Containers and devices, and how to decouple the right way

Mac Slocum notices the omnipresence of the Pandora music service on his household’s devices and reflects on that successful strategy’s implications for others in the content business, including publishers. The digital shift requires content providers to “decouple” not just from containers–i.e. liberate content that was confined between two covers into the freedom of web-compatible forms–but also decouple from devices–i.e. don’t pin your hopes on the ipad or the next must-have device but ensure your content is accessible throughout consumers’ daily lives and let the consumer figure out what makes sense for their consumption of your particular type of content.

Really, it comes down to this: The old methods of distribution don’t mesh with the ways audiences consume digital content, so a technique that relies on those old methods will either fail mightily, or — perhaps even worse — chug along aimlessly. A bold embrace of the digital landscape is key to seizing the digital opportunity.

Richard Nash, in the concluding post to his Frankfurt Book Fair blog this week, takes this line of thinking a step further. He observes that publishers now understand the liberation from the container, but are in a stage now where they continue to try to make their old business models work, now shifted from a physical book to a download:

…what all the book businesses at the Frankfurt Book Fair had in common is that each is tending to try to use technology to create enhanced downloadable files of content formerly contained within a book in order to preserve a status quo ante business model, whether it’s selling through retailers as consumer publishers do, or selling direct to professionals, or professor-mandated coercive sales. In each case the enhancements are unnecessary, are enormously expensive requiring the skills and resources of a movie studio or large-scale video game developer, or are already offered more cheaply and conveniently by websites.

Why does he say the information contained between the covers is better offered via a website? To answer you have to think through specific types of book content and how people use them:

Enhanced eBooks for education seem to be a no-brainer. Except that what is a textbook other than just a tool for asynchronous learning. Which is also what a website is. And a cookbook is a tool for home cooking and entertaining, which a website, especially on a handheld device, is even better at doing. And the Physicians’ Desk Reference even more so.

Where publishers really should be directing their energy, says Nash, is the future of their business model. And to suggest some examples of where they should be looking he points to a microtransaction model and a crowdfunding model presented at the fair. Just as examples. Subscriptions and advertising come to mind as others, but it is important as Nash suggests to separate out what has been seen as “the book industry” into the very different types of content individual publishers provide, and the very different ways people use that content, and think through the channel, the device and the business model separately, in a consumer-centric way. Much to come on those strands, and those themes.

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2 responses to “Containers and devices, and how to decouple the right way

  1. Mark, this is great, and I love how you tie it in with Mac Slocum’s post—he expresses much more practically than I do why our intuitions are true at a *user* level. You could also take a look at Brian O’Leary’s Unified Field Theory of Publishing http://bit.ly/bQspSU That link is just the text but I hope he’ll link at some point to the presentation which was designed by his designer/illustrator son.

  2. Thanks very much, Richard. I was following the #BiB10 tweets all afternoon yesterday and from out here in Ann Arbor I could feel the room explode during Brian O’Leary’s talk. I read his piece last night and have been thinking about it all day. Some thoughts coming in the next post or three. I’m dying to see the visuals, they sounded very exciting.

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