More Adventures in e-Books
In my last column I said that what the e-book market needed was better infrastructure. Since then one of the biggest pure plays in the infrastructure sector—Reciprocal—closed shop, netLibrary declared bankruptcy, and two of the biggest Digital Rights Management (DRM) providers (Intertrust and ContentGuard) declared, in effect, that they would cease marketing their products. So is that egg on my face?
To mix metaphors I shall save face by resorting to yet another two metaphors. The first is the Field of Dreams syndrome: "If you build it, they will come." In infrastructural terms: to play baseball, you need a stadium. One conventional wisdom would maintain that the problem with e-books is that there isn't enough content i.e., that there aren't players to make up the teams. But this metaphor suggests that you built the stadium in the wrong place. A stadium in the sticks without a sufficient population density to support a baseball team will fail, no matter that the stadium is prettier than Camden Yard or that the shortstop is prettier than Derek Jeter.
Reciprocal had a system that was effective and comprehensive, offering a suite of DRM, e-commerce, storefront and content hosting tools and partnering with companies like Texterity who would handle the conversion. They provided parking spaces, shuttle buses, popcorn, beer, hats, T-shirts, bobble-headed dolls, great sightlines and a Major League management team. Hundreds of content providers signed up. What went wrong? Well, one could certainly look askance at the five offices they maintained in New York, Buffalo, Raleigh, London and Singapore but the question that really should be asked is: What did their infrastructure enable? It enabled content owners to retail content from their web site. That allows publishers to sustain the fantasy entertained by many since the dawn of the Web, that e-commerce permits you to go direct to the consumer. In my next column I will go into this fallacy in greater depth but for right now, suffice it to say that it is well and good for a contractor to build a bricks-and-mortar bookstore for a publisher but no contractor would ever consider basing its contract in large part of getting a percentage of the list price of the books the publisher will sell from the bookstore.