Earlier this week, Google launched a digital bookstore. It’s early to assess the service, although efforts to do so are under way. I mention it here because it reminds me of three reasons I think traditional publishers continue to struggle with digital content.
First, publishers conflate “format” with brand. There was a time when the physical nature of content products – its look and feel – dominated. But in a digital era, entrants like Monster, Craigslist and Cookstr show that its time has passed.
Second, publishers think of digital as a derived or secondary use. As I wrote in “Context first”:
The recent debate about e-book rights underscores how deeply this bias runs. Who “owns” e-book rights is a different topic, but the Open Road / Wylie dust-ups were telling for the question that was not asked: who owns the context that drives discoverability, use and value in a digital realm?
Finally, by focusing on products, not solutions, publishers act as if the nature of the physical product defines what readers value.
A product scale creates an obsession with scale and efficiency. Publishers worry about making the physical object incrementally better, rather than optimizing the creation, production and delivery of content across multiple uses and markets.
Format, the primacy of print and a focus on products: we lay covered in our best sins.
By comparison, many born-digital businesses follow the principles outlined in Jeff Jarvis’s 2009 book, What Would Google Do?
- Do what you do best and link to the rest
- Join a network
- Be a platform [most important to the next generation of media]
- Think distributed
Rather than worry about Google, per se, this week would be a good time to start thinking about the implications of a digital-first world. Networked, platform-driven, distributed content and services can be very desirable, but they don’t start with ink on paper.