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Convergence - a done deal? Publishing gone? - El.pub Analytic No. 7

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Contents: Introduction | Types of convergence | Convergence in practice | Problems | Entertainment and media 2001 - 2005 | Conclusions


It is difficult to separate problems caused by the current economic downturn from other problems such as the worldwide slump in spending on advertising and technical difficulties with new media. Recent figures for world revenue in the 'entertainment and media' markets show the following:


Entertainment and media 2001 - 2005

$ billion (spending on = end users + advertisers)
Filmed entertainment
Television Content (Broadcast and Cable Networks)
TV Distribution (Station, Cable and DBS)
Recorded Music
Internet Advertising (10-20%) and Access Spending
Magazine Publishing
Newspaper Publishing
Book Publishing
Radio and Out-of-Home Advertising
Theme Parks and Amusement Parks
(source: PWC)
Interactive leisure software
(source: ELSPA / Screen Digest)
of which Advertising

Clearly advertising, providing 38% of the money, has a major impact on the profitability of the sector. However, the split between revenue from end-users and advertisers is not evenly distributed. End-user payments dominate in games, records and books, advertising spend in TV and newspapers. Thus the impact of a drop in advertising will effect organisations depending on their relative exposure in the different sectors.

Technical problems are rather different. It is clear that major players like Bertelsmann and Reuters have the expertise to try out a lot of ideas in-house before launching entirely new ventures. For example, Barnes and Noble is a major player in the retail bookselling business which is pushing Amazon.com hard in the online market. It is also a subsidiary of Bertelsmann. Reuters are involved in a number of joint ventures such as Factiva with Dow Jones and Radianz with Equant, where it can leverage its own expertise with that of others to create new services.

One of the problems with digital distribution (particularly over the Internet) is the loss of control over the end-user experience. Books are published in many formats depending on the desires of the publisher and author. In electronic publishing the quality and form of the final visual and audio output depends partly on the equipment and software owned and maintained by the client (as noted by Reuters above in a different context). At present, text on PCs is not the same quality as on the printed page. An easy test of this is to view a page rendered by an e-book system such as Microsoft Reader side-by-side with a similar page in a paperback. Even with a screen at a relatively high resolution setting such as 1024 by 768 the difference is very evident. Far less information is presented on the screen page than the paper, a choice forced by the great difference in resolution of print and screen. In itself this does not necessarily detract from the reading experience but it makes it different and requires changes to layout, for example with tables.

A specific problem with the Internet is bandwidth. If I have a magazine in front of me, the time taken to flick through to a page that looks interesting is short and in any case I am actually doing something with the magazine. The time to scroll or click through 50 pages on a web site is quite a different matter. The solution is to provide individual users with much faster access, but as long as users believe that this does not require serious investment and thus increased prices, and the infrastructure providers invest their capital in silly dotcom ventures like WAP rather than basic delivery improvements, we shall have to sit on our hands and wait.

In general, users will only move from traditional media to new if there is a real and evident added-value. Videogames are popular because they add an interactivity to play and storytelling that cannot be created in traditional media. Reuters use of the Internet enables them to offer information packages at low prices because of the size of the market the Internet offers. New customers are attracted who could not have afforded the proprietary services offered in the past, that required expensive dedicated hardware and networking to be installed. At present e-books do not offer this added-value and are not successful, whereas selling printed books over the Internet offers a much wider range of books than the average retail outlet, is easy to use, and is successful. Creating the added-value is the key to a successful business model.

It is possible to imagine holding a sheet of plastic with high resolution colour images that can be fed, with anything that can currently be seen on, paper, TV or a PC, via a ubiquitous wireless network. The organisations investing in content management and convergence certainly think this will happen in the not too distant future.

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