Cost of Making Things Free

So I am off on vacation for a couple weeks. Regular readers fear not! I have set up a series of entries to appear according to my usual posting schedule.

Since summer officially started, I thought it appropriate to take a look back at my post about how the Public Theatre manages to offer Shakespeare in the Park for free. Please be sure to read to the comments section in the entry where my misunderstandings were corrected by a reader two years after the post. In my defense, the Shakespeare in the Park website still doesn’t do much to clarify that.

Mutant Business Models Are Coming! (Embrace Them Before They Embrace You)

Apropos to yesterday’s post about non-profit business models is a piece by Saul Kaplan on the Harvard Business Review discussing how every organization that offers some sort of service needs a business model regardless of whether you are a non-profit, NGO, government entity or for profit business.

If you have never thought about your organization’s business model but figure it is about time you did, you may found Kaplan’s comments about the mutability of business models a little disheartening.

“If you ask any ten people in your organization how it creates, delivers, and captures, will the answers even be close?

If not, it’s probably because, in the industrial era when business models seldom changed and everyone played the game by the same set of well-understood industry and sector rules, it wasn’t as important to be explicit about business models. Business models were safely assumed and taken for granted.

That won’t work in the 21st century when all bets are off. Business models don’t last as long as they used to. New players are rapidly emerging, enabled by disruptive technology, refusing to play by industrial era rules. Business model innovators aren’t constrained by existing business models. Business model innovation is becoming the new strategic imperative for all organization leaders.”

He goes on to talk about the need for new, hybrid business models that blur the existing lines. I take some comfort in the fact that business models are currently a hot topic of discussion among various arts administration blogs. It means we are staying current with trends rather than following far behind.

One thing in particular I took away from Kaplan’s post was the importance of keeping involved in the conversation about business models given that existing lines of separation between profit and non profit are likely to become less distinct.

“Perhaps the most important reason for developing common business model language across public, private, non-profit, and for-profit sectors is that transforming our important social systems (including education, health care, energy, and entrepreneurship) will require networked business models that cut across sectors. We need new hybrid models that don’t fit cleanly into today’s convenient sector buckets. We already see for-profit social enterprises, non-profits with for-profit divisions, and for-profit companies with social missions. Traditional sector lines are blurring. We’re going to see every imaginable permutation and will have to get comfortable with more experimentation and ambiguity.”

Wait, What Is This Guy Actually Talking About?

In the morning when I look at all the Twitter streams I follow, I often click interesting looking links and then come back to the web pages when I am done with all the new tweets. The result is often a long series of tabs on the Firefox browser and often I don’t quite know who suggested what story when I get around to reading it.

Since most of those I follow have an association with arts and culture, you might understand why I initially thought the blog post I was reading was on that subject. It wasn’t until I got to the sixth point that I had any inkling it was on another industry altogether and the eleventh before I was sure.

RULES FOR BUSINESS MODELS

* Tradition is not a business model. The past is no longer a reliable guide to future success.

* “Should” is not a business model. You can say that people “should” pay for your product but they will only if they find value in it.

* “I want to” is not a business model. My entrepreneurial students often start with what they want to do. I tell them, no one — except possibly their mothers — gives a damn what they *want* to do.

* Virtue is not a business model. Just because you do good does not mean you deserve to be paid for it.

* Business models are not made of entitlements and emotions. They are made of hard economics. Money has no heart.

* Begging is not a business model. It’s lazy to think that foundations and contributions can solve news’ problems. There isn’t enough money there. (Foundation friend to provide figures here.)

* There is no free lunch. Government money comes with strings.

* No one cares what you spent. Arguing that news costs a lot is irrelevant to the market.

* The only thing that matters to the market is value. What is your service worth to the public?

* Value is determined by need. What problem do you solve?

These sentiments are actually about news delivery and found on Jeff Jarvis’ BuzzMachine blog. For awhile there I thought an arts blogger was replicating Adam Thurman’s posting style on Mission Paradox. I had to go back to my Twitter account to try to figure out where the heck I got this link, finally discovering it was the Artful Manager, Andrew Taylor.

Honestly now, if I hadn’t alluded to the fact it wasn’t about non-profit arts and cultural organizations, would you have known it wasn’t? Every point made is a topic of conversation that has come up regarding the arts. Hopefully, they are conversations you have had at least with yourself, if not the staff and board of your organization.

The fact that news organizations are facing these same questions is of some comfort–at least we know the arts are not alone in the challenges being faced.

At the same time, the fact these questions can be asked of the news industry only serves to confirm their wider relevance. These are questions any business must ask. The arts are not special in this regard.

As much as I feel my practical side provides a good balance to my idealism, it is tough to think about the arts not being the exception. Every time I scroll up to re-read these points and see “Virtue is not a business model,” and “Business models are not made of entitlements and emotions,” there is a part of me that says, “Yes, but the arts are different.” In many respects this is true, but the arts in the U.S. operate in an environment where what is written above is also true to a great degree and must be acknowledged.

Rather than try to talk all of us out of our belief in the sublime experience the arts can bring to every day existence, I will merely stress the need to be mindful of the aforementioned truths and not allow our aforementioned belief in the power of the arts to dismiss the stark reality they represent.

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