Thursday, July 19, 2012

iTunes, Google Play, Amazon: digital ecosystems fail the stateless future, digital content IAM offers opportunity, hope

As John Battelle pointed out in his own blog post a few days ago about the Google Nexus 7 tablet, the company you choose for your digital ecosystem matters.  How we pay for, manage, and consume content is becoming more and more important.  That's because content--words, audio, video, and applications--represents the sentinel trend of the entire stateless revolution.  Content is digital, stored in the cloud, and separated (or decoupled) from the delivery mechanism and the way you consume it. 

In a pure version of this, you would pay for a license for the creative part, and then own it.  You would decide where it would be stored, how and when it would be delivered to you, and on what device you consumed it.

My own Nexus 7 arrived a couple of days ago.  As reported all over the web, it's optimized as a consumption device for the offerings of Google Play, their digital ecosystem of books, magazines, music, movies, and TV.  This is hardly a radical idea.  The iOS/iTunes pairing and the Amazon Kindle Fire are also designed toward the same goal; each claims to offer a complete one-stop answer for all your media purchase, storage, and consumption needs.
Content bound to media: how quaint
image from

What doesn't get mentioned often is just how carefully each is designed to make sure you don't get or consume content from the competitors.  That's the business model: create a single point of contact for digital media, keep it inside your own four walls, and sell it as a package.  Alas for big companies, that's the big-box retail model brought to the web, isn't it? As a consumer, you trade convenience for lock-in and more limited choice.

In that way, the business models from each company work directly against your own increasing ability to own and control your own content.  At the same time, across almost everything we see in technology, the real trend is toward personalization, more specialized choice, and the movement of tech power further away from big companies and ever closer to the end user.  

When you think about digital ecosystems as part of a business plan, rather than a reflection of where society and technology are taking us, there is a disconnect.  Where there is a disconnect, there is a need and a possibility.  Where there is a need, there is a business opportunity, and the likelihood of disruption.

 Later in this article, I'll introduce the idea of externalizing that control with Digital Content Identity and Access Management, and offer ideas about the way that one change may profoundly alter the way we think of digital ecosystems.

Historically, the physical manifestation of art--words, sounds, images--was bound to the thing that brought that content to you.  It could have been words on the page of a magazine or a book, or the tracks on an LP or CD.  When you paid for the physical thing, you bought a license for the artistic part at the same time.

The core of the stateless idea is that each of those elements is decoupled from the others; data and applications are cloud-delivered, and consumed on a machine designed to deliver a user interface and a connection to the cloud content.  The inevitable trend is toward separation of content from delivery mechanism from consumption mechanism.   So what happens to the license, your payment for the true worth of a book, a song, or a movie?  For the most part, when you become part of a digital ecosystem, it is still bound to the delivery mechanism, and your newfound digital freedom has been limited.

There is no iTunes app for Android, for instance.  You can "own" streaming movies through Amazon, but you can only access them through the video player on Amazon's website, which is Flash-only, therefore off-limits for iOS and my new Nexus tablet, which is Android Jellybean and also not Flash-enabled.  Digital books from Amazon are linked to their own Kindle device--and even though you've paid for a Kindle book, you can't loan it to anyone the way you could with a physical book (correction: shortly after I published the story, a reader let me know that you can, in fact, loan a Kindle book on a one-time basis to another reader. I think that is good news.)

Google Play is somewhat less controlled, but it's still a "four-walls" kind of thing.  Buy a song from Google, where do you have to manage it?  Yup. If any of these sites goes down, do you have rights to access a licensed copy of your content somewhere else?  No.  If your account is hacked, who do you have to go through to regain access to your content?  The ecosystem.  I think you see the point.  As things stand now, you only own content you buy if you play by the rules of the company that sold it to you. 

