The Giving Tree and The New York Times
The other day I read The Giving Tree to my son as I was tucking him in to bed. I remembered the book from when I was a kid.
The book tells the tale of a relationship between a boy and a tree. In the early days, the relationship is wonderful. The boy and the tree are great friends – and the boy enjoys climbing the tree’s trunk, swinging from it's branches, eating its bountiful apples, and sleeping in it’s shade. But then time passes. And as the boy gets older, the relationship changes. The boy comes back to the tree when he needs money, and the tree gives him its apples to sell in the city. Years pass. The boy needs a house, and the tree gives him its branches to build a house. Years pass. The boy wants a boat, and the tree gives him its trunk to make a boat. The boy returns one more time, this time as an old man. And the tree, which is now just a stump, has nothing more to offer him. But all the man wants to do is sit down to rest. And he sits on the stump...
Many people have written about the book, and there is much debate as to whether the tree is "selfless or merely self-sacrificing, and whether the boy is selfish or reasonable in his demands of the tree".
As I finished the book and put my son to bed, a thought hit me. We’re watching a real-time unfolding of The Giving Tree right now. It’s called the implosion of the NY Times. In this story, the role of the boy is played by the Internet...
In the Internet's youth, it looks up to the big tree (the NY Times) -- and they play nicely together and become friends. But, the tree didn't understand the true cost of a friendship with the boy. And as time passes, the NY Times is going to be forced by the Internet to sell it’s building. It will sell it’s stake in the Boston Red Sox. It will ultimately sell it's stake in the Boston Globe and About.com. It will charge a subscription for web users.
And in the end, the New York Times will just be a stump.
It may be a few years off, but I'm pretty sure I will be reading the "NY Times Edition" of the Giving Tree in the next few years. But in the meanwhile, it does provide a cautionary tale about disruptive technology. And all CEO's around the world should ask themselves: Does my company have any relationships (with other companies -- or with new technologies) that are starting off friendly (and mutually beneficial) but could evolve to be one-sided?