Imagine what it must be like to be a prominent figure in the publishing industry, a person in a position of power, to be the guy or gal who could wake up and say:
"Today, I am going to revolutionize my industry."
J.K. Rowling is doing it, but she’s limiting her revolution to the Harry Potter industry.
At any rate, it doesn’t really matter who it is: People exist who are in a position to shake things up and turn the publishing industry on its head at a pivotal moment in time.
That, to me, is the dream.
It’s one thing to ride the resurgent wave of the mobile industry in the years after the introduction of the iPhone, or the computer industry after the iPad, but imagine what it must have been like to be Steve Jobs (or to have worked for him) once it had been decided that Apple was going to disrupt the mobile and computer industries?
No, seriously: If you’re reading this and you’re the head of a publishing house, please imagine what it would be like to make the decision to fundamentally alter the direction of your industry.
The foundation has been laid: The Kindle Fire, the iPad, the Nook Color — all of these devices are platforms for this revolution. Any one of the people I’ve listed above could approach Apple, or Amazon, and lay out a grand plan to win the day.
What happens if Brian Murray approaches Jeff Bezos, or Tim Cook (or both) and says:
Hey, Jeff. We’re nervous as hell about this, but if we don’t move, someone else will, and we’ve got some big ideas. We’d rather be bold and first than timid and last. The writing is on the wall regarding ebooks and we want to lead the charge. I know HarperCollins has been a bit behind the times and, yes, even downright stodgy when it comes to our embrace of digital content. That ends today.
Here’s what’s on the table: We’d like to bite the bullet and sell all our content DRM-free.
Go ahead and put a digital signature on it, but that’s all we’ll require.
Next, we want to work more closely with Amazon. We want you to build a social platform for our books and put it on every Kindle you sell. You’ve got the user data, we’ve got the books. Charge a monthly subscription and give us a 50% cut. Any user who joins that service can then share their books with other users of the service, as often as they like, with the idea that you’ll manage the transactions.
Amazon has a record of who buys what, which means we can even authenticate purchases and ensure that people aren’t lending the same book out to more than one person at a time. We can iron out the details later, but that’s the gist of it.
Give your customers a platform to talk about our books. Our goal, then, is to create an army of consumer marketers for our content.
Here’s where it gets interesting, Jeff. If a user wants to use this service to sell their copy of a book to someone else on the service — make that possible. They’ll get a small cut, you’ll get your small cut, and we’ll get our usual bigger cut. Go ahead and make the user’s cut a credit for the Kindle store, though. That way, they come back and buy more books. You’ve got some smart people at Amazon and I’m confident you can work out a way to transfer ownership to the new user. Above all else, make this easy and fun to use.
Then, if Jeff Bezos won’t play ball, or if he won’t agree to negotiate the price of ebooks in a direction more favorable to HarperCollins, Tim Cook gets the same pitch.
This isn’t beyond the realm of possibility. Both Amazon and Apple could make this happen, given the opportunity. An independent developer with sufficient funds could make it happen, for that matter.
If Amazon launches this tomorrow, HarperCollins benefits tomorrow by being first to market and first to a sensible solution for monetizing the redistribution of their content amongst customers.
At some point, seeing the error of their hesitant ways, other publishers would negotiate their way into the platform. Eventually, Apple decides they’ve got to create something similar for iOS and Barnes & Noble follows suit.
Sadly, the fact that something is possible doesn’t mean it’s likely. This can’t happen unless Brian Murray (or whoever) wakes up with a desire to flip the script.
I have to wonder, though: In a post-PC, post-paper world, if no one seems to be waking up with that grand vision — why are these people still leaders in their industry in the first place?