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A Disruptive Innovation
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A Disruptive Innovation
"The object of this paper is to lay before the public, at a price within the means of every one,
all the news of the day, and at the same time afford an advantageous medium for advertising."
, Sept. 3, 1833)
In 1997 Clayton Christensen introduced a business model known as disruptive innovation. As one examines his theory, you are reminded of Harold Innis' socioeconomic theory of change. Innis believed that communication technology is not merely a human construct designed to fill a perceived gap, but instead that media has an influence on how society is actually constructed. That in turn has an impact on further technological developments. (Innis: 1972) According to Christensen's theory,
is regarded as a postive thing, particularly for those who otherwise would not have access to the media that come before it. Christensen defines distruption as "a process by which an innovation transforms a market whose services or products are complicated and expensive into one where simplicity, convenience, accessibility, and affordability characterize the industry" (1997: 11).
In 1833 Benjamin Day, then just 23, was running a failing hand-printing press business in the heart of New York City. Living and working in the middle of a major industrial center, Day must have noticed the growing numbers of immigrants and working men that were populating the city streets. Industrialization was drawing more and more working men to urban centers; New York's population in 1833 was over 200,000 and it was the largest city in America (Wikipedia). There were other metropolitan dailies in circulation in New York when Day decided to join the market; but his paper,
, was the first to offer news that catered to the interests of the common man.
Day's desperate need to make money, his access to printing presses, and his knowledge of the newspaper industry, (three years earlier he had worked with the largest afternoon paper, the
all helped him to seize upon an opportunity to create a new kind of newspaper, for a new type of reader. There can be no doubt that Day's paper involved remediation of those that came before and those that operated alongside his. He took an existing medium and changed it to meet the needs of a population that was yet to be served by it. Nerone refers to the penny press an "augmentation of the newspaper" (385). And as noted on the
page, Christensen's definition of disruptive innovation certainly applies to the penny papers as well.
While Day did not create a brand new medium for the dissemination of information, he certainly, to quote Bolter's terms, "borrowed and refashioned" an existing medium to meet the needs of a much broader, middle class audience (25).
As stated above in the caption, Day's intention from the first day
went to print was to provide a paper to the public "at a price within the means of every one." When we examine Christensen's attributes of a disruptive innovation we see how aptly they characterize the creation of
, the standard cost per paper was 6 to 10 cents. In addition, the papers in circulation before
demanded that their readers commit to yearly subscriptions - something simply beyond the financial means of the common man. Thus access to the papers, and the information contained within them, was restricted to those who were financially able to afford them.
Accessibility & Convenience
y making his papers one cent, Day created the opportunity for all men to gain access to news and information. He went a
Newspaper Row, New York
step further with his delivery model by taking his newspapers to the streets. By using a model already used in London, Day hired newsies to take the news to the people; as Weston notes, "the Sun was sold in a new way. Newsboys hawked in the streets selling the latest news. Within a few months, the Sun had a larger circulation than any paper before it. The price and the corner newsboy changed American journalism" (Weston).
Essentially Day brought the news to the people where they worked, rather than where they lived. For the first time, the masses were reading the news in public. News became a social activity, rather than an individual one. This public reading of the news created opportunity for daily dialogues about what was happening and what people thought about what they were reading. "When the penny newspapers brought the news to the masses, it gave them a new consciousness and new ideas...Suddenly the 'drayman' with access to a newspaper was a far more important person on a societal and political level" (Mott: 215).
The concept of simplicity can be a misleading one. Essentially what Christensen suggests when using the term simplicity is that the innovation is not as complex as its predecessor. The intention of a disruptive innovation is not to appeal to those utilizing the tool or medium already in existence, but rather to introduce a medium that is user-friendly and simple to comprehend and use. The intention is for the tool to be "undemanding" of the user.
In this respect The Sun offered its readers a very unique and user-friendly paper. The content was significantly different that that of the papers that had come before it. Penny papers focused on local crime stories, sporting events, lawsuits, help wanted ads, and other goods and services that were relevant and timely to the working man.
The ability to shift content was largely due to the economic independence that the penny papers achieved via advertising. Day and other publishers of penny papers relied almost exclusively on advertising to generate revenues. As a result they were free to write about what they wanted without restriction or concern for political or business affiliations. Many writers on the topic of penny papers have noted that the content in the newspapers before
focused solely on politics and business and catered to those directly tied to the two. On the issue of freedom via advertising, Schudson argues that, while earlier papers had limited advertising for noneconomic reasons it was the penny papers that "appealed to the equal right of any advertiser to employ the public press, so long as the advertiser paid....Advertising as well as sales, took on a more democratic cast" (19).
This new found freedom in the printed word allowed newspaper men like Day to get creative in their relaying of information to the masses. News, for the first time, focused on sensationalism. Murders, sports, scandals, wild tales, hoaxes, and local goods and services were the must read news stories of the day.
It appears that evolving political and economic climates of the 1830s along with technological developments in printing coalesced with societal changes that were happening to create an opportunity for Day and other newspaper men to present a new medium for the masses. Of this Brazeal notes, "The Sun not only created a new style of paper, with sensationalized and local content, but it also created a new model of production and distribution that would change the game forever (407).
If you would like to learn more about Disruptive Innovation Theory you can watch this
with Clay Christensen on the Harvard Business Review blogsite.
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