I drew inspiration for this week’s Twitter Chat post from a conversation I followed a while back between my friend, (and one of the most forward thinking about all things bookish) Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, repeat offender Susan Doerr (indeed a smart girl/reader/publisher) and Peter Turner (at the tail end, but with an insightful point of view).
The conversation began with Guy’s assertion that print vs. digital is an irrelevant argument, and implying that digital devices were merely containers for content. As ever, I both agree and disagree with each participant in the conversation: my comments appear after the end of the conversation.
So I have to say, it was Guy’s comment that got my attention. I only follow Guy on Twitter, so it took me a minute to find the conversation that followed. But I do think that Guy’s statement that Content + Context = Value.
And I do not believe that the “container”, in this case eReaders, iPads or even printed bound books are synonymous with a a business model. Though I think we can agree that the container will influence the business model… Amazon dominates the eBook model not only due to the low cost, high service sales model they champion, but because of it’s strong online presence, and the early introduction of Kindle to the market. It’s a different model than the traditional publisher to printer to warehouse to distributer to retail store to reader model.
So far, so good. But here’s where I’d interject my own assertion. The container not only contextualizes content, but content must be shaped for the unique capabilities of the container. Because when you’re talking about something like the iPad, or even a smart phone (cell phone novels are big in Japan, for instance), you have a different set of capabilities (and limitations) than you’ll find with the beloved print book which was one of the only devices through which long form content could be delivered.
A bound book requires no power source, it’s easy on the eyes when reading by daylight, and is ideal for engraved illustrations. A backlit screen requires a battery, makes reading long chapters more difficult, but you can incorporate illustrations that move (video, animation). While a Kindle emulates the functionality of a book (Instapaper and inanimate graphics), it still has enhanced capabilities that might shape the formation of content (annotation for example) in new and interesting ways (book clubs? school based reading initiatives?).
These containers mean nothing without content… but the funny thing is, we’ve never really wanted to pay for content. We’ve always paid for the container, ro means of distribution: the paper a book is printed on, the cable service that delivers TV, the cinema that allows for a giant screen and a group experience).
So while I agree that content is what gives value to a container, the container will promote the success of different kinds of content. And content should be created with the method of distribution in mind. This is how containers and content succeed… in that differentiated, symbiotic way.
New containers allow for new and more varied kinds of content.
Those are my thoughts, anyway. What do you think? I’d love to know.