So just what business are publishers in?
So how did Sears falter? (I’ll leave Montgomery Ward aside as by the mid-1990s they had a number of fatal problems with their management unrelated to the emergence of the Web).
It’s tempting to just say Sears didn’t understand the Internet, but that is not the case. Sears, after all, developed Prodigy with IBM in the 1980s. They did, in fact, know more about the Internet and the emerging Web than just about any other retailer. What they did not understand was the business they were in. They continued to cling to the wrong core competency (retail stores) while their online business remained secondary.
Sears thought it was in the catalog business and, more recently, in the retail store business. It was not. It was, and remains, in the retail sales and distribution business. The mechanisms of sales and distribution may change over time, and keeping ahead of those trends is the key to remaining successful.