Friday, March 20, 2009

The Digital Content Divide

So where is all the digital content? We have heard pleas from the UK resellers for more content and the promises of things coming from the UK publishers. So what are the issues and why have so many been so slow to embrace digital?

‘There isn’t enough resellers to justify the effort?’ Well Waterstones have been up and running 6 months and want more. Gardners are now about to launch having got the critical mass of content and offer all resellers the opportunity to play. Amazon may not have the UK Kindle, but do have the iPhone option, Stanza is on the iPhone, Overdrive is making a big play for the UK libraries, the academic publisher of the year, Taylor and Francis are one of the leading digital players and now reaping the financial rewards. There are a myriad of ebook stores available today so does the channel argument hold water? Many would say not.

‘There isn’t the consumer demand?’ Well hello, when did you last open up a newspaper or watch the news and not hear something most weeks about ebooks, digitization or the changes in publishing? People are even buying limited devices such as the current ebook readers. The media is providing the feeding frenzy, but the content is clearly lacking.

‘It costs too much to convert?’ Well in some cases it can cost a fair amount, but a lot of that is down to the analogue manner in which books are developed today for a physical world and then converted into digital often as an afterthought. However, anyone can take the typesetters PDF and convert it to an Adobe eBook for little cost. It costs more to satisfy all the other formats, but to just get started isn’t expensive.

The latest one we heard was that ‘all the conversion houses are working flat out at full stretch and there isn’t the capacity for more’. We can only say from a position of knowledge that this is pure rubbish. Some may be busy, but walk around LBF in a month’s time and discover for yourself if this is myth or reality.

The excuses can continue, there many more. The reality is that there is a logjam on one side of the Atlantic and a concerted push on the other. Does it matter? In the days of physical only and strong territorial rights it was not an issue. However, today this imbalance is a serious threat to the market. In recent weeks Hachette has already had to fire a shot across the bows of some US aggregators for territorial infringement or lack of territorial control. We regularly use US and other services that are not available in the UK and a US content domination goes with strong US centric channels and aggregation. Apart from Gardners name one serious UK content aggregator, many of those resellers out there today are using are merely fronting US services and content. Before we can buy British content we have to produce it.

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