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My Repository is Bigger Than Yours:
A Response to Book Widgets and Book Selling 2.0

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’s PictureEvan 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.

Recent Comments

  1. Mike Shatzkin

    This is an extraordinarily smart and provocative piece that strongly resists the tide of current thinking. So on that level alone, I congratulate you for it.

    Let’s start with the first question that comes to mind. If all marketing will happen online, can a publisher afford to limit the distribution of their content to access capabilities offered by Microsoft, Amazon, and Google? How about what netLibrary can give you? or what PalmReader can give you? Or what Lightning Source can give you? Can you really dodge the whole problem of Digital Asset Distribution by handing off to the behemoths?

  2. Evan Schnittman

    Thanks for the kind words. I think you have caught a problem with the piece in that I use the “behemoths” as my only examples and leave out smaller, but important players. That said there is one major difference to what the behemoths are doing in comparison to the smaller players in that they are footing the cost and managing the process of digitization and conversion themselves. While this may not be as important for behemoth publishers, it will mean the difference between being digital and not for smaller houses.

  3. Brian Murray

    Evan – Good piece but I’m sure you won’t be surprised to know that I agree with Corey. Newspapers, magazines, TV and film companies seem to be developing similar digital strategies which include digitizing, owning and controling their intellectual property. In my view there is a very straight-forward strategic reason for book publishers to mange their own digital content for the widest possible distribution to reach consumers on-line. After all, this is what we do in the physical world and I don’t see why publishers would not make the appropriate but reasonable investments to do it in the emerging digital world. If you agree with this premise, then the primary question is when to do it – not how much it will cost.

    However, given that your main argument is cost, I wonder if your view on repositories would change if you could build your own OUP digital repository for free? What if improvments to and savings from your editorial and production process could fund your digital repository for all new books? The question for publishers might be to determine if a more efficient digital editorial and production process can fund their digital repository resulting in no incremental costs and tremendous strategic value. A question worth exploring.

    Alternatively, is there some cost you would be willing to pay to better control your digital future? What is the value of having an OUP digital publishing or reading platform like Browse Inside for the digital consumer?

    I agree it is free and easy to let the beheomoths do their thing and not invest in digital capabilities as a publisher. But in my view, this doesn’t lead the publishing industry forward.

  4. Evan Schnittman

    Brian – Yes, I think you have fairly described my main issue with the “repository play” as return on investment, and yes, your supposition that if it were free I’d have a different perspective. That said, Corey will be over shortly with all of our book files to take you up on your very generous offer!

    In all seriousness, your comments made me think a bit harder about what my gut hesitation is regarding this strategy. There are two things I consistently struggle with when considering how to disseminate our content – return on investment and vision. The former is, as you say, a non-issue if I agree that publishers should manage their own digital content in the same manner that they do in the physical world. The latter is everything that differentiates digital from print.

    As I see it, digital content distribution frees us from the yoke of print – it gives us an endless series of models and forms to distribute our content on the efforts of others – other industries, other partners, even other publishers – and doesn’t force us to create large scale infrastructures. Managing partnerships and pricing policies will determine our success, not warehouses and repositories. Therefore, I don’t believe we need to own distribution of digital content, we must simply control it.

    One stop solutions such as repositories do indeed help address many, many issues that publishers struggle with including the ability to get content out to those who would market it. However, I maintain that the investment to do so in a world of unproven digital sales models is a risk that only a few can take. We need industry solutions (like what your company has created) but I think this technology (which may change several times) will be better if created and managed by technology solution providers, not by publishers who may lack experience, know-how, and perhaps, perspective.

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