Monday, February 23, 2009

Supply Chain Thoughts 3 Digital Reality

Digital logistics presents opportunities that enable the book trade to remove the physical logistics constraints that caused so much waste. In principle a digital title should only be stored once, full stop, and rendered many times. Obviously there is often more than one format of the titles but again, store once applies to each format and render to many still applies.

Does this mean there is only one winner, one store and we simply adopt the flawed iTunes model – No. It means that we create an inclusive not exclusive framework that supports and distributed files on demand. Why should a publisher not retain their assets within their own repository and only let files out on an on demand basis? This is not a theory and is being adopted by the likes of Taylor and Francis and Elsevier today. The alternative is to hand assets over to an increasing number of digital aggregators, who end up effectively controlling the channel to market and restricting it to their reach and relationships. Ask any publisher today who has to deal with many aggregators; how they control or even know what is being sold, how they ensure that their total catalogue is available through all aggregators and how they reconcile sales with different reports, schedules and terms? Often they have little control on what are their assets. With physical goods the next person down the chain buys them at a discount off RRP and sells them again at an increased margin. With digital, the money doesn’t move until the sale happens, its effectively distributed consignment stock.

Drop ship logistics can provide the mechanism which if adapted for digital distribution can go one further removing the need to build huge repositories and the current bragging rites about ‘mine being bigger than yours’. All that matters is the ability to fulfil the demand for online or download, rental or purchase. For many this may be a central aggregation service, but for those who want control of their assets it can remain effectively in their own warehouse and and leave when its sold or rented. The model may be complex to grasp on first hearing, but it is what is being rolled out by Gardners Books in the UK, Danish library service eBog and adopted by publishers such as Taylor and Francis and Elsevier.

Ironically you will find this model described in concept on page 75 of the 2006 Brave New World report.

The digital offer should be fully integrated with the physical one enabling the consumer to have a ‘one stop shop’ transaction experience and not be handed over to a separate aggregator in order to buy digital books . Separating out the transaction and the customer relationship from the instructions and communication flows from the actual pick pack and dispatch of physical and digital or whatever makes consumer sense, publisher sense and supply chain sense.

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