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Digital Content Is Different
Things that applied to the physical book market, that simply do not apply, or should be questioned in the digital market

Yesterday we sat down with someone who is starting a new digital venture. As we discussed the potential, the market, the options and much more, it became apparent to us that there are a lot of things that applied to the physical book market, that simply do not apply, or should be questioned in the digital market. Walking blindly into the digital world assuming that all remains the same is in danger of establishing a set of urban myths that we have written about in the past but that continue to dog all our thinking and real digital opportunities.

We would like to take the opportunity to offer a dozen points as to why we believe digital content is different.

1. Size - 256 pages and x thousand words were mere economic parameters that prevailed and mattered in the physical world. They become meaningless and irrelevant in the digital world. The author is free to write as little, or as much as they feel appropriate and that convey his story and that the consumer can digest. One would argue that small starts to become beautiful and large may be present a page turn too many. Short stories present a great digital opportunity, but may only happen if they are thought through economically and cost is taken out. After all many successful authors started their writing with short stories and articles. We still have still to adopt and adapt the Keitai model in the West, but if Dickens could write and sell by instalments why are we waiting for the finished tome?

2. Price – Some would suggest that prices must relate to the physical book and that any major price reduction on digital could cannibalise physical sales and the market. Some also suggest that digital is a huge investment and that the costs of the physical product are still incurred in the pre production and marketing activities. The problem is all too often this thinking is based on ebooks being just ‘another rendition’ and that each must stand economically on its own two feet. Why aren’t ebooks ‘given away ‘as aperitifs, lost leaders and to stimulate and drive physical sales? Why doesn’t digital content adopt simple price points like other media? Finally, digital content must be different as demonstrated by the differentiation given to it by the vast majority of governments.

3. Age - The consumer may want the ‘latest book’ but this is often driven by media and promotion. How many consumers do you see opening a book at the copyright page to check when it was published before they buy it? Amazon’s advanced search has a publication date field which is missing on The Book Depository, Waterstones and Blackwell’s who has a ‘published between two dates’ option. We may be thick, but we couldn’t even find an advanced search at Barnes and Noble or Kobo. The eWorld now has to compete with, not just the remaining books on the shelf, or in the store, but all books ever published.

4. Rights - When you buy an ebook, it may be literally just for Christmas! eBooks do not have a second life, no first sale doctrine and being able to lend them to friends. Therefore, to say they are merely just another rendition is like saying there is no difference between a taxi and a car, both get you from A to Z, both are driven by an engine but both are very different .

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