Jeff Jarvis writes about Amazon 2.0: the Content Company, but later corrects himself in response to a comment to suggest that "Amazon is a networking company putting together buyers and sellers, readers and writers (and vice versa)". I think what Jeff means is pretty much what Peter Redford is proposing with his new book industry business model - browse.net. The question as Redford asks is whether one can automate publishing along the lines of eBay.
Here's what Jeff said.
Amazon was in the distribution business and it did a great job of finding new efficiencies and market shares and customer needs in it.
But distribution has been dethroned as a business. Owning the broadcast tower still makes you money -- but as your audience departs for limitless new competition, it won't grow. Owning a cable franchise is a great monopoly -- but growth is there mostly because you can sell new services, broadband and VOIP, and before you know it, you'll be nothing but the pipe: the next telco. Owning a monopoly newspaper used to be a great business -- until more efficient marketplaces replaced yours and your presses and trucks and Teamsters suddenly looked not like a strength but like a cost. When I went to work for the Newhouses, I got excited at the prospect of working with Random House, which they then owned, but my boss wisely told me it wasn't what a thought -- "it's just a distribution business," he said.
Ernie Miller says it's not a channel. He's right. In fact, I put this the wrong way: Amazon isn't a content company, then, producing content itself. Amazon is not a network. But Amazon is a networking company, putting together buyers and sellers, readers and writers (and vice versa). So what I meant to say is that sometime soon, someone will chose to publish via Amazon directly to the public and skip the middleman formerly known as the publisher. That makes Amazon merely a conduit. One could say that it's about distribution but in the case of digital content, the distribution is meaningless. It's just a place that helps A find B. It's a maven.
What sort of role can Amazon play? If you look at a conventional publishing house today, it does the following:
- commissioning and paying for content
- editing content for publication (pre-press)
- printing books
- marketing and promotion
Of these elements, only 1 (choosing what to publish and predicting how much of a success it would be), 3 (how many copies to print in the first run - even this is not likely to be a real risk with the option of on-demand publishing) and 5 (how much to spend on marketing/promotion) involve taking on the risk of publishing. 2 (editorial), 3 (the actual printing) and 4 and even 5 (the actual implementation of the marketing/PR plan) are easily outsourced.
If authors themselves, or any investor(s) that the authors are able to convince, can take on the risks of 1, 3 and 5, then any editorial outfit could do 2, Amazon could step in to do 3 (the actual printing either in bulk or on demand) and 4 and any marketing/PR firm could take care of 5.
Today's publishing houses will then have nothing unique that they bring to the table. Editorial and marketing talent could operate outside of publishing houses and Amazon would do the rest. Indeed there is a huge opportunity for Amazon to provide the platform to bring together the authors, potential investors and the editorial marketing talent together.
Peter Redford has been thinking of doing just this with his Browse.net idea and Amazon could do this very well themselves, with enough room for a handful of players, considering that the book industry is worth more than US$ 60-70 billion worldwide.
If this model kicks in, it could open up not just the long tail of content, but the long tail of talent as well.
iUniverse.com (funded by Barnes & Noble and Warburg Pincus) and Xlibris.com (funded by Random House ventures), both set up in 2000, have positioned themselves as publishing service providers to authors covering the entire gamut of editorial to printing to marketing services. Amazon.com Advantage also attempts something similar but only focuses on the printing and distribution side of things. Other independent outfits like Lulu and Cafepress also offer what they call self-publishing and focus only on the printing and distribution.