[Starting a series of posts on UX and digital product development for Publishers]
On a completely philosophical level, let’s start here: scarcity and digital do not go together. Now, let’s add this: Everything is or will be available online whether you want it to be or not.
Recently, many publishers and other media companies have begun to analyze their strategies in regards to digital right management (DRM). Tor/Forge announced they were going DRM-free. And, even more recently, the IDPF has called for use cases and requirements for “lightweight DRM” (not exactly sure what that means, but we’ll let that one slide). One step forward. One step back.
And, even more recently than that, I was involved in a conversation on Twitter with Kathy Meis, who is on the verge of launching a public beta for a new author platform/discovery tool called Bublish and Peter Turner, former CEO of Shambhala Publications and now running a marketing shop for publishers called Ampersand. The conversation was short, but poignant on the topic of publishers going d2c and the lack of understanding of the ecommerce UX and sales experiences. A back and forth ensued and we touched on issues of limited selection, UX, ecommerce implementation and, Peter’s point, the lack of a viral network of users.
However, what struck me most was the final comment that Kathy added to the tail end of this conversation:
Limited selection could start to be an asset if handled w incredible UX — bonus content, access to authors, etc.
This really got me thinking. Is creating, or nurturing scarcity and exclusivity, a valid business model in the digital world?
While in niche markets, I would argue “maybe,” for broader markets I have to say no. And here’s why: the promise and objective of digital is ubiquity. You cannot reap the benefits of ubiquity while simultaneously shutting out users in an exclusive space.
It’s clear that certain business models do not work, on a fundamental level, with certain types of products. In the physical world, supply and demand is one of the, if not the, most important forces exerted on a product lifecycle. Keeping up with demand is essential. Playing with scarcity and/or exclusivity here is a valid model that exploits high demand and low supply. It’s a strategy that relies on the inescapable nature of physical product distribution. But when this all goes away, when there is no supply chain as we knew it, when there is no physical product, when there is no low supply. Everything falls apart.
Tactics like embargos, limited releases, windowing, and scarcity are the antithesis of a digital business model. They simply will not deliver the intended results, and most likely do more harm than good to our businesses.
The shift toward digital requires, at some point, to accept these new products for what they are: each have their own set of contraints, their own benefits, their own strengths and their own weaknesses. They are not simply a digital version of some physical product that can be treated the same. They are full-blown products which have a new set of laws that tacitly govern their market performance and expectations.
One thing I learned about linguistics and bilingualism, while living in France, is that inherently every language in the world has its own set of tacit rules and laws; a meta-grammar, so to speak, which creates a de facto logic system for that language. If you are bilingual and have spent time speaking your non-native language, it becomes evident very quickly that the topics you discuss, the tone you use, and the types of jokes you make are very different from your native language self.
This phenomenon is not limited to language. Products, too, come with a tacit meta-grammar that dictate that product’s logic. At it’s core, a digital product is open, ubiquitous, sharable, available. Instead of fighting this, and trying to square-hole-round-peg the situation, we should be focusing our attention of aligning our businesses with the strengths of digital and pushing for digital products to blossom to their full potential.
While it’s easier to continue doing business as usual, only selling a different permutation of the same thing, business that do and will prosper in the digital space all have one thing in common: they understand digital products and allow them to be what they are.