Outlook for the physical retail of media = bleak ~ Sounds + Food 'n' Retail

skitched-20080229-165004.jpgOne of the things I do on this blog is deciding on the potential of industry-segments, ranging from farming to coffee-shops, and from grocery to other types of retail. On Tech IT Easy I've previously expressed my scepticism at media (in which I include text, art, audio, video, and gaming), especially in terms of business-models, which I think that segment lacks.

Equally so, I see fairly little space for it in the physical retail segment, simply because it is so much more convenient to purchase and consume it via digital means. The PC (and other tech-gadgets) have essentially become the hub for all things media, and creating barriers to that experience just leads consumers to pursue more convenient ways of experiencing that media. That search for convenience is something that I've also approached in a previous post on this blog.

Let's look at some media-types and how they are being sold online.

For Video - there's iTunes, consoles, and set-top boxes that are controlled by media-producers. In any case, the power-differentials between producers and intermediaries is very unbalanced and it isn't a nice segment to enter as a retailer. Also, let's not forget the free alternatives: YouTube et. al and piracy.

For Audio - again iTunes, Rhapsody, and Amazon MP3 Store, but also smaller digital store for independent artists, like CD-Baby (which operates through iTunes also). Let us again not forget piracy and the fact that much of music is being produced through digital means and it makes sense to organise distribution that way also.

For text - there's again online outlets like Amazon for eBooks (Kindle) and Zinio for magazines. And let's not forget that 99% of text-based media is viewable for free online. Still, admittedly, electronic devices for consumption are not yet able to compete with paper-based methods, at least where price is concerned. Also Audible should not be forgotten as a source for audio-books, recently bought up by Amazon and partially distributed through iTunes again.

For Gaming - I'm not too familiar with the online market for this one. Even so, there's Steam, a digital distribution system by Valve, a platform which they recently opened up for use by other game-publishers. There's also plenty of smaller games being distributed through Xbox-live, the future Playstation Home, and of course the internet.

Finally, Art - here the situation is more complex, while on the other hand being relatively simple. It is complex for artists like my mother, who paints, and conducts business on a personal level by interacting with her customers. On the other hand, there's photography and digital art, arguably the evolution of traditional art, which is easy (for some) to produce digitally and distribute online. I suppose every industry has that friction between the traditional way of doing things and "the new way."

All in all, I don't see media as a big cash-cow for physical retail. I like to think that, because production and distribution becomes cheaper, that its cost will eventually fall to a very low price, allowing for it to be included as an added-value component in the service-proposition of physical retail-outlets (to which I also include restaurants, etc.). I also like to think that creating environments that make the consumption of media a comfortable process (e.g. cinemas) also has some potential.

But my outlook for selling media as a product, something that could easily be sold digitally, remains bleak. Please let me know if there are arguments against my point of view, as I'm here to learn.


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