Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Selling content sucks - if that's all you do...

The difficulties facing yet another vendor of content marks another milestone (gravestone?) along the road to the new media ecology.
There are lessons for all of us who sell content. There may be lessons for everyone who sells.
Fopp - one of the UK's biggest music store chains - is the latest to be hit by what is reported by the mainstream media as an issue that's all about competition from downloads and online supermarkets:
"All specialist retailers of CDs and DVDs have been hit by growing competition from online downloads and supermarkets. HMV today reported a 70 per cent fall in profits. Music Zone’s demise was blamed on the same factors..."
Supermarket competition impacts at the mass end of the business. Smaller retailers can respond to this. It is not to go head to head with the high volume - top 50 sellers. It is to serve the long tail and respond to local (community) needs. It is to provide a very different experience.
When I was a kid the local record shop (and even the small town where I grew up had one) was one-part youth club, one-part information exchange and one-part market place. I could sell old records I no longer wanted, order something obscure (they couldn't carry everything!), hang out, load up on some vicarious cool, share what I thought, form a band, etc etc
How far removed is this from the experience of buying in a supermarket?
Online vendors of downloads have (where they succeed) replicated this far better than bricks and mortar rivals.
They have understood that communities form around music - communities who want to share (is that the new marketplace of buying and selling secondhand records?) information, recommendations - and just spend time together discussing what they love and why they love it - and marketing their favourites to each other.
But that's not to say a music store couldn't capture much of the same. And by facilitating the physical meeting of communities they could take what online retailers have discovered and make it still more engaging.
Perhaps they have to accept two things:

1. Turn yourselves into a music marketplace - where people can come together to exchange information, buy (and sell/share?), and be entertained (God forbid, perhaps they could even put on the occasional gig?)
2. Offer downloads. Seriously - it is the disaggregation of digital content (the ability to choose which tracks you want, rather than buying whole CDs), that's driving download sales. Convenience is important, price is important. But serving of long-term diverse choice is the biggest factor. And it's the part of the market that is emphatically NOT served by supermarkets.

Fop, HMV, chains in general... seem to have forgotten that the marketplace was always about much more than buying your goods.

The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?