Monday, February 27, 2023

Scott Adams Knows That Dollars Are Fungible

I'm not going to poison the well by characterizing Adams's views as stated in the controversial episode of Real Coffee with Scott Adams. Here's the episode so you can decide for yourselves, and I guess we can discuss it in comments if you really want to:

If you don't want to patronize YouTube (and in case Adams's channel there gets the kibosh), here's a Rumble link (the embed function gave me problems).

What I am going to do is consider the matter from the vantage point of business strategy.

I will start with an assumption that may or may not be correct, but which is reasonable. That is, I will assume that Scott Adams likes to make money. I'm not saying that's all he cares about, or even that he'll do anything and everything that might get that result. Just that he probably prefers larger positive cash flow to smaller positive cash flow (and definitely to negative cash flow).

Taking that assumption as a given, how does he make more money by doing this than by not doing it?

Well, let's start by talking about Dilbert. It was a popular comic back when newspaper comics were popular, not just in newspapers but in coffee table books, on shirts and mugs, etc. In the 1990s and the oughts, you couldn't pick up e.g. a for Dummies book on 1) computers or 2) management without finding a Dilbert frame at the beginning of each chapter. 

Fast-forward to 2010. ABC News -- No Jokes: Newspapers Cutting Comic Strips

And its just gone downhill from there.

That last one is worth some quote goodness, emphasis mine:

Lee Enterprises, an Iowa-based media company that owns nearly 80 daily newspapers, is transitioning to a 'uniform set of offerings' with its comics, puzzles and advice columns, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a Lee paper.  ... The shift made headlines when cartoonists such as “Bizarro” creator Dan Piraro and “Dilbert” creator Scott Adams said that they had lost Lee client newspapers. Adams said he had lost 77 papers.

The thing that made Adams famous, and made him money for a long time, was heading downhill as a profit center long before last week.

And the whole time that was happening, Adams was busy making himself both a successful book writer in various business, self-help, and persuasion niches and a popular Internet talking head who thrives on controversy.

It's not an Underpants Gnomes business plan:
  1. Be controversial
  2. ?????
  3. Profit! 
Every time Adams says something that really is, or can be painted as, tendentious or bizarre, he both sells subscriptions, merch, etc. to those who love it and/or him, and monetizes the views of the haters who come to check out what he said.

He just sacrificed Dilbert on the altar of his current ventures, and it's easy to see why: Dilbert was already on life support, because newspaper comic strips are on life support.

He'll probably make more money in the next month on e.g. Locals than he would have made continuing to produce the strip for the next year and selling it to a publication base in terminal decline. Less work, more money. The controversy is more profitable than the comic.

Which is not to imply that he was insincere in what he said, or even that the sacrifice was coldly, carefully planned in advance. But he clearly wasn't so worried about keeping Dilbert in "going concern" status that he felt the need to watch his words. And he probably knew that this kind of moment was coming sooner or later.

A dollar he makes this way spends just as well as a dollar he made the other way.

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