Digital Directions: Quantity = 1: Customization's Unfulfilled Promise
There may be lessons to be learned from the higher-ed marketplace, such as not waiting too long—and allowing your market to contract—before offering such flexible options.
There are factors that may explain the hesitance to embrace custom publishing. Such a business model requires changing some fundamental aspects of delivery:
- If every sale is unique, the use of ISBNs must be changed or replaced.
- If pagination is dynamic, then page referencing also must be dynamic or replaced by another referencing mechanism, such as section headers.
- Pricing models must change.
These hurdles are daunting. But perhaps there is another reason for hesitance: a fear that a delivery model in which every book is unique may erode the form of delivery itself, losing its “bookness” and clouding the market’s view of what publishers provide. Therefore, publishers embrace and protect the organic unity of the book.
Customized delivery opens many new possibilities, such as the ability to provide customized collections of poetry or short stories. Traditionalists may react to this as heresy, insisting that the compilation of collections and anthologies are exclusively under the providence of the editorially anointed, not the domain of mere readers. Market backlash may be the result of too rigid an adherence to this position, as consumers are clearly voicing a demand for an active role in content delivery.
Some may consider that such a delivery model—in which the reader creates a unique work by combining smaller units of content into a larger whole—is not practicable, or that it is either not desired by the market or is beyond a book publisher’s role.
The market will speak for itself—and in the case of education, the demand is real. As to whether it is the appropriate role of the publisher or not, if the market values such a delivery model, someone will fulfill that role, whether that is a publisher or a new entrant to the information marketplace.
Media delivery in all forms is in a process of reinvention. It is crucial that publishers play a hand in this reinvention and rebuilding potential delivery models, and manage associated digital content and marketing programs accordingly.
If publishers don’t reinvent publishing, somebody else will.
Andrew Brenneman is founder and president of Finitiv, a provider of digital content solutions. He has been leading digital media initiatives at major media and technology organizations for more than 20 years. Contact him at Andrew@Finitiv.com.