Friday, June 3, 2005

DRM and the New Yorker

I am very excited about the imminent arrival of the full archives of The New Yorker in DVD form! I can't wait!

However, the question remains, why has the New Yorker chosen to offer its wealth of articles in an electronic (and potentially piratable) format? And if the New Yorker is wiling to do it, why won't authors of books today offer their books in DVD format?

The most obvious reason I can think of is that the New Yorker archives are currently not monetized. Old issues sit in stacks in the living rooms and dens of people's homes, but perhaps the New Yorker has not had much success in selling old articles; or in making those articles accessible to the general public.

(Yes, you may have found an exhilarating article in a June 1997 article in the New Yorker, but can you remember which issue you found the article in? Can you remember who wrote the article? Can you even find it again?)

So by offering up the archives on DVD, The New Yorker can accomplish two goals: first, and foremost, the publication can monetize an extremely valuable asset which currently (probably) does not produce that much revenue and secondly, the New Yorker can make available its rich history of content to people everywhere (much more accessible) and perhaps attract new readers to a subscription to the New Yorker.

If you think about it, the incremental cost to the New Yorker to sell these DVD's is almost zero. All the money and effort poured into creating these articles has been spent. The sweat, the tears, the editing, the late nights, all DONE.

This kind of goes back to the (by-now tired) concept of the Long Tail -- it may cost a great deal to create content today (think of multi-million dollar films) but the cost to show another person the film once the film is created is peanuts relative to the cost of creation. And so it’s possible and very profitable to generate more and more sales from existing content.

So why won't authors of books offer their titles in the same manner?

Maybe the books themselves are too small (once digitized) and don't require a full DVD. This results in further consequences, since the size being small, not dissimilar in size to an MP3, could make the content more susceptible to pirating and trading online. Thus, the format cries out for restrictive "digital rights management" (so that you can only read the book once on your computer and the moment your computer dies or is upgraded, you lose the book that you spent $20 to buy, since the book is only as good as your existing machine.)

In addition, authors have an obvious alternative to offering their wares on DVD or in electronic format, just sell the books in physical form. Unlike the New Yorker, authors can continue to sell their books in physical bookstores as long as the publishers are willing to print the books. The books will sell even if they are no longer in print -- an active and enthusiastic market for used books exists on Amazon.com, for example.

The New Yorker, however, does not currently sell or make back-issues available in physical form at a bookstore. There is thus a limited revenue opportunity and distribution mechanism for back issues and old articles. (And not only that, since there are so many articles, there exists the problem of a reader even locating the article and recognizing that yes the article exists and that they may want to purchase the article.)

The opportunities and risks for a book writer and a magazine such as the New Yorker are completely different.

Thus, unfortunately, I doubt we will see more books/written content made available in DVD format. Too bad!