Even In The Age Of Abundance It's Quality, Not Quantity, That Counts

from the do-books-need-to-be-expensive-to-be-good? dept

Seth Godin is nothing if not prolific. As well as publishing a string of popular marketing books with catchy titles like “All marketers are liars”, “The big moo” and “Small is the new big”, he writes short but smart blog posts every day, some of which are rather obvious, but many of which contain real gems of insight.

This fluency with words means he is well placed to comment on the age of abundance we are entering thanks to the rise of digital technologies. One of his latest pieces is entitled “How the long tail cripples bonus content/multimedia“, and appears as part of The Domino Project, “a new way to think about publishing. Founded by Seth Godin and powered by Amazon” — a partnership that is itself symptomatic of the digital times.

The post is in response to a HuffPo interview with President and CEO of Ingram Content Group, David “Skip” Prichard. Prichard shows himself optimistic and surprisingly open to new ideas for someone leading a book distribution company — not a sector known for its innovation.

But Godin concentrates on one particular aspect of Prichard’s replies, which is typified by the following exchange:

Are there enhanced books available this holiday season that have already changed the definition of a book?

Yes, for example, a biography can to come to life in many ways. Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy has all of the interview audios, videos, photographs, text, and transcripts available. Even classics — Penguin has updated Pride & Prejudice with clips from the movie and even instructions on dancing. For the 75th anniversary of The Hobbit, HarperCollins released an e-version with exclusives including J.R.R Tolkien’s book illustrations and recently discovered Tolkien recordings. Publishers are still learning what added value readers will or won’t pay for. I expect we’ll continue to see lots of experimentation in this arena.

Godin describes these “breathtaking visions of the future” as “economically ridiculous”, and comments:

The Long Tail creates acres of choice, so much as to make the number of options almost countless. But at the same time, it embraces (in every format) much lower production values. For what Michael Jackson and Sony paid to produce the Thriller album, today’s artists can make and market more than 5,000 songs. You just can’t justify spending millions of dollars to produce a record in the long tail world.

This is an important point that the copyright industries are extremely reluctant to acknowledge, because it’s at odds with their business models based on just a few massive blockbusters that are highly profitable. There’s a good reason for their preference: the elevated costs involved in creating these works act as a barrier to entry for newcomers, and help preserve the status quo. The new model, based around large numbers of low-cost products, is available for anyone to adopt — including artists selling directly to their public.

As Godin puts it:

it’s not a few publishers putting out a few books for the masses. No, the market for the foreseeable future is a million publishers publishing to 100 million readers.

He explains what that means for ebooks:

The typical ebook costs about $10 in out of pocket expenses to write (more if you count coffee and not just pencils). But if we add in $50,000 for app coding, $10,000 for a director and another $500,000 for the sort of bespoke work that was featured in Al Gore’s recent ‘book’, you can see the problem. The publisher will never have a chance to make this money back.

Finally, Godin addresses the inevitable complaint that the imminent loss of those $500,000 multimedia ebooks — like the imminent disappearance of $100 million movies – means the end of creativity as we know it:

The quality is going to remain in the writing and in the bravery of ideas, not in teams of people making expensive digital books.

Even in the age of abundance, it’s not about quantity, but quality.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+

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Comments on “Even In The Age Of Abundance It's Quality, Not Quantity, That Counts”

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One Tom too Many (profile) says:

Better Tech in the

The tools to create quality digital multimedia experiences are getting easier to use and cheaper as time goes on. Technology is driving the whole “multimedia” chain of creation for these types of digital products and bringing down the cost of “content” creation as it is anyway. And besides, there will always be people pushing the creativity envelope with the tools that they have available to them and impressing everyone with their ingenuity. The problem will be trying to find those products out there if they don’t get stifled by greedy corporations or someone “claiming” ownership to the “idea”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Better Tech in the

and you can buy a very very high quality guitar, for less money these days, but it wont make you any better at playing it.

You can have the best AV equipment in the world, and LOTS of it, does that make what you product with it better ? does it make your performance better ?

are you are better actor, singer, muso because you have more modern equipment ?

