large organisations such as Telstra, Fairfax, PBL or News Limited rarely ever create a unique product from scratch. They are all very good at buying assets at the height of the market and selling or getting out at the bottom of the market. These companies already have huge traffic to their major sites and massive databases in the classifieds arena, be it in cars, jobs, houses or general classifieds., so it should be relatively easy for them to create successful new products and increase shareholder value.
They need to get out of the habit of buying up websites for 100’s of millions of dollars and invest a few million each year in a ‘Black Ops’ style tech team to come up with new and exciting products from existing databases/systems they have.
This team should be able to tap into (read) any database and should be able to create new products from scratch without someone telling them ‘no you cannot do that, this will affect this or that’. The idea is that you create new products and test them in markets across your digital assets. This team should be able to go and meet with any division of the organisation and be granted access to any data. Yes, you must have some oversight, but that is at the end of the process, not at the beginning – if a product doesn’t fit – or is too risky – it gets shelved.
The alternative is to continue dying a slow death and live in denial. There does come a time when banks will abandon these companies or their money will run out and for some of them the only way to survive will be to do what Telstra is doing and selling off or closing down assets.
This is the digital era and web/mobile based products will be everything to these companies in less than 10 years.