Early last week, Yahoo fired its CEO, Carol Bartz, who was two-thirds of her way toward her third year running the place. The company’s board has announced that it is putting a priority on "evaluating strategic options" ahead of searching for a permanent replacement for Bartz (who resigned from Yahoo's board last Friday).
Don't shed tears for Bartz, though. She's likely to walk away with $14 million, and that's on top of the $12 million she was earning annually (and the oodles of cash she pocketed for running Autodesk, one of my favorite companies of all time, for so many years). She's not the only one who is, or will, get rich off of Yahoo's slow demise. There's a better than even chance that Yahoo will merge with another company with a tenuous business proposition, like AOL or MySpace (or both), or get bought by a larger, suffering fish, like Microsoft (?). Any of these actions will throw off lots of money for the execs, board members, investment bankers, and largest shareholders.
None of these companies will exist a few years from now (Microsoft will, of course, but more through inertia than anything else), and Bartz et al will be laughing from the beaches on their private islands, or whatever. If we common folk needed yet another reason to sharpen our pitchforks and stand up to this rapacious abuse of employees, markets, and our society at large, this is it. But nobody seems to care -- it's OK for the rich to get richer, however they do it, because somehow their wealth will help the rest of us -- and I can't for the life of me figure out what to do about it.
So I'm going to presume that Yahoo actually wants to stay in business by doing things that are relevant to the marketplace and might enable it to earn some money. It’s hard to talk about such things without using meaningless buzzwords like platforms and optimization and user experience, but here are three thought-starters on what Yahoo could do to reattach a business to its brand:
- Crack the dependency on advertising -- Yahoo makes the vast majority of its money off of search and, to a lesser but notable extent, display ads. Doing so isn't a new idea; in fact, it's one of the oldest ways to support a media distribution platform, whether printed on paper, broadcast over the airwaves, or quantized into cyberspace. The other tried-and-true funding mechanism has always been subscriptions, which currently earn Yahoo approximately $0/annually. Maybe it could figure out ways to monetize membership and access that have escaped its ad-dependent competition? The future of Internet experience is likely to be less anonymous, and less based on meaningless free entertainment. Could Yahoo lead that development?
- Elevate existing non-ad properties -- I'm thinking Flickr in particular, which is now one of many inert, unremarkable cloud destinations for image storage. Could it become something more, like a personal collectibles site where people do everything from backup their insurance policies with images of their belongings, to specialized tools for various collector communities (or corporate databases); could it become something different, like an image-based search tool for capturing reviews/information on real world experience (restaurant or hotel reviews, movies, whatever)? What other sites could it build out more or differently (think Evite, only better)?
- Be the first to side with users -- Ultimately, every web-based service exists to enrich the companies and investors that pay them for the privilege of marketing or selling to consumers (who get to use the services for "free"). Of course, usage isn't free, as consumers give up their interests, behavioral data, and overall access to information in exchange for, what, the honor of being sold to...in the name of convenience, if little else. I partially expect and partially hope that we consumers will wise up to this fact and demand fairer, less command-and-control treatment, along with a cut in the money made off of our data. Yahoo could decide to be the brand that pioneers this change in corporate focus, and come up with tools and services to empower consumers. Perhaps true purchasing strength (whether via info, access, or both) would be worth more to everyone involved?
I dunno, is any of this even possible, let alone likely? The Yahoo drama looks too much like so many others, so the book on it coming out any differently could pay a lot. Does the board have the guts to truly lead?
What do you think?
(Image credit: great logo, but what does it mean?)