Following on from my thoughts in "Triple Play? Strike One
" a friend of mine suggested that distribution itself is becoming commoditised. I think in most cases he's right.
The delivery mechanisms for content that are based on open standards will make the process of distribution a flat rate service, and not something that is controlled or owned. But in some areas, even with emerging technology, there's still space for owning this part of the chain.
Take the newspaper industry for example. Thousands of trucks trundle up and down the country to a limited number of wholesalers. Trucks, drivers, paper, loading, unloading - now that's all expensive stuff. So there are only ever going to be a handful of players in the space willing to take on the business costs of distribution. Distribution is controlled and it limits your choices of daily news to a few papers.
News is big business. So breaking into, disrupting or redefining distribution in this market is a huge opportunity for new players...and Microsoft. Microsoft announced their own e-paper publishing technology late last week, entering the fray with current providers Newstand, Oliver, Newspapers Direct.
Microsoft's move surely can't be to own the platform serving the current
global e-paper subscriber base - which probably rests at less than 100,000. Rather, this is a step toward owning one the future distribution of mobile news. Consider MS Origami (another gentle, limited experiment in this area), a renewed focus on RSS and aggregation, another push with its Mobile OS.
In fact, we ought to consider current e-paper and mobile solutions as interim until e-ink becomes a mass-market reality. When it does, you can expect the battle for the distribution of news to be blood-thirsty and savage.
In writing this blog I'm already suprised at how advanced e-ink technology is. There is a lot happening in this space. Last year e-ink began to appear on billboards - providing illuminated and animated printed posters. Now e-ink technology is rolling out in consumer products from flat screens to watches
When e-ink becomes a low-cost paper technology, the distribution of daily newsprint can no-longer be controlled. For the news you want to read will be as distributed and open in e-print as it already is online. You can read what you want, when you want on the device you want. The enormous potential global volumes in providing this new technology, let alone the content, will surely drive prices for the devices rock-bottom very, very quickly. Perhaps the mobile operators have a roll to play here, given their similar experience with mobile phones.
And maybe our granchildren will marvel at how a daily printed newspaper ever existed.