Mike Shatzkin, taking on some ideas posted by Andrew Savikas of O’Reilly, in “Vertical” versus “service”: semantics, nuance, or dueling metaphors?
The clinching metaphor in Andrew’s piece is that we aren’t actually buying food when we go to a restaurant (because, if we were, we’d just buy it at the grocery store.) This is tricky, because, indeed, you do want that hamburger cooked and served on a bun and you want a place to sit while you eat it and maybe some ketchup supplied. So, in fact, you’re buying both food and service. You wouldn’t patronize the restaurant if they didn’t give you the food, so it seems a bit of a stretch to say it isn’t what you’re buying!
Savikas makes the mistake, I think, of conflating “content” with “creativity” when he writes: “This is not just about using free digital content to sell physical goods. It’s an acknowledgment that what you’re selling as an artist (or an author, or a publisher for that matter) is not content. What you sell is providing something that the customer/reader/fan wants. That may be entertainment, it may be information, it may be a souvenir of an event or of who they were at a particular moment in their life (Kelly describes something similar as his eight “qualities that can’t be copied”: Immediacy, Personalization, Interpretation, Authenticity, Accessibility, Embodiment, Patronage, and Findability).” All content is equal in this argument, ignoring the hard-won reputation that great creativity earns in the marketplace. Moreover, several of the “qualities that can’t be copied” apply to any form of creativity—there is another, not mentioned, Authority, which we attach to a source based on previous experience with them.
In short, engagement with a writer or artist is the ephemeral feature of this commercial relationship that is being shoe-horned into the category “service.”
Further on, in comments, Savikas argues that The Economist magazine seldom publishes “news,” which he apparently equates with “breaking news” or “scoops”, because it is printed on paper. He says he “pays for the preparation” of the magazine, which utterly misses the value of the time and research that go into deep reporting about issues rather than simply reporting the new. Analytical thought requires more work, but the output, if measured in terms of letters on a page, is exactly the same as any other printed information. Savikas’ equation leaves the creator of the work out of the value-chain. And, surely, as Mike Shatzkin points out, Savikas is speaking from his experience of working as a publisher.
Shatzkin argues that the difference between “service” and “vertical,” as in “vertical market,” needs to be acknowledged:
Rarely can”service” be delivered broadly; it has to be targeted so vertical be comes a sine qua non. And anybody really trying to build a vertical will do it by offering service and tools, which they would hope would also lead to the ability to sell content.
This, too, reduces the question of the future of publishing to a paradigm that doesn’t bend, but breaks, when applied generically. Specialization, the essence of the divisions of labor that create economies of scale, is not sufficient to establish a brand without “service” that engages the customer for the full life of the value in information. We go to the restaurant because we want food and service, and we buy a non-fiction book by an author because they promise to make us experts on a topic. In the quick-to-obsolescence world of real-time information, ongoing service may be required to engage a customers’ interest and to provide the full-range of expertise, because some insight only appears in the give-and-take that evolves out of published work.
The useful metaphor stretches further when “service” and “vertical” are tempered into a useful alloy. It allows authors of entertainments—true, some genres are vertical markets unto themselves, but entertainment is also a generic quality attributed across many genres—to offer engagement after the initial text is finished. It could be a signed book, a sort of avatar for having a relationship with the author, or it could include ongoing access to notes and other musings by the writer, simply because the buyer enjoys the experience.
Services and verticals define a variety of market approaches. We’ll be experimenting with the resulting alloys for many years. Which is better, watching Picasso paint or looking at the painting? In our world, both are possible, both are inevitable. Neither is exclusive, though each mode of viewing stands alone.