Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Amazon Gets All Twitchy

We have long argued about the logic of joining up the media dots. Some see this as merging the technology and using one technology architecture to deliver all services. Others see the services as remaining separate and simply offering a ‘one stop’ consumer umbrella, which collectively makes it difficult to compete with.

This week Amazon has acquired games streaming service Twitch for a cool $1 billion ($973 million). Twitch claims to be the fourth largest generator of peak load Internet traffic, which is greater than Hulu, Facebook and Amazon.  According to Twitch it has quickly become the go-to-platform for the fast growing video game-streaming market. In July they claimed some 55 million unique monthly viewers.

Amazon’s media offer now includes physical books, ebooks, singles, print on demand, rare and used books, audio books, lending and subscription services streamed music, CD music, downloaded music, film rental and streaming, games and game streaming much much more. When you recognise that these can all be offered under one subscription service, Prime, as either supplemental services or the main offer, the picture changes. Kids Free Time is the only service Amazon has collectively offered under one proposition and subscription, but it isn’t hard to see many more such offers. Prime also unlocks the world of Amazon’s marketplace, goods of all sizes and shapes and a growing digital offer and physical delivery service which has collection points, same day delivery and again much more.

So is about building a ‘one stop shop’ and owning the customer’s first point of choice and if Amazon hasn’t got it, then its marketplace probably has. This now begs the question of why we bother to search on other services and don’t just go to Amazon first every time. After all, we will be soon conditioned to believe that that’s where we will probably get the best deal on everything and anything. Amazon gets first crack at unlocking our purse and getting our money and if the sale goes elsewhere through marketplace then they still get a cut.

So what about media and content? We know Amazon wants to take out the middle man. It is also becoming a producer, publisher, commissioner and much more across many media forms and not just selling books, films, etc. Does it want to be the only one? That would not make sense and would be unrealistic, but it will go for the quick wins and importantly go to win the hearts and minds of the self-publishing and creative-direct route.

What we have is an omnivore, which in its habit is creating a compelling consumer and creator proposition which is hard to avoid. No one only reads books, watches films or plays games and fighting a beast gets harder when it’s not just about one offer. Importantly the sum of the parts is its strength and that is not just with consumers, but with its competitors. Competitors and providers who have only a slice of the offer, have just that, a slice. They have to do that not only better than Amazon, but better than the rest who are fighting for that space. Niche is fine and can be very profitable, but it is just niche and growth is limited.

If you want to grow outside of the niche you have to find others who can help replicate what Amazon is doing internally. That’s Amazon’s potential weakness in that it has brought its offer inside. The companies may well operate separately but they are owned by Amazon. To compete then someone has to collect the same, similar or others into a group that acts as one but who remain separate. There are many opportunities but often little or limited vision or appetite for co-operatives. 

To those who are searching for the synergy between Twitch and books and other media, forget it. The game is about creating a unique, compelling and universal offer and if it also provides some synergy then that’s a bonus.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Hear, See and Speak - No Used eBooks?

How do industry bodies and major players respond to new entrants who offer something different? Do they go out to squash them in order to maintain the status quo? Do they attempt to reign them in and restrict their influence and impact? Do they invest in them and work with them to create new channels, new markets and new revenues? Some believe that many stick their head in the dark and wish them to go away?

This last week we have all read the Amazon Press Release over their ongoing battles with Hachette and one of the most relevant statements came right at the beginning in their reflections of the current consumer offer.  

A key objective is lower e-book prices. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there's no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out-of-stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market -- e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can be and should be less expensive.

The somewhat throwaway line that caught our attention was that, ‘there is no secondary market ebooks cannot be resold as used books.’ With the revelations earlier this year about Amazon’s used ebook patent, we know that it has had its eye on this opportunity, but that the first sale doctrine is maybe a battle too far today. But used ebooks are almost certainly to happen and the change will be either driven by consumer demand or other start-ups who are prepared to push the envelope. It took the likes of Waterstones, Dillons and others some three years from starting to discount in 1991, to the collapse of the Net Book Agreement in 1994. It took years of patient lobbying for the B&Q and other large UK retailers to open up Sunday trading. It took years to change UK licencing laws. Things change in time and they change in favour of public demand.

Last month a judge for the District Court of Amsterdam ruled that Dutch used ebook reseller, Tom Kabinet can continue to operate while it is being sued in court by the Dutch Trade Publishers Association. Tom Kabinet enables users to resell DRM free and digital watermarked ebooks.
The Tom Kabinet site takes a 10% commission on all ebooks sold and have offered to pay a 5% royalty on all sales to authors for each ebook sold on their marketplace.

However, Tom Kabinet like the used l digital music service ReDigi are also up against EU legislators and a strong lobby. Although ReDigi is still in operation today, and have been awarded a patent earlier this year for their marketplace platform they have had to adapt their service in light of losing legal battles.

When Napster first threatened the music production business, the industry fought back through the courts and set out to shut down the new file sharers. The propaganda PR and lobby machines were wound up and the sound bites and messages broadcast. The political lobbing started as the industry  set out to shut down the new file sharers before they could establish themselves. The problem was Napster was free and consumers made it go viral.

The music industry won its battle with Napster, but then had others to deal with who had watched the Napster battle and learned new tactics. Although the music business kept winning they also kept losing and by the time they tried to get the Napster brand under their umbrella it was too late and the stable door was wide open.

The music streamers came next. First there was Spiral Frog who failed to deliver, but they were followed by Spotify and Pandora who did. The big music producers had learned some lessons and bought into the service but also tried to tame it and minimise the risk to their model. However they failed to understand that the threat wasn’t free, nor was it sharing, but it was about the whole ownership ethos that they had profited from for decades. The streaming services asked why you needed to buy when you could access on demand, from anywhere at anytime. Spotify with its 24 million users, of which 6 million are subscribers and the other services started to redefined ownership and how we paid for and listened to music.

It’s amazing how long the music industry took to include downloads into its charts and that they have only just opened the door to include streamed music. Today 228 million downloads happen across the various services every week in the UK and that is up from 142 million in 2013 and 67 million in 2012 (Official Charts Company). The maths of how many tracks on average people download a week, is not hard to calculate and is significant. Some 41.5% of singles are streamed and 12% of the current top ten are streamed. The UK alone has delivered a staggering 18.5 billion streams and in 2013 overall market revenues from streaming pasted the $1 billion mark for the first time. Interestingly, while streaming has experienced explosive growth the overall revenues of the global music market have only increased by a mere 4.3% (IFPY and Spotify).

We wonder how long it will be before they fully recognise the impact YouTube has made and that some suggest that more kids now watch their music today than listen to it. Interestingly, the success of streaming is negating the demand for used digital sales and in a market where growth is clearly in a new ownership model enabling secondary sales makes sense and will generate further income for artists.

Change will happen and denying used digital media a second life and sale will increasingly be seen as wrong and an untenable position by the people that matter the consumers. Denying a second income opportunity also impact creators at a time when their own first sale income is increasingly not meeting their expectations and the pool is being shared with even more fish.

Unlike music, ebook consumption is relatively low and prices relatively high and this will reduce some of the appeal of on demand ebook subscription services. The book market will remain a mixed economy for the foreseeable future with physical, digital, see through and subscription offers.  Perhaps it time that publishers work with new stat-ups to create and support a thought through and complimentary used ebook market and not wait for the collapse of the restrictions they have today and the chance that the result may not be favourable.