By Evan Schnittman
Corey Podolsky has written an excellent essay, Book Widgets and Book Selling 2.0 that clearly explains the thinking behind the large scale repository efforts underway at a few publishing giants. He posits wisely that Web 2.0 viral marketing, especially on sites like MySpace.com, is wonderfully afoot. These publishers have enabled their content to be safely and securely discovered and displayed in the hope that at some point, some sort of monetary transaction will occur.
It’s that last point that has been bothering me since I first learned of these mighty repositories and the corresponding Flash API access strategy – well that and the fact that publishing companies are now trying to become technology companies.
As Corey points out, MySpace has been a spectacular success for all involved with it so far – Tom the founder, Rupert Murdoch the Acquirer, Google Adsense the income provider. Furthermore, there has been a clear and obvious discoverability benefit to the bands and others that are using MySpace for promotion. However, MySpace may be fantastic for exposure but getting to the next step – users performing ecommerce transactions is still largely a hope, not the reality.
The greatest aspect of sites like MySpace and Youtube is that they offer consumers a place to show off their own likes and interests and often, if not always, sharing those likes in the form of content display – be that audio, video, or textual clips of their favorite bands, TV shows, authors. This is exposure not commerce.
Logically then my argument should support the publisher repositories and corresponding Flash API’s, since by doing this publishers can keep all content on servers they control and thus enable the level of viral marketing they are comfortable and push consumers to buy when that limit is reached.
However, while that all sounds very promising, the fact is that MySpace users don’t buy content they find on MySpace – nor do any of the other millions of users of the thousands of community websites. Don’t get me wrong, the exposure factor is fantastic and I truly believe it will lead to higher sales… but sales of what – and at what cost?
It seems to me that building these repositories is intended to enable easy transactional access to content. If you read my piece on this Blog, The ABCs of GBS, Part 2 (this is becoming my version of a MySpace page!), you know that I think there are way more questions today than answers regarding online access to book content. Users can always buy and download an ebook version if Online Access is unappealing. The problem with that is the obvious lack of an iPod & iTunes like service for ebooks (more on that in a later piece), so ebooks are nearly as problematic.
So what are we left with for our immersive content? Print. Yes, the book! At the end of the day is the upside of such grand repository plans just a new way to market print books? If that is the case, then exactly how much should one spend on a large scale technology solution that serves book content in order to market print?
Not surprisingly, my answer is nothing. I don’t believe in building big repositories so that anyone with a civil war fetish can reach in and post approved amounts of content – no, we work with huge, successful, web technology companies that reach into the lives of every web user, such as Google, Microsoft and Amazon, and we let them expose our content through the rules we establish via our contractual arrangements. Publishers are not technology companies and as such, should only enter into large scale technology when no other option is available.
The cost of creating, maintaining, and implementing these repositories in a scalable manner can in no way be recouped by the sales opportunities they will create. This isn’t a guess, this is reality. The options that we have today – which could change in the very near future – are too limited to justify the expense. This is especially true when there are free options available through the Google’s, Microsoft’s, and Amazon’s of the world.
So Publishers, do you want to take advantage of Web 2.0? Put everything you have in GBS, LSB, and up on Amazon. Let web communities’ work with them to display content and enable ecommerce activities.
You know how big your ROI will be? That’s right; you won’t feel the need to measure.
Evan Schnittman is OUP’s Vice President of Business Development and Rights for the Academic and USA Divisions. His career in publishing spans nearly 20 years and includes positions as varied as Executive Vice President at The Princeton Review and Professor at New York University’s Center for Publishing. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and two children.