Ever since ebooks gained traction the publishing industry has obsessed with what’s typically referred to as “the discovery problem.” The common wisdom is that discovery of the content will lead to fame and fortune.
I believe digital content’s main challenge is more about efficiency, less about discovery, and my inspiration for this point of view comes from a totally unrelated business: the coffee industry.
A recent Businessweek article noted that single-serve pods (e.g., Keurig) have eliminated coffee’s biggest consumer: the kitchen sink.
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It turns out that with Mr. Coffee and other drip systems a great deal of product ends up going to waste. The net result is that as the single-serve devices gain momentum we’re creating a climate where total consumption is lower and excess inventories are leading to lower prices for coffee beans.
In short, the article notes that while Americans still drink a lot of coffee, they do it more efficiently. Each cup in the single-serve model is more expensive but in total we’re consuming and wasting far less coffee now.
What in the world does this have to do with digital content?
I don’t think anyone would argue with the fact that we have an excessive amount digital content today. A great deal of it is being produced but in many cases nobody is reading it. This has led to an overabundance of free and cheap content which is being both professionally published as well as self-published.
Wasted coffee goes down the drain but wasted content simply goes unread.
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Just as nobody walks into a bookstore asking for the latest book from Macmillan, nobody is sitting around saying, “Gee, I wish I could discover more content.” What we really need is more efficient delivery of content that’s highly relevant to our specific needs and interests.
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At some point content efficiency will improve. I’ve referred to this before as the need for a “content concierge”, resulting in much better recommendations, tailored content streams and, yes, it will come at a higher price, just like the single-serving coffee pods.
Link to the rest at BookBusiness
For PG, Amazon does a great job as a “content concierge” for ebooks and a lot of other stuff. And it comes with lower prices.
Plus word-of-mouth is floating all over the internet and groups of readers enthusiastic about any type or genre or sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-genre of book (or power tool or videogame) abound. Providing information about books is a service better performed by enthusiastic amateurs or (sometimes) ad-supported professionals than by someone charging for book recommendations.
The disruption of the book business by ebooks and ecommerce means that a lot of legacy players are struggling to find a value-add that will justify their commercial existence.
Barnes & Noble is closing stores because readers have been and will continue to decide that the price of buying books there (in dollars, time and travel) is higher than buying books on Amazon. Barnes & Noble isn’t adding enough value with its in-store environment for an increasing number of readers to pay for its book-selling services.
Publishers are losing authors (or never signing them in the first place) because authors are concluding that the price of doing business through a publisher (in low royalties, time and hassle-factor) is higher than the value the publisher is adding via access to physical bookstores.