I guess you think so.

Anonymous Coward says:

I agree that quality trumps quantity every time, but I do not agree that it is less expensive to write an ebook. The time spent writing is a “sunk cost”. Distribution is certainly less, but “sunk costs” continue to be poorly understood and generally overlooked in the preoccupation with distribution costs and the marginal cost argument.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It is you that has a poor understanding of sunk costs.
The world has changed. In the past all copying mechanisms (printing, pressing recordsetc) required a significant “mastering cost”. This cost more or less eliminated the possibility of amateur production. It also brought in its train a huge marketing cost, made necessary by the need for volume sales that were required to cover the cost of mastering. These large “external” sunk costs took the heat of competition away from the other sunk costs involved in the creation of the original. Without the stimulus of competition these processes have become extravagant, flabby and inefficient.

If you go onto a film set you will see a scene that would make the manager of any manufacturing business weep. Large numbers of highly paid people are standing around doing nothing most of the time. It is ridiculous – and it has become that way because of the lack of competitive.

The necessary sunk costs of writing a book are basically the same as what I have done writing comments on this blog over the last couple of years. That is they are entirely bearable as an amateur enterprise. Any money you get back is a bonus. Professional authorship never was necessary (every first novel is an amateur undertaking – and some great books have been written by people who never wrote another one afterwards eg To Kill a Mockingbird).

Technology now means that professional publishing is also unnecessary.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’d disagree with the idea that time spent actually writing a book, screenplay, play or collection of poetry is always or ever a “sunk” cost.

For many authors it just is. It’s who they are, what they do. Often something they’re compelled to do in the same way a great gardener is compelled to head out in all kinds of weather to make sure that everything in the garden is where it should be and how it should be. Few would consider it sunk cost or time. It just is. Even if, at the end of the day, the gardener or author is working for pay. They’re following their passion.

The ease and technology available now to self publish, right up the most extravagant that an author would like to help tell the story, alternate endings is there now and growing. This may mean an author needs to co-create with a visual artist but they’re both, again, following their passion.

While they MAY absorb the costs of promotion they may just toss it out there, make a comment on their Facebook wall or tweet something, sit back and wait.

In the meantime both closed and open source tools for self-publishing increase to be available and increase to be easy to use. No need to master Photoshop, no need to master Poser. Well, unless you want to be on the high end of things.

The publishing industry will continue to exist as well. But not with the power and influence it has now. In the same way that the RIAA and MPAA member companies, well some of them, will continue to exist without the power and influence they have now.

What will replace them, I hear someone ask. I don’t know. I don’t care. Perhaps something will along the lines of what we have now, though I think that’s unlikely. Perhaps books and e-books will become a collection of cottage industries. That’s still to come. Whatever it is it probably won’t be what we have now or recognizable as such.

Perhaps it will be a successor document to the Statute of Anne that takes into account the new reality as that law establishing copyright in England was a reaction to the new reality of the movable type printing press.

In the meantime economic phrases such as “sunk” costs won’t mean much. Humans both as individuals and groups don’t respond to a stimulus rationally as the dictates of economics have pre-supposed. People are treading something of a new road. Retrofitting pre-industrail and industrial era notions of economics and the now discredited notion that humans react in groups logically which has been the basis for economics won’t work.

Let’s find out what does. I find that, all by itself, fascinating and exciting.

Anonymous Coward says:

Your point is generally at odds with the way Mike tends to look at things. He looks at the explosion of content (quantity) and mistakes it for quality.

He looks at innovation in products, any innovation, as better than quality products and quality advancements.

We are the in the age of abundance, or as I like to think of it as the age of too much noise, not enough signal.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

We are the in the age of abundance, or as I like to think of it as the age of too much noise, not enough signal.

In the past an awful lot of good signal was lost. Remember the Beatles nearly didn’t get signed (“we don’t like their sound, groups playing guitars are on the way out”). It makes you wonder how much good stuff never made it. At least these days ALL the signal is there if you’re prepared to look for it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yep, we’re in the age of “crowdsource filters” – some people just don’t know how to use them yet.

