Thursday, July 26, 2001

Clue to publishers: you're selling experiences, not content One fact has been forgotten in all the hubbub surrounding Dmitry Slarnov's incarceration for distributing eBooks technology: no one reads eBooks. Moreover, if the print publishing industry continues to cripple digital book formats, no one ever will. DivX, DeCSS, Napster, and Dmitry all illustrate how utterly unprepared traditional media publishers are for the business model consequences of distributing their content in digital form.

Instead of placing ever more draconian authorization measures on unpopular devices, publishers should realize that, in the digital world, they're selling experiences not content. Reading a book on the Web is a worse experience than reading a paperback. Online, the text is harder to read, less mobile, and less convenient to access. A book on the other hand has excellent resolution, portability, and "always on" access. If publishers realized that the online and offline reading experience is completely different, maybe they would stop crippling digital media and start using the Internet to satisfy customers and make more money.

The same goes for music. Napter provided a better experience than over-priced, hard to find singles, but a worse experience than album length CDs, which came with liner notes, all the songs, and zero download time. Instead of improving the CD experience and using Napster to sell more songs, the record industry is creating experiences customers hate, crippling their music with metered pricing and tethered downloads.

You would think that DivX and the VCR would have taught the recording industry a thing or two about their business. The VCR did not kill the cinema because seeing a movie in a theatre is completely different from seeing it at home. Similarly, DivX, a DVD format that stops working after a few plays, provides a worse experience than renting a movie at Blockbusters because customers hate metered pricing. Hollywood's current paranoia at online movie sharing demonstrates how out of touch they are with reality: waiting 12 hours for a movie to download through a broadband connection I don't have just to watch it on a little monitor is a worse experience than just renting the bloody thing.

The sooner publishers realize that, in the networked world, they're selling experiences and not content, the better off we'll all be. Customers will start getting products and services they like. Publishers will stop obsessing over how to cripple media and start differentiating their experiences on different channels. And artists might even start benefiting from the sort of live experiences only they can create. In the digital world, experience is king.
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