Make Marketing History

The views of a marketing deviant.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Worth The Paper It's Not Written On?

Just as the Cosmos tried to disrupt the sports market in the US, there is frequent talk of digital technology replacing books and newspapers. The imminent launch of an e-reader with a stable display by Irex technology is argued to be bringing the death of paper ever closer. But, Britain alone consumes 300 million books per year and 13 million newspapers daily - that's a lot of words to digitise. It's a huge behavioural trait to disrupt.

That's not to say it's not possible, but there is a tactile romance about the book and the way you see yourself progressing through it while the ebook content just keeps coming and coming. Moreover, it's another expensive device to add to the mugger's bonanza that the digital person-on-the-street increasingly represents.

Furthermore, opposition might come from publishers since the e-book eliminates the bookshop browsing experience and removes a whole area of marketing to permission-giving customers. How are they going to market their new titles if the retail outlet disappears? Readers will not want their tablet-reading interrupted by advertising.

The reality is that this is not a new product. No, the medium is the message and what we 're dealing with here is one of the marketing Ps about which I haven't yet written much, that of place aka distribution - where you deliver your product/service - where you interact your consumers. The e-book is a digital distribution channel - it's not content per se. It's not a book or a newspaper and I would argue that it might be better for its creators to forget that line of thinking and consider what sort of readers they're going to attract to their technology.

Indeed, are they readers or are they viewers. If the latter, with the concomitant attention-span deficiencies, will they want a whole book? Marketing is about drilling where the oil is, so maybe the focus should be on matching the flittering habits of the digital browser with attention-deficit products (a horrible thought I know). Things like news digests, lifestyle magazines or RSS aggregators perhaps. Key to the success will be those holy grails of all digital aplications, user-friendly navigation and indexing, and a better name. After all, it's not an e-book, it's a browser's browser.

Addendum: While writing this, I notice that Seth Godin has posted a related piece. Having worked in the movie business, I know that the reason for the misguided #1 strategy is in fact another aspect of the distribution debate. Exhibitors want bums on seats to whom they can sell popcorn (since that’s where they make their money) so they're only interested in the top movies. Similarly, supermarkets account for increasingly significant proportions of music, DVD and book sales and do so in terms of the top 50 and nothing else. From the content originators' perspective it's not an ego-trip. Being #1 is about guaranteeing exposure and distribution for the current incarnation of the content and thus all future income streams.The destructive nature of this strategy is exactly why I was fascinated by the evangelists' approach.


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