It's as if, 25 years ago, you bought a Fleetwood Mac CD from a Virgin Megastore, could only store it in their proprietary CD case, and only play it on a Virgin player.  I exaggerate, of course, but the point is, we have all gained one freedom--online access to our stuff--by trading control of it to the company we choose for that digital ecosystem.

The promise of stateless digital content is unfulfilled.  If ever there was an area facing a perfect storm of technology change, new user expectations, and old business ideas fighting to stay alive, this is the place.

What is the opportunity?  Digital content identity and access management (DCIAM) 

As part of your online identity, this company will--once it exists--maintain a database of all the digital rights you own, authenticate you as the rightful owner, and verify you as licensed owner of cloud-sourced digital content.  Accessible as a universal web service, and independent of any ecosystem, this is a not only a logical outcome of the move to stateless, it is a huge enabling technology for:

  • Further disintermediation of traditional media companies, as independent artists' reward system would move outside the media companies' control.  If you are a media company, it is now in your interest to make sure your product can be sold in the widest-possible range of locations, because what you are selling is just the license, now handled by a trusted third party.  If your business model is based on artificially high prices based on forced linkage between content, delivery, and consumption, that model will be in significant danger.  
  • New sales models, in essence re-enabling in digital format the old megastore idea, in which you could pay for a license for any content from any publisher or creator.  As the consumer, you would no longer be hindered by the fact that your ecosystem vendor does not have sales agreements with every source.
  • New digital content storage, management, and delivery vendors, who maintain libraries of content in common, and follow the cloud shared tenancy model to supply you with your content via DCIAM authentication.  Any device, any time.  If one vendor is down, DCIAM eliminates barriers to your access through another source.
  • New ultra-personalized "stations" combining delivery of your own licensed content with new content paid for via advertising or subscription.  I've already written about this idea as applied to, in which Pandora saves broadcast license fees by subtracting them from any content they play you that you already own.  If I paid for "Go Your Own Way" by Fleetwood Mac when I bought rights to the "Rumours" album, there is no longer any reason why Pandora should pay BMI or ASCAP if they stream it to me.  DCIAM makes granular song-by-song licensing not only possible, but powerful.

    Using DCIAM, the same model might further the distruption of the traditional video network concept and the cable/satellite industry.  We are already seeing a big consumer push toward a-la-carte TV; DCIAM can push that further toward the consumer.  If Pandora can deliver me a personalized audio experience of female jazz singers from the 50s, there is no logical reason why I can't get my own cooking channel on TV, assembling the best shows currently on the Food Network, Bravo, PBS, and the Travel Channel.  DCIAM would also manage one-time use licenses, such as for a TV show, either via purchase or paid by acceptance of advertising.  This is essentially a new network model, not of broadcasting, but of extreme narrowcasting.  DCIAM enables the business model.
  • Handled properly, the marketing opportunities presented by one common database of a consumer's taste and purchasing history for content can use DCIAM to radically personalize ad delivery in cases where content consumption is still ad-supported.  Ad personalization is still wildly fragmented, and largely because information about purchases and interests is localized to the sites that control the ecosystem.  Once that is externalized, those barriers are gone.  This is "era of you" personalization brought home in the form of a huge business opportunity.  If digital ecosystems are the sentinel of the stateless future, digital ad personalization is that sentinel's entrepreneurial cousin.

Technology triggers are in action here.  Changes in what is possible--stateless licensing, content, delivery, and consumption--mean that opportunity is near for a company who moves beyond the current digital ecosystem model.  In so doing, they access business opportunities that make current ecosystem efforts look miserly by comparison.  

Combine DCIAM with the upcoming revolution in digital personal assistants, and you begin to see the true battle of the giants for your loyalty in the near future.  

There are big questions.  Who will bring this to you?  Who will still be a significant vendor in 5 years? Who will you trust? articles referenced in this report:

Don screams into his laptop at  Computer says no.

1 comment:

  1. I think some iPhone app developers Melbourne are aware of this. I do hope a unifier emerges, making all your media accessible from one place.