Sunday, February 15, 2009

Digital Distribution on Demand

Every time stock stands still and every time it moves it costs money. So logically industries move from a 'just in case' production and distribution model to a 'just in time' one. They migrate from huge warehouses full with stock and cost, from stuffing shelves with stock that exceeds demand and is either returned or dumped, to more streamlined demand driven models built on optimising stock and minimising costs.

The book publishing industry has many challenges in moving to a demand driven model but has made significant headway with its adoption of shorter print runs and back list demand management through services such as print on demand. However, production still exceeds demand, stock is often over merchandised and pushed into stores to be only returned at a cost to all. The physical logistical issues of a many to many complex supply chain such as the booktrade have long been documented and debated.

But what of digital stock?

Digital distribution today is still based on passing files around like we pass books today. If someone wants to sell ebooks they have to have the files. This means that you either give everyone all your files or you give them to a few trusted aggregators who will sell them. The problem with the aggregator model today is that it means another mouth has to be fed or the channel and it is often restricted to their ability to service it. One major publisher today hands their files over to some 20 plus aggregators, tomorrow this could double, treble or even quadruple. If they restricted it to a handful they believe that they will miss sales or become potentially overly dependant on others to make their money.

This model may have made sense yesterday as the digital world was immature and somewhat restricted but does not make sense today. There will always be those whose market presence demands files but today that should be globally no more than the fingers of one hand and obvious to even a novice.

The digital file only needs to be stored once and rendered on demand when a sale is made, limiting the financial reconciliation of sales, ensuring that a digital catalogue is consistent and available to everybody and anybody, whilst also minimising risk. The key is an 'inclusive' and not 'exclusive' distribution model.

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