retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

There are things we all know that we know, except sometimes we don’t.

Here’s a simple question: what’s the number one source for news in the US? Chances are you said NBC or maybe Fox News. And you’d be right if the question was limited to broadcast or cable news. But unless you answered Yahoo! News you missed a huge market and, arguably, America’s top source for news.

According to collected number of sources, Yahoo! News is by far the most frequently visited website for news, boasting some 70 million unique visitors in the course of a month. CNN, whose cable ratings are taking a well-publicized beating, came in second. MSNBC, Google news and Digg rounded out the top five. (Television ratings and newspaper sales don’t approach anything near 70 million.)

But read those stats again and think of this: Digg gets more internet traffic for news than NBC, the New York Times, and Fox News. And Digg doesn’t compare to Yahoo! (That’s their exclamation point, not mine. And take a visit to Digg, a news website where content flows entirely from the readers. I have a feeling we’ll hear more about that for years to come.)

It reminds us of two key lessons.

First, when we think about competition, we all have a tendency to think of the competitors we know. Yet many times the market place has hidden surprises lurking. That’s how unexpected category killers have had such an impact across retail through the years or even - if you can remember it - how a mass merchant from Arkansas became the biggest seller of food (among other things) in just about a decade.

And that means we have to keep our eyes open for all forms of competition, though it may be the last thing we want to do. Everyone’s time is always so pressed, yet we have to find a few spare moments to visit the other stores in the strip mall or downtown or wherever. If we don’t do that, we miss the line outside the cupcake shop selling a dozen for nearly $30, which makes no sense in the midst of a recession, but keeps happening.

The second lesson is equally important and it takes us back to the beginning of this column. Do we really know what we think we really know? Too often, I’m afraid, the answer is no.

While I really like Yahoo! News, I never thought of it could possibly be the leading supplier of internet news. Yet a recent Newsweek article about the Huffington Post (a top 10 news website itself) featured that shocking news. (The Newsweek article actually listed CNN as the most popular web news site, with Yahoo! coming in second. Most other internet information sources I found reversed the ranking.) That means when Yahoo! reports, as it customarily does, about a host of shopping, cooking and eating trends, a huge number of people are reading along. It means that, like it or not, Yahoo! is an influencer.

Now, I like to pride myself on keeping up with trends and knowing stuff like this. Yet I never saw this coming, even though my homepage includes Yahoo! News and I find myself checking it frequently.

The bottom line is the change was right in front of my face, but I was missing it because I wasn’t looking. I’m willing to bet I’m not the only person in business to ever have that happen.

And now I have to worry about Digg. Great.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His new book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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