Hindsight is 20/20.
The Boston Globe, like many of the nation’s newspapers, have faced buyouts and layoffs over the last few months. A successful round of such buyouts reduced the number of people who needed to be fired, but the paper – which is owned by the New York Times company – is still suffering, primarily due to falling advertising income and classified profits.
That reminds me of a story.
In 1995, Jeff Taylor sat in front of a group of Boston Globe executives. He had an idea for a website, a job board, that would post help-wanted ads online. It was one of the first of its kind. What he wanted was $1 Million dollars in exchange for controlling interest in this venture.
He was going to call Monster Board.
The Globe’s executives declined. Why shouldn’t they? They were making $100 Million a year on classified revenue. Even though the million that Taylor was asking for it was only a small fraction of what they would make that year, it was still an unnecessary risk for an industry that doesn’t like taking risks.
To make a long story short, Taylor found his money from TMP Worldwide, an advertising firm. With it he created Monster.com, a website that posts help-wanted ads online. A website that in 2000 generated $500 Million dollars, much of this coming from people who might have otherwise put help-wanted ads in newspapers, including the Boston Globe.
Classifieds were big business. At their peak in the 80s and 90s the Globe was selling 100 pages of ads for $40,000 to $50,000 a page – it was staggering, but that kind of income made it hard to accept the fact that it was possible for it to ever go away and that denial was what has left the Globe in its current position, with a forced $20 Million dollar pay and benefit concession requirement from its parent company (which, as of June, is being renegotiated) and pay cuts across the board.
Would Monster have saved the Globe? Maybe not. What this story does give us, however, is another example of why newspapers are in the state they are now in and it should act as a warning for any industry that becomes too deeply mired in complacency.