For example, copyright infringement can be used as an effective filter, if you do it right – one can infer, based on the amount of infringement of a given piece of work, that it’s probably decent or not.

Anonymous Coward says:

Me thinks nobody should pay for entertainment for a couple of years.

Is not the quality that keeps me from giving money to someone, is what those people do.

I’m not giving money to someone that will use that money to harm me and my rights.

Are people that stupid? I don’t believe they are, people will stop giving money out and start pirating more.

How do I know that?
Because that is what I do, I first try to find alternatives if I can’t find them I try to make one, if that is not possible I just give up and pirate the damn thing or live without it in the case that I can’t find it even for free, the one thing I’m not doing is giving money to stupid people who believe censorship is ok, privacy is not important and monopolies are good.

Sometimes I feel like I’m a radical, I didn’t care about those things 10 years ago and now I just want IP laws to die.

darryl says:

Re: Re:

so you would not give money to someone who is willing to provide you are service for that money, a service that you would not be able to receive if you did not pay that money.

great logic !!!

so you wouldl rather ‘go without’ than to actually ‘go without’ !!

BTW: they have not affected your rights at all, clearly you are able to exercise your rights and choose not to pay for or to use that product, just as I have a right not to buy a product that I do not like.

What you are really saying is unless they are willing to give you the product for free, you are not willing to pay for it, WELL DER !!!!

Just as you have a right to choose not to buy a product they have an equal right not to make or sell that product.

SO not ones rights are being effected or breached, you do not have a right to steal something, so that might be the right you are whinning about, but otherwise you are simply complaining that people will not let you steal and take things that do not belong to you.

That is something you consider of value, but do not feel you need to pay that value. If you did not consider it of value you would not want it right ?

So it is only things that have value that you cannot get for free that you are complaining about, welcome to the real world.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

You kinda missed the entire point of what he said, didn’t you?

To make it simple, he said he would not patronize a business who would then turn around and use that money (or the profit from his and others sales) to harm his rights.

He then goes through a list of options of how he might do that. “Piracy” was pretty low on his list but you jumped on it, of course. It was there, I presume, because of the monopoly copyright gives to a distributor, rarely an artist after all is aid and done and he wants it badly enough.

Or he’d do without.

Make it or do without was the choice my grandparents faced in the Great Depression. It’s a choice increasingly faced by the shrinking middle class in America and elsewhere. It’s the choice the poor have. To that he adds the concept of harm that may be promoted by the seller or manufacturer.

Nowhere does he say “I want it for free or else!”. Just where you read that into his post I don’t know but it’s not there.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

but by not being willing to patronise that company his rights have allready been harmed !

He used to have a right to purchase whatever he wanted to purchase, but he has chosen to give up that right. which is his right to do.

But he alone is the one who has affected his rights, not anyone else.

You ‘patronise’ your government, and they restrict your rights, he’s ok with that !!!… mainly because it also restricts every ones eleses rights as well..

SO he is gaining beifit from the rights forced on himself and on the rest of the population.

He has a right to walk the street safely, he has a right to choose to buy or to not buy a product, he has a right to sell or not sell a product. He has a right to protect his own identity, and his own products and possessions.

Just like everyone else, you dont get to pick and choose what rights you accept and what you do not accept…

I cannot see where he has at all had a problem with him being able to exercise his rights. or that anyone else has been stopped from exercising their rights.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:


He has a right to walk the street safely, he has a right to choose to buy or to not buy a product, he has a right to sell or not sell a product. He has a right to protect his own identity, and his own products and possessions.

No he don’t, that is what copyright is for to exclude others from doing that and more, that you can’t see it makes you a blind person for all intent and purposes.

Can he buy a CD and make a business around it?
If he have bought a bubble gum he could use it in any way he liked to make money or not, not so with copyright content, so his rights are diminished.

