Asahi Shimbun Media Lab: internal innovation
Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper, founded in 1879, is one of the country’s national newspapers. Its circulation, which was 6.6 million for its morning edition and 2.1 million for its evening edition as of April 2016, makes it the second most read newspaper in Japan and one of the most read newspapers in the world.
Origins of the Media Lab
Despite the circulation figures Asahi Shimbun’s (literally translated as Rising Sun) former president Tadakazu Kumura was keen to create new revenue streams and new media innovation. The Asahi established a new strategic group – the Media Lab – to pursue these goals. Its mission statement is Beyond Media: steering away from the core business of Asahi Shimbun.
Unlike other Labs around the globe, Asahi’s Lab doesn’t pursue technological innovation. It sees itself as an independent department for brainstorming, testing out new concepts and providing a place where you are allowed to fail. Most of their work is an association of existing skills or an existing idea (sometimes from other industries) with a new twist.
Internal ideas, external engagement
The Asahi strongly believes that innovation doesn’t always have to come from an external source. Indeed, new ideas and concepts can come from within the company, and all its staff are Asahi employees.. “One should not overlook the expertise that a media company already has in-house” says Miyuki Inoue, Business Developer, Researcher and Writer at The Asahi.
However, this doesn’t mean that the lab is closed. Since its inception, its members have worked with outside startups that offers alternative ideas and technologies.
Today about 50 employees work for the lab. In combining existing resources from their traditional business with new ideas and concepts, they have launched several businesses over the past three years.
These include a crowdfunding platform, a website for pet news, an online education app, writing readers autobiographies, live streaming online education programmes or simply hosting hackathons.
The crowdfunding platform takes an existing idea (although from another type of business) and combines it with a publishing company’s expertise (writing stories, interacting with their audience). This process was born from a simple brainstorming session and led by a group of a couple of employees for the testing phase. The service officially started from March 25, 2015.
Dozens of projects have been funded via the platform, with the highest amount raised hitting $200,000.
Another successful project is the ‘personal history project’ using existing retired reporters to write biographies of customers. The idea originally came from an employee during a brainstorm and was tested by the Lab. The feedback was good and users suggested that they would pay for the service. Following this successful feedback, it become a Asahi service from 1 September 2014.
Today ‘personal history” is the signature project of the lab.
Key learnings: failure is not failure
Products are not always a success: “We tried to start a medical related service in collaboration with a group of doctors, but it eventually failed,” said Miyuki.
The project appeared to be difficult to monetize and was abandoned. But the lab learned that once an initiative doesn’t work, it should be dropped and replaced by a safer one as soon as possible. Miyuki suggests that ‘Failure is not failure’ in the lab, as long as a fast decision process is in place to avoid wasting time and money.
Miyuki Inoue, Business Developer / Researcher / Writer