The electronic age has changed the way we explore, access and consume information. Today much of our information needs are fulfilled through the internet, for absolutely no cost. Much of professional and scholarly research is done through data collected from the internet, and through networking with other researchers. Yet, many argue about the perils of free content, as well the authenticity of content. The magnitude of free information, even throws up the argument of the need for books, or data that has a price tag attached to it. What is it about some content, that you can charge a premium for it? How do you get people to buy content rather than rely on free information sought through the internet?
Readers are given the option to search within the book and ensure that they are getting exactly what they are paying for. Up-to date research reports and full volumes of encyclopedias usually only allow for free book previews, through online readers. Access of an entire volume costs the reader, and if the preview shows content that is worthy, readers are indeed wiling to pay a price for it. The new system that is emerging is of “mixed bundling” offering a product and its components in different permutations to satisfy different consumer needs. In a manner of speaking, your content is no longer just a product, i.e. a book. Today readers are demanding that there are no restrictions on structure and in a way turning your traditional ‘product’ into a service that requires more than just the physical version. Consumers are demanding specifics, and well, today they are getting what they want. Today, content providers give their readers content in the way they wish to consume it. They give them the option of buying part of the content, add supplementary material to the content, allow them to rent content and many more such options. Thus, to some extent curbing the attitude of, “why should I have to pay for something I don’t need/can get free”.
In a way, content, especially e-content, is looked on as an experience. Today, readers want to envision rather than imagine, they want to participate rather than watch. eBooks give them this experience. You can read an ebook, add notes, share notes with friends, discuss with experts, watch videos, take tests, play games, listen to audio and more, with the added advantage of consuming this content, anywhere and at anytime.
The trend of cloud computing, or saving of data on the cloud/internet, enables portability of content from device to device which represents the future of media and content consumption. The device market is constantly evolving, due to changing consumer preferences and the developing electronics landscape. Device manufacturers, marketers and publishers alike are challenged to make content available where, when and how their readers want to consume it—and that is anywhere, anytime and on any device. Multiple devices, numerous access modes and shifting consumer preferences mean, marketers and content owners cannot afford to choose any one single method. Until formats and device platforms get more established, multi-mode, multi-device support remains a must. So the overall expectations have increased and is more about convenience of accessing the content, choice of formats and price. In a nutshell, it’s about enhanced reading experience, and accessibility to needed resources.
The question of revenues for publishing is on top of everyone’s mind. In studying industry trends, and knowing that readers are not willing to pay for content that they can already access for free, the problem needs to be looked at from another angle. The real opportunity could lie in what we have been calling ‘the reading experience’. Publishers need to take on the role of service providers rather than sellers of a product. Real opportunity could lie in options such as is in selling access to repositories of content or in a constant stream of value adds, such as updates, buying in chunks, renting, links, audio, video, networking, gaming, sharing, participation and engagement and giving readers what they are looking for.