The Disintermediation of ContentWritten by Sam Vaknin
Are content brokers - publishers, distributors, and record companies - a thing of past?
In one word: disintermediation
The gradual removal of layers of content brokering and intermediation - mainly in manufacturing marketing - is continuation of a long term trend. Consider music for instance. Streaming audio on internet ("soft radio"), or downloadable MP3 files may render CD obsolete - but they were preceded by radio music broadcasts. But novelty is that Internet provides a venue for marketing of niche products and reduces barriers to entry previously imposed by need to invest in costly "branding" campaigns and manufacturing and distribution activities.
This trend is also likely to restore balance between artists and commercial exploiters of their products. The very definition of "artist" will expand to encompass all creative people. One will seek to distinguish oneself, to "brand" oneself and to auction one's services, ideas, products, designs, experience, physique, or biography, etc. directly to end-users and consumers. This is a return to pre-industrial times when artisans ruled economic scene. Work stability will suffer and work mobility will increase in a landscape of shifting allegiances, head hunting, remote collaboration, and similar labour market trends.
But distributors, publishers, and record companies are not going to vanish. They are going to metamorphose. This is because they fulfil a few functions and provide a few services whose importance is only enhanced by "free for all" Internet culture.
Content intermediaries grade content and separate qualitative from ephemeral and atrocious. The deluge of self-published and vanity published e-books, music tracks and art works has generated few masterpieces and a lot of trash. The absence of judicious filtering has unjustly given a bad name to whole segments of industry (e.g., small, or web-based publishers). Consumers - inundated, disappointed and exhausted - will pay a premium for content rating services. Though driven by crass commercial considerations, most publishers and record companies do apply certain quality standards routinely and thus are positioned to provide these rating services reliably.
Content brokers are relationship managers. Consider distributors: they provide instant access to centralized, continuously updated, "addressbooks" of clients (stores, consumers, media, etc.). This reduces time to market and increases efficiency. It alters revenue models very substantially. Content creators can thus concentrate on what they do best: content creation, and reduce their overhead by outsourcing functions of distribution and relationships management. The existence of central "relationship ledgers" yields synergies which can be applied to all clients of distributor. The distributor provides a single address that content re-sellers converge on and feed off. Distributors, publishers and record companies also provide logistical support: warehousing, consolidated sales reporting and transaction auditing, and a single, periodic payment.
Jamaican Overdrive - LDC's and LCD'sWritten by Sam Vaknin
OverDrive - an e-commerce, software conversion and e-publishing applications leader - has just expanded an e-book technology centre by adding 200 e-book editors. This happened in Montego Bay, Jamaica - one of less privileged spots on earth. The centre now provides a vertical e-publishing service - from manuscript editing to conversion to Quark (for POD), Adobe, and MS Reader ebook formats. Thus, it is not confined to classic sweatshop cum production centre so common in Less Developed Countries (LDC's). It is a full fledged operation with access to cutting edge technology.
The Jamaican OverDrive is harbinger of things to come and outcome of a confluence of a few trends.
First, there is insatiable appetite big publishers (such as McGraw-Hill, Random House, and Harper Collins) have developed to converting their hitherto inertial backlists into e-books. Gone are days when e-books were perceived as merely a novel form of packaging. Publishers understood cash potential this new distribution channel offers and value added to stale print tomes in conversion process. This epiphany is especially manifest in education and textbook publishing.
Then there is maturation of industry standards, readers and audiences. Both supply side (title lists) and demand side (readership) have increased. Giants like Microsoft have successfully entered fray with new e-book reader applications, clearer fonts, and massive marketing. Retailers - such as Barnes and Noble - opened their gates to e-books. A host of independent publishers make good use of negligible-cost distribution channel that Internet is. Competition and positioning are already fierce - a good sign.
The Internet used to be an English, affluent middle-class, white collar, male phenomenon. It has long lost these attributes. The digital divides that opened up with early adoption of Net by academe and business - are narrowing. Already there are more women than men users and English is language of less than half of all web sites. The wireless Net will grant developing countries chance to catch up.
Astute entrepreneurs are bound to take advantage of business-friendly profile of manpower and investment-hungry governments of some developing countries. It is not uncommon to find a mastery of English, a college degree in sciences, readiness to work outlandish hours at a fraction of wages in Germany or USA - all combined in one employee in these deprived countries. India has sprouted a whole industry based on these competitive endowments.
Here is how Steve Potash, OverDrive's CEO, explains his daring move in OverDrive's press release dated May 22, 2001:
"Everyone we are partnering with in US and worldwide has been very excited and delighted by tremendous success and quality of eBook production from OverDrive Jamaica. Jamaica has tremendous untapped talent in its young people. Jamaica is largest English-speaking nation in Caribbean and their educational and technical programs provide us with a wealth of quality candidates for careers in electronic publishing. We could not have had this success without support and responsiveness of Jamaican government and its agencies. At every stage agencies assisted us in opening our technology centre and staffing it with trained and competent eBook professionals. OverDrive Jamaica will be pioneering many of advances for extending books, reference materials, textbooks, literature and journals into new digital channels - and will shortly become foremost centre for eBook automation serving both US and international markets".