There's just no future in making money solely from selling digital content

14 Mar 2011 in international | questo post è lungo 813 parole

Richard Nash

My interview with Richard Nash. Courtesy of  La Stampa.
Italian version here.
Special thanks to @letiziasechi

1. The rise of 99-cents ebook. What does it means for readers and publishers?

Look, there's just no future in making money solely from selling digital content except for one or two aggregators in each marketplace and except for marketplaces with limited supply of mission-critical information (topic expertise, research, data monopolies etc.)
In the medium term, sure, there will be money to be made by retailers, distributors, publishers. Even in the long term there will still be revenue, we've seen this from both iTunes and Spotify/Pandora/Last.fm The money isn't really for the content though, it's for the convenience of acquiring it with a fairly seamless discovery and consumption experience—you're paying to not have to know what you want, find it, download it and make it work on your device. But it'll be a highly competitive business and the total revenue accruing to content owners will decline, perhaps quite dramatically.
Digital, to my mind, is the place of discovery and sampling, ie not of significant monetization. The money for creators and their immediate partners will be in the unhackable—the physical products and the experiences (synchronous, asynchronous, colocated, distanced). Two things make this quite clear: first, the music business in the present; second, the past. I mean by saying the past, recorded human history prior to the Industrial Revolution. The conversion of culture into objects produced mechanically on a mass scale will, I believe, prove to be somewhat anomalous.

*2. Do you think that in the future it will be more difficult for publishers to acquire digital rights? Self-publishing is a path that many writers are curious to follow.

I think for the vast majority of writers, they should be looking for the right partner to help connect them with more readers. If that partner can't properly exploit digital sales channels, then they're not the right partner.
Now, I recognize in the short term that position is unrealistic and that there may need to be some short-term expedience. But over the longer run, the writer should not be picking partners based on the content's container but based on the content's context.
So I think now, and in the short-term, it will be hard, since there are relatively few publishers who are focused on the audience, as opposed to their existing business process and so authors have to shop around. But progressively the good publishers will be the ones simply connect writers and readers by all appropriate means.
Self-publishing? Well, self-publishing has been around for a long time.

3. J.A. Konrath and Amanda Hocking: what are the keys to understand their success?

The key is to understand their success is no different than the success of previous generations of self-publishers.
First, that they simply did it, as opposed to giving up, as most people did. Second, that they focused on the readers, as opposed to expecting the world to discover their genius. Third, and this applies just to Hocking, that they got lucky.
Konrath isn't really a best-seller, he just recognized that his existing audience was deep enough he could start to supply them with tools he had access to, so his success is merely preserving and incrementally improving his sales.
Hocking is a bestseller though and her success is as imponderable as, say, Stephanie Meyer. Some books benefit from a certain kind of chain reaction of word of mouth. Most don't. Whether traditionally or self-published.
But selfpublishing successes are plenty since the tools for self-publishing have been in place since the invention of the PDF in the early-mid 80s made it possible for the ordinary person to create a file that the ordinary printer knew what to do with. Whether Chicken Soup for the Soul which sold tens of millions, or Upski's Bomb the Suburbs which sold 35,000. Publishers have never been very good at picking hits, we just didn't notice because it was hard to have a hit without a publisher. It's the availability heuristic—if it isn't published, we can never know if it would have been a hit.

4. Which skills are needed to succeed?

The most important thing to recognize is that "going digital" can be done very superficially. The critical thing that digital brings about is the end of scarcity. That's what publishing houses need to figure out. So I think the #1 skill will be listening, listening attentively and with humility, because we're not longer a product manufacturing business, we're in the writer-reader service business.

5. What about Cursor?

Cursor is a platform designed to power the future publishers of the world. We believe that a publisher is a cluster of like-minded writers, readers and editors and the Cursor platform, comprising webapps, community best practices, business processes, supports that cluster by helping them become better and happier at what they do.

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