Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Five Questions with Shatzkin on DADs

At the Frankfurt supply chain meeting, Mike Shatzkin presented his white paper on Digital Asset Distributors. I summarized the content of the presentation here but I also followed up and asked Mike to expand on several points in the presentation. Here are his responses.

  1. You mentioned that the research that resulted in the white paper on Digital Asset Distributors was developed for Klopotek. What is there interest in this research and why were they interested in this subject?

    Believe it or not, Klopotek really had a community interest in the subject (although that also translates into a marketing device.) They are not a DAD -- which we define as an operation that does digital storage, conversion, and distribution in response to a publisher's needs -- and have no interest in becoming a DAD. But they do sell systems to publishers that will have to account for digital activity, tying sales and revenues back into legacy systems to pay royalties, among other things. But, mainly, I think Klopotek -- which has been growing out of their German origins for the past several years -- saw a "thought leadership" opportunity to establish themselves in the English-speaking markets. And I think the White Paper and conferences -- the outputs from the research -- were successful for them in that regard.

  2. You have given this presentation and speech a number of times over the past six months or so. What has been the reaction of the publishing community – not necessarily from the larger publishers – but the medium to smaller publishers? Are you starting to see an appreciation for the issues that this next tier of publisher needs to understand and appreciate as they consider their digital distribution needs?

    I don't see much of the smaller publishers; I think it is the nature of my consulting practice. But the mid-size ones are definitely feeling the issues raised by the DAD study. Right now, this is being driven by a combination of driving online sales (getting the content displayed with Amazon,, Google, Microsoft) and driving online marketing (widgets for MySpace and Facebook) for the consumer publishers. Publishers are also increasingly aware that there is a real ROI in developing a digital workflow, which becomes part of the thought process when they think about DADs. The more complex are the books a publisher creates -- the more highly illustrated and design-intensive -- the more benefits come from the digital workflow improvement.

  3. What role are standards bodies playing in this area? Are the business needs and requirements moving ahead of the standards discussions and recommendations?

    Interesting that you raise this. Digital guru David Worlock said to me at Frankfurt that he wondered whether we should be worried so much about "standards" when we don't have a MARKET. Shouldn't we build the market first, he wondered? But Mark Bide, my partner in many ventures including the DADs research, would say that, without standards, you'll never build a market! I am not sure the business needs are yet moving ahead of the standards, but they probably will. I agree with something you have previously pointed out on your blog, which is that the identification of salable "chunks" can't really be done before the fact by publisher assignment of DOIs; it is the consumer who will identify what they want and how they want it put together and we don't really have a process to enable that.

  4. You mentioned at Frankfurt that long term there may only be a few DAD’s but in the short term most publishers should/will contract with one of the existing players. Why do you think this is the case: Both the short term observation and the long term evolution.

    Technology drives scale is the answer in both cases. As it stands, all the DADs are struggling to build out their offerings to cover everything they have to do. They will all be challenged to provide real digital workflows -- real DAM capabilities -- or they will suffer competitively. They all need widgets. They all need nimble content conversion capabilities. And in the future they will need the capability to add value in sales of aggregated content. In the short term, obviously the players will choose from the choices on the table. In the US, that really means three major players (four if you are an academic publisher.) The biggest companies aren't quite all spoken for, but it will be increasingly difficult for new entrants to gain the scale that is necessary to play.

  5. What will the evolution in services be for these DADs? Where/how do you think they will begin to differentiate themselves or will their services evolve into a commodity?

    One aspect of differentiation will be price and service. Pricing is a bit vague now and service is very hard to measure. But as new use cases arise -- Amazon Kindle, a Google device, new Web services like netGalley develop and need their database populated -- some DADs will handle these things more quickly and smoothly than others. That's why we urge strong service level requirements in publishers' agreements with DADs. In the longer run, I can see DADs "making sales." They can't really do that until they aggregate content and know they have it. But let's say a DAD has 500,000 recipes from 14 publishers and can convince Kroger to make use of them in marketing? If you're a publisher with that DAD, you make a sale. If you're not, you don't. In the physical distribution world, publishers look at "what else is in the bag?" when they pick a distributor or a sales rep group? It is too early for that kind of thinking in digital distribution, but it will come.

    Mike Shatzkin,

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