Monday, March 01, 2010

Crossing the Digital Divide

“The most important thing is not to optimise what you do, but to find out and decide what you should be doing… find out where you should really be and to make sure that you are climbing the tallest peak, not just a false summit…If you get stuck on a small mountain, you get to the top and look around and you find you’re on the wrong mountain. A mile away is a mountain that’s twice as tall…Learn how to search the landscape very widely, and to make sure we find the tallest mountain to climb – that we find the right thing to do. And having done that, if we find ourselves on top of a false summit…In other words we’ve got to get down the mountain, and cross that desert, and come up on the tallest peak. And that’s called letting go, killing a product at its peak.”

These wise words from Kevin Kelly, executive editor of Wired in “Rethinking the Future” may be over 10 years old but still very relevant today. It may not be so much about killing the product at its peak as understanding which mountain you are on and its limitations.

The companies who should have made the digital transition and who had something to offer have often lost the digital way or struggled. was going to crush Amazon but didn’t understand global branding. B&N was going to be the internet bricks and mortar and learnt that teaming up with Amazon wasn’t the best strategy. BCA failed to understand what it had and what it didn’t have and lost the perfect digital launch pad. HarperCollins thought they had a brand and ‘Fire and Water’ would be a no brainer to the readers. Encyclopaedia Britannica thought that their brand was untouchable. The lessons are many and often hard ones.

As we read that there is much interest in buying Readers Digest we first have to question why such a perfectly positioned brand failed to deliver in the first place. True there were many financial challenges but they had a brand, they should have had the best mailing list in publishing, they certainly should have had a warehouse full of short stories and byte sized chunks ideal for the mobile on demand world, etc.

Sometimes crossing the digital divide, between the limitations of the physical mountain and the opportunities and challenges of the digitally inclusive one, are just too much. Digital Publishing is Publishing and as we have often said it isn’t just about ebooks, ebook readers and finished works.

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