There is also the risks being put forth by such monopolies that make it so expensive that only the very wealthy can do business as usual, “clearing rights” costs millions so the little guys can’t enter the market, worse that monopoly is used to harrass and shutdown legitimate business that try to compete with incumbents or in some other way affect them, music piano rolls, VCR, Audio Recording, floppies, MP3 players, Rental Stores, Used Good Shops, Rental Services or business trying to silence their own competitors and trying to use copyright to do so, more than half the DMCAs send to companies are targeting direct competitors, another large part is just defective to say the least(fraudulent would be one other term to use).

People before could buy a game and tinkered with it without fear now they need to hide it and post their mods in obscure websites, people before could back up their own collections they cannot do so legally today and everybody breaks that law, the list of negatives is endless.

That you state you can’t see just makes me believe you are an idiot or you are a liar.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

masnick has every right to create OR NOT FUCKING create his crappy articles. That is his right.

Are you are total idiot ?

show my any rule or law that states that if you create a work, copyrighted or not that you are forced to make that material available for sale or for free ?

Then you go on to rant about monopolies, doesn’t masnick have a monopoly on the specific articles he writes ?

OFcourse he does, he also has copyright on those works.

He also has a right, not to enforce that monopoly, but I am sure that not every single thing Masnick writes ends up here, so therefore he is not only a monopily but one willing to censor and withold material as he feels like it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

What are you idiot?

Once you get a patent or a copyright you are excluding others from doing the same thing, that is the monopoly.

If wheels where patented we probably have flying cars already right?

Nobody should have a monopoly or exclusive rights on anything is detrimental to innovation and society.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

there are also wheels on aircraft, and yes, we allready have flying cars, have for years and years.

We also have flying boats, and yes they can have sheels as well.

It’s funny that we have wheels that are patented, and yet they are still everywhere, do you see a monopoly on tyres ? (or wheels??).

Dont let facts get in your way, ok !!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Can he buy a CD and make a business around it?

YES,,, I can buy a CD of that has a C compiler on it and an instruction manual on programming in C and I can build a business around that.

Can I buy a book or CD on photography, and buy a patented and copyrighted camera and build a business around that ?

Yes, orcourse I can..

Can I buy a copy of the holy bible and build a business around that ?

Yes, many people do.

Can you ??? clearly not.. but that is YOUR problem not the tools that you choose to use.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

right lost round 1 so change the entire argument !!!!.

YOU LOST…. fool…

And yes, I am sure that if you buy the copyright from Bob and bob has created songs that people are willing to pay money to listen too them. You can (and many people do) build a business around that.

But without copyright protection, you cannot..

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:


Can you ??? clearly not.. but that is YOUR problem not the tools that you choose to use.

Yep I can’t the law stops me from doing so, I can’t buy music to put in a store without having to pay more on my earnings, I can’t buy a music CD and use it to make money without having to pay extra, I can’t use books I bought to teach others or else I face a high risk of litigation, people are constantly trying to stop me from using technology claiming they have patents.

You obviously don’t take those things seriously or you would know how much it costs to “clear rights” or “check for patents” is not cheap it costs millions.

darryl says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

To make it simple, he said he would not patronize a business who would then turn around and use that money (or the profit from his and others sales) to harm his rights.

So he has given up his rights to patronize a business, that is not the businesses fault !!

SO this idiot makes a decision and blames a business for that decision, the business did not take away his rights (to buy), HE FREAKING DID.

I dont care, nor does anyone else if he should chooose to not exercise his rights, but that does not give him or anyone else to not respect the rights of others.

But if he chooses by himself out of his own little brain not to exercise his rights, WHO CARES ?

And what is he so upset about, that other people are choosing to exercise their rights.

If I make a product I do not have to sell it to him, or you or to anyone else !! Just as much as they do not have to buy it, in fact MOST will not ever buy my product.

But if someone askes to buy my product and I do not want to sell it to them I do not HAVE to sell it to them.

