Content versus Form

I love walking into bookstores. I can pick up three paperbacks and they will all be priced $7.99 no matter if they are by best selling authors or someone I’ve never heard of before. A book that is considered a best seller costs the same as the book that doesn’t crack the best seller list. It’s the same with paperbacks as well. We are buying form versus buying content. It’s simply the cost for book production plus a few extra dollars for profit, royalities, marketing and overhead.

Content versus form is everywhere. Newspapers, magazines, movies and music have the same problem. Are we paying for the content or the form? Also, what happens when users start acquiring these things online for free?

Newspapers like to pretend they provide news, but that would be false. A newspaper provides eyeballs for businesses wishing to advertise with articles, editorials, and pictures used to bring in those eyeballs. But of course, the vast majority of those eyeballs just want the articles and stories and could care less about the advertising. Even worse for the poor newspapers is when those readers actually want advertising they don’t go to newspapers. Instead they go to Cragislist or eBay or somewhere else. Craigslist and eBay destroyed the classifieds section of most major newspapers practically overnight and remember classifieds used to be a cash cow.

Which brings us back to content. When users can find the content they desire for free they rarely will pay for it. Unless it’s at a price point they will tolerate or there’s value added incentives. I could easily download any movie from the net, but not the commentary tracks or the behind the scenes featurettes. Those are value added. I love it when muscians add DVDs or other material to their releases because it brings something extra to the purchase. It also helps when they price their product correctly – $10-12 for new releases. Distribution is easy – Just use Wal-Mart.

Apple and iTunes have figured out the content/form equation perfectly. They don’t overcharge for content that is basically created for iPods. They are the perfect middleman. Google has created tools to aggregate news, blogs and other social media into one user interface in a way newspapers and magazines only dream about.

Speaking of relatively free or low cost content, Hulu has figured out a way to get eyeballs on shows with limited commercial interruption. In fact, with Hulu the era of appointment television is over. It began with the arrival of DVRs and skippping over of commercials, but really has come into the forefront with the success of Hulu.

The people who are watching a program on Hulu or use a DVR like Tivo are not the same people who will watch a program during regularly scheduled times.

A quick aside to those who postpone putting a new show on Hulu by a week (Fox with House, for example) are doing themselves a tremendous disservice. Those who will watch a program online will just simply go to a site without any commercials to watch it on a more timely basis. And guess what, they aren’t watching your commercials and even worse they may just decide to watch ALL their programming that way even if the quality is not as high as Hulu.

The networks are slow dinosaurs who like record companies before them are slow to pick up on how this generation views entertainment and content. Every step is incredibly tentative and they will continue to lose viewers, listeners and money.

Today, it is a different audience. Almost anyone who would buy a book to put on their Kindle is not the same person who wants a bookshelf full of books. The same can be said for iPod owners. Anything you want that can be digitized in some form or another is available online with a few clicks of a mouse and a high-speed internet connection.

It’s the content they want, not the form. And people are tired of the old forms.