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Information wants to be googled

2010-01-22

Charles Stross is contemplating the future of writing in the age of digital distribution in this very interesting blog post:

The internet is business-model neutral; it’s like the postal service, or the telephone — all it does is put suppliers in touch with consumers. The revolutionary new quality it adds is that it cuts out middlemen — if a supplier can make their existence known to a consumer, there’s no need for wholesaler warehouses, distributors, and a pavement-pounding sales force.

Enter Google. (…) Google’s revenue stream is predicated on their success as an advertising company first and foremost. (…) Google’s business model is to monetize all internet content by slapping advertising on it and positioning themselves as the most convenient find-everything-at-your-fingertips gateway.

I’m increasingly having a problem with the “information wants to be free” viewpoint — because it ain’t necessarily so, depending on how you define “information” and “free”. Bandwidth is in the process of becoming so cheap it might as well be free, at least by the standards of the 1990s, let alone any earlier decade. Information is another matter, though. Not all information is created equal, and the cost of compiling and producing something new is disproportionately high.

Paper books are going to be around for a long time to come, but I’m betting on the ebook cannibalizing the mass-market paperback by 2020 at the latest — which is where half the paper book revenue stream comes from. Hardcovers pay much better than paperbacks, but far fewer people are willing to pay for them. (…) But the ebook shift is potentially catastrophic: ebook royalties are typically in the 15-30% range, but the cost of e-goods in general is being deflated towards the $1.99 price point by the App Store model pushed by Apple and their competitors. Amazon aren’t helping either (…) Not only does it mean less royalties for the authors, it means less money for the publishers — or, more importantly, their marketing divisions.

(…)

So I’m trying to figure out what constitutes a workable business model in the post-Google age for someone who wants to earn a living by writing.

This is the kind of questions that the recording industry seldom raise, instead hiding their heads in the sand chasing pirate copying.

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