Or anyone else, in doing that I am not taking any rights off you, I am exercising my rights. Yes, you do not get the benifit of my product, but it is MY product and you have NO right to it unless I decide that you do.

here is an example for you to make it simple, you walk into a shop to buy some milk, the shop keeper sayings “I do not want to sell you any milk”, you look at his fridge and there is plenty of milk there, and you ask the shopkeeper why he wont sell you any milk… he says “because I dont like you”, do you think he is forced by some right to sell that milk ?

do you think you can call the police and force him to sell you a bottle of milk ?

Do you think you even have a right to be in that shop ?

It’s called “right of refusal”, and if he chooses that right the police or the milk board, or anyone else cannot make the shop owner sell you something he does not want to sell.

Just as much as the shop keeper cannot demand that you buy his product, if you walk into his shop, he cannot keep you there until you buy some milk.

Because a musician makes a song does not mean he is forced to make it available, or to sell it, or to give it away.

And you equally have no right to take a copy of that song, based on the fact that it exists.

In my business I do not have a patent or copyright issue, I do not even have specific products to sell, and I choose on a single client basis if I want to do business with that person or company.

People come to me and say that they want something, that does not exist yet. They (if I accept the mission) pay me money and I create that thing.

No one else gains from my technology, just my client, the product is not put on the general market (there usually is not one)

Not only do you not have the right to copy it, but you do not have the right to know it even exists !!

But if you wanted something that does what my device does, you have every right to come to me, and ask if I will create something that does what you want, and I can say yes, or not to your request.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Make it or do without was the choice my grandparents faced in the Great Depression.

so not your an expert on the great depression !!

IF you actually had a clue you would understand that you are totally wrong on that issue as well.

They were not required to “make it or do without”, in fact the only thing that was really lacking in the great depression was cash, there were werehouses full of clothes, and food production was quite good.

IF you did not have something, and you could not make it, you generally did not go without, you traded, bartered, or made something you could make and traded it for something you could not.

The depression was caused by the stock markets, and mostly affected the rich, but it is the rich that pays and employes the workers.

SO when the rich lost money they could not afford to pay workers, the working not having any pay could not afford to buy products.

It was not that the products were not available, but the fact that no one had cash to pay for it.

It is well know that even when thousands of people were living on the street and in central park that there was a huge number of vacent buildings and houses that the people simply could not afford to to buy or rent.

There were also buildings and shops FULL of stock, clothes, food and so on.

But they were not open for trade, because no one had money to purchase those products.

The depression did not end because everyone stated to make consumer products again.

NO,, it ended because the Government stepped in and stated some large projects (busy work) to employ workers, so that the workers would have some cash to purchase products.

Projects like the Hoover dam for example, did not product clothes, mortagages, or cars, but it employed a lot of people and paid them.

Henry Ford knew that if you product cars you have to pay the workers enough to be able to afford to purchase a car.

Otherwise, you will have lots of product, but no one with cash to pay for it.

Let me guess, you were away from school on the day they taught history ?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:


The depression was caused by the stock markets, and mostly affected the rich, but it is the rich that pays and employes the workers.

Exactly, that needs to change, the “rich” should not be that rich, giving the power to accumulate so much is detrimental to society, the power to do anything concentrate in the hands of a feel is bad and that depression just proved.

It was also the time where knowledge to do things was being lost, it just shows how production should not ever be dependent on a few, it shows why one should never be dependent on other for his own survival, it shows why granted monopolies are bad.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

In the great depression there was also protectionism and guess what that brought to eveyone?
More pain LoL

Smoot Hawley Act

The great depression was one of those things caused by bad managment and just highlights why people should strive to become independent, securing the minimum they would need to live a decent life, that means no monopolies on food, drugs or textual knowledge that means no copyrights are welcome in times of crisis.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

the great depression was not caused by “bad management” is was caused by NO management, by deregulation (the same reason we had the ‘second’ great depression)..

It was because the Government relaxed laws, and allow business to practice their own way that caused the depressions.

Deregulation, was the cause of the issues, just like when Masnick calls for deregulation in the copyright world.

Or Calif deregulating the power supply system (think enron)..

