John Einar Sandvand talks about a word that should be banned from the vocabulary of all media companies.
What’s the word? “Cannibalization.”
Many media companies today are happy to develop the digital side to their business, but only as long as it doesn’t negatively impact the revenues they generate from their traditional sales.
As John points out, “What Can Become Digital, Will Become Digital.” As consumers, the immediacy and convenience that digital content delivery provides – whether that content is music, movies, newspapers, books, or whatever – is a compelling and attractive proposition to us. More importantly, even if the analog equivalent is ‘better’, it doesn’t mean that it has a given right to co-exist. The market will decide – whether or not we like the results.
Take the music industry as an example. Why did the CD all but kill off vinyl? Because with a CD you don’t have the hassle of a turntable and stylus, and you don’t have to get-up to flip the record over when you want to hear “side two.” Similarly, MP3 files replaced CDs for many people because their reduced sound quality from an MP3 files is mitigated by convenience and immediacy of purchase: you don’t have to go to the record store to buy your music. Today, streaming services such as Spotify, Google Play Music, and Apple Music are taking over the mantle once held by MP3 files. Streaming services give you the ability to listen to nearly any song or album ever produced, on any of your digital devices, in return for a small monthly fee.
It’s About The Media – Not The Channel
It’s the same with publishing. It’s true that you doesn’t have to be a bibliophile to be able to relate and appreciate the pleasure of touching, opening, reading (and even smelling) a freshly-printed book – or even an old tome. There’s an emotional, tactile connection that bears little relation to the content contained therein. However most of us don’t buy books purely to admire the bindery work, or the quality of the printing. It’s about the content.
Tablet devices and eBook readers allow us to access that content faster and more conveniently. Personally, if I bought a Kindle or iPad I’d buy many more books than I would otherwise. But I’ll also be buying far less hard-copy books.
Case in point: I currently have around 500 books in my Google Books account. I can read any of those books on my laptop, desktop computer, phone, or tablet pretty much whenever I want. In addition to those 500 books taking up zero physical space, I have the convenience of being able to read them whenever I may be in the world. It’s the same with magazines: I recently changed my subscription to The Economist to the digital-only version. Not only is it more convenient for me to read the magazine on my tablet or computer, but the content is searchable – impossible to do with print-based media. It also gives me an audiobook version of the content for listening as a podcast.
In the same way as vinyl records vs CDs today, books and newspapers may well continue to co-exist with their digital brethren for the foreseeable future. However – also as with vinyl LPs – publishers will have to console themselves with smaller sales figures than they’ve enjoyed in the past, as well as selling into more niche market areas. Circulation continues to grow, for example, for those free newspapers you often find given away at train and metro stations. However, such newspapers adopt a very different business model to their paid-for competition (i.e. advertising sales alone need to cover the cost of content creation, printing, distribution – as well as profit).
Any content publisher today that believes digital-based offerings can be sold without negatively impacting sales of print-based content is living in a dreamworld: Their business models need to evolve in one of two ways:
- The building of digital-based revenues, with all that implies in terms of investments in technology, resources, process, etc.
- Developing the existing print-based model in new, compelling ways – which may imply a smaller, leaner organization to the one that exists today.
The Evolution Of Publishing
Both models are as valid as each other. But make no mistake: the publishing industry has changed and is never going to be the same again. Companies involved in its ecosystem need to find a new sustainable business value offering model in order to maintain their relevance.