EDITORIAL: Shifting Sands

Picture 12 editors seated comfortably in the lounge room of a classy hotel on the holiday coast at Faro, Portugal. This was the annual gathering of editors from IDG IT channel publications from around the world, held a little over two weeks ago.

At its heart, the meeting was an opportunity to share ideas and a common interest in writing about the most influential segment of the IT industry. It was interesting to note the consensus of opinion that developed as one by one each editor, including yours truly, gave an overview of the experiences and issues he or she faced in each country. The direct threat, impact of the Internet on business models and the margin pressures impacting small resellers or box movers were all hot topics of discussion.

Imagine then when one editor got off the beaten track and broached that taboo topic shunned by all as a very bad idea: advertorial, or paid editorial.

I've never seen such a simultaneous expression of disapproval as each editor shifted uncomfortably in their seats, scratched their heads and exchanged looks of bewilderment. Quite amusing in hindsight really.

Paid editorial might be, one editor argued, an opportunity that could offer readers in his small northern European country interesting information and make money at the same time.

Obviously ARN has never ventured down this track because of our belief in the long-term credibility established by a strict separation between editorial and advertising. And it was reassuring to see other editors felt the same way.

But for our friend this was simply a new concept he innocently thought was worth exploring. To draw a comparison with the channel, the Internet phenomenon is seeing new players enter the fray in the form of ISPs, ASPs and other service providers. These are companies that don't typically conform to the traditional ways of working in a three-tiered distribution channel.

Now whether all of them are ethical I don't know - although we have seen at least one dodgy player exit the ISP scene recently.

The point is the IT industry is changing at such a rapid pace all over the world that people are constantly challenging the status quo and trying new ideas. Creativity is king, tradition is out.

And while different companies might have opposing ideas on the best way forward, the experience at this meeting reminded me that without the commitment to adopt change, the channel will change around you and probably not to your benefit.

It's a bit like some of the houses I saw perched precariously on the edge of the crumbling Portugese coastline. As the land eroded, it gradually slipped away into the sea and had exposed some of the houses' concrete foundations.

Likewise, if you don't change your bricks-and-mortar operations, the ground threatens to shift underneath you - regardless of the great ocean views.

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