So not Masnick thinks deregulation will improve patents and copyright, when historically whenever the US tries deregulation it is always a total failure !!!!…

Here is a clue for the clueless,, read a freaking book !!!

Stop making stupid comments on the possible future when clearly you have no idea of what has happened in the past !..

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:


In the 1920’s American economic policy was laissez faire. Businesses were left alone and for sometime things appeared to fine. American businesses reported record profits, production was at an all time high. The problem was that while earnings rose and the rich got richer, the working class received a disproportionally lower percentage of the wealth. This uneven distribution of wealth got so bad that 5% of America earned 33% of the income. What this meant was that there was less and less real spending. Despite the fact that the working class had less money to spend businesses continued to increase production levels.

Also the government step in, a lot in the course of the depression and made things worse before it got it right, they tried to protect the rich and that didn’t work so well, then they realized what they needed to do is to protect the working people not the special interests those don’t make economies move, those don’t buy closes by the tones, those special interests don’t buy little things by the millions people do, that is why nobody should have monopolies.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:


NO,, it ended because the Government stepped in and stated some large projects (busy work) to employ workers, so that the workers would have some cash to purchase products.


NO,, it ended because the Government after several attempts to “protect” business and making it worse realized what they needed to protect and that was people then they stepped in and started some large projects (busy work) to employ workers, so that the workers would have some cash to purchase products.

There fixed that for ya.

Ya see, the government always think that protecting business they are protecting jobs when is the other way around when you protect the jobs you protect the businesses, without people to consume there is no business, without access to other markets there is no business, mercantilisms didn’t work that well and couldn’t create the wealth we have today, just like copyright doesn’t work that well and can’t create the wealth that it could, proof of that is that piracy was always rampant and still sales were the same and idiots from the industry never ever reached double digits in sales on a global scale, they are leaving a lot of money on the table because they don’t know how to interact with people, centuries of granted monopolies have made them lazy, they don’t do everything they can, they don’t cater to every segment of the population and they don’t let others try it either which diminishes consumption that could generate wealth.

Good luck treating people like criminal and getting paid, that doesn’t happen at the consumer level ever.

Good luck trying to create new markets by imposing imaginary limitations, no one, not even you will respect that, like no one cares if it is legal or illegal to make a backup copy of something, like nobody cares about the “rights” of content owners when they are lending video, audio and text to others.

That granted monopoly needs to end.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

So the people who could die because they were not diagnosed with some head trauma because of a bogus copyright claim that made the alternative to the test for it disappear is not affecting other peoples lifes in a negative manner?

That is not the only part that it makes things worse, copyright is used to shutdown legitimate business, it gives protections to people who don’t need it that much and actually exclude the people who most need it from the market, and it is the root for censorship bills.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

So the people who could die because they were not diagnosed with some head trauma because of a bogus copyright claim that made the alternative to the test for it disappear is not affecting other peoples lifes in a negative manner?

Has that happened to you ?, that could possibly explain your logic.

If it has not happened to you, would you kindly give at least one example of a case where copyright stopped the diagnosis of head trauma ?

darryl says:

You've taken how long to work this out ?

That is supposed to be news ??

it is not quanity but quality that counts, so you can have an infinite supply of low quality and no one cares because everyone wants what they want, and that is NOT crap !

people buy things because they want or need them! and that is a surprise to you? people DO NOT buy things just because they are cheap or even free.

do you believe you would get a loyal client base if you sold crap that did not do what the client wanted it to do, or would you get a client base by providing a product to them that they want, and can use and selling it to them at a fair price ?

basic economics !!!! get some !

The heading should not start with “even” it should start with especially in the age of abundance…..
Quality is ALL that counts…

Skip Prichard says:

I have only respect for Seth Godin, however if you read my original Huff Post interview, I didn’t say most e-books would be enhanced. My goal was to talk about what is now possible and what is on the horizon. And I have faith that authors will be creative and use technology in unique ways, especially as costs drop. See my response at http://bit.ly/uyvEBN (www.skipprichard.com).

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