A couple of quick follow-ups to my last post: first, a commenter points out that Career Builder is an example of a successful spin-off from a major media company. (Actually, from three media companies; I bet having ownership by multiple companies helped insulate the company from any one firm’s internal politics). So it appears that the spin-off model can work.
Second, the always-interesting Tom Lee points to the Washington Post’s online operation as an example of the spin-off model. This is a really interesting example because it’s closer to the core of the WaPo‘s business than Career Builder is to Gannett’s. And by all accounts, it was relatively successful. I’m pretty sure I’ve read multiple people comment that the Post is a local newspaper with a national website, which is precisely what you’d want a successful spin-off news organization to do.
The problem is that washingtonpost.com is nowhere close to being a free-standing organization. They get tremendous benefit from having access to content from the print Post, and while I haven’t looked at their business model in any detail, I’d be willing to bet that there’s massive cross-subsidy going on. That makes it a better website, but the problem is that it relieves the web side of the business of the need to come up with new, lower-cost methods for generating news. Which means that if and when the print side hits an iceberg, the online side won’t be able to stand on its own.