The three most significant conversations that I had during and/or leading up to BEA this year were:
- First, about strategy. And, more specifically, about the gaming industry and how they’ve moved (or are in the process of shifting) from charging everyone for software to giving out software for free, then using their now wired consoles to glean data about usage. As people try out a new game, many will trail off and not continue to play. But, those who do, those identified as “super users” will, when they reach a certain point in the game, be prompted to purchase a serial number to unlock the rest of the game. This system is based on building up engaged users of digital content and then asking them to pay for something they’ve in which they’ve already made a significant time investment. Also, it promotes discovering new games by users who would normally have been deterred by the cost of entry.
- Second, about content. And, more specifically, about paying for content. The comment I heard was this: “No one wants to pay for content. No one has ever wanted to pay for content. People will pay for access to content. Not for the content itself.”
- Third, about value. And, more specifically, about how to create and add value with regards to content. Brian O’Leary was kind enough to relate to me his thoughts on content value as it pertains to blogging.
All of these conversations made me think: How is publishing creating a content strategy that brings added value to the customer? Currently, with regards to digital offerings, I would argue that we are not. In fact, I would argue that as we shift into a digital universe we have yet to discover our value proposition. With retailers publishing (Amazon), eBook self-pub systems in place, authors going it alone, and piracy, I wonder how we fit into the equation.
Many arguments are made daily about how to rectify this. From publishers tightening their grip on content, to editors becoming brands, to publishers taking steps toward becoming content curators, to strategies about how and when to withhold digital formats to ‘stick it to the man,’ many ‘solutions’ have been offered, but none touch on the real problem at hand: What is the value proposition of a publishing house in a digital world?
With social media, access to online marketing tools, and low cost of entry into sales channels, what does the publishing house bring to the equation? Are we merely a pusher that moves a pile of papers from one space to another? Are we actually effective in what we say we are effective in doing? And, perhaps most importantly, do we serve our readers as best we can with the current state of affairs?
In the end, we need to take a hard look at ourselves and ask what we are bringing to the table. There are many new models to explore, and many new ways to provide content to readers. Perhaps we would be best served by letting go of our print mindset and heritage and allowing exploration to happen naturally.