The Future of Publishing?

Paul Graham just wrote an interesting article about publishing, and about selling content (news, music, movies, whatever). In it, he says,

The reason I've been writing about existing forms is that I don't know what new forms will appear. But though I can't predict specific winners, I can offer a recipe for recognizing them. When you see something that's taking advantage of new technology to give people something they want that they couldn't have before, you're probably looking at a winner. And when you see something that's merely reacting to new technology in an attempt to preserve some existing source of revenue, you're probably looking at a loser.

I think the key point here is the same as it is in any business.

  • Give the customer what he wants.
  • Add value for the customer.

A few years ago, a coworker of mine went to interview at Microsoft. And the big question he remembers being asked wasn't a puzzle or anything like that. It was, "how do you compete with free?"

Microsoft, at the time, was deeply worried about linux, and was still trying to figure out how to answer that question. My friend, who liked Linux, didn't really have a good answer for this, and probably didn't get the job because of it. And at the time, I must admit, I had no idea of the answer either.

But the answer is actually pretty simple: Provide value to the customer. If your product is good enough, they will be willing to pay the premium.

In fact, now that I phrase it that way, it occurs to me that this is what a number of companies (shareware, in particular) do. They have a free version, and a paid version that is, in some fashion, improved. Hopefully (and, I think, usually), you'll get enough people paying for the premium version that you don't mind giving away the basic version. In fact, that free version is basically just marketing.

Anyway, to get back to publishing, this shows why DRM not only does not, but in the long term can not, work. Because it removes value from the customer, and it fails to give the customer what they want.

It really is that simple.

So when the newspapers go to hang themselves by adding paywalls around their content (as they've been talking about for a while), you can see exactly why they will be shooting themselves in the foot.

Also keep in mind that it means that they won't be found by search engines. The way most people work, that means that they will be irrelevant. It's the new twist on the old saw: "If I post to my blog, and google doesn't get the update, did it actually happen?"

And the answer is the same as the older variant: "Who cares? It makes no difference."

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