Andreessen is the guy who co-authored the early Web browser, Mosaic, which later became the Netscape browser. He co-founded Ning.com and is investor in a slew of other Internet companies, including Digg and Twitter.
The “burn the boats” reference refers to an action Hernando Cortes ordered when he came to the New World. Andreessen’s advice to traditional media companies, ironically, comes at a time when their boats are floating higher. The stocks of several have been on the rise, a few are at 52-week highs, driven by cost-cutting and an improvement in what had been anticipated in the ad market. But the view isn’t particularly new for him; he’s said as much a year ago.
We got to talking about how media companies are handling the digital disruption of the Internet when he brought up the Cortes analogy. In particular, he was talking about print media such as newspapers and magazines, and his longstanding recommendation that they should shut down their print editions and embrace the Web wholeheartedly. “You gotta burn the boats,” he told me, “you gotta commit.” His point is that if traditional media companies don’t burn their own boats, somebody else will.
Andreessen asked me if TechCrunch is working on an iPad app or planning on putting up a paywall. I gave him a blank stare. He laughed and noted that none of the newer Web publications (he’s an investor in the Business Insider) are either. “”All the new companies are not spending a nanosecond on the iPad or thinking of ways to charge for content. The older companies, that is all they are thinking about.”
Talking about paywalls and paid apps is like saying, “We know where the market is and we are not going to go there.” Print newspapers and magazines will never get there, he argues, until they burn the boats and shut down their print operations. Yes, there are still a lot of people and money in those boats–billions of dollars in revenue in some cases. “At risk is 80% of revenues and headcount,” Andreessen acknowledges, “but shift happens.” You’d have to be crazy to burn the boats. Crazy like Cortes.
I’m thinking Andreessen doesn’t have a large investment position in any traditional media company.
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