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Scenarios for the Future of the Publishing of Content

October 28, 2013

We see a future of the publishing of content in which people will access bite-sized pieces of content from a wide range of global electronic sources, anywhere, anytime and will be willing to pay small sums for each transaction.  How might this play out in different markets (books, magazines, film, TV, audio, web site —-)?

The first insight is that the descriptions above are like describing furniture by the crate it came in – the value is in the content, not its form of packaging.  But once content is decoupled from its packaging the supply chain and business models change. So we have brainstormed this future, and developed four scenarios to look at the supply chain.


Publishing has historically been both to individuals, and as part of a community activity.  Books, films, music, have all been “published” to group audiences when they were expensive.  Is there any factor other than expense in a group dynamic for publishing?  How does this look in the digital age?

Publishing can also be through the medium of a product or a service, where a CD is a product and a concert is a service.  How will these perform in a digital age?  The essence of a service is that it aims to provide a good experience: it may be interactive, either between people or with an environment.  A product may also provide a good experience but the transaction is complete with its purchase.

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How are the supply chains different for each – who pays and who gets paid?

Electronic Games Scenario

In this scenario, the published content provides an interactive or immersive experience.  The customer (or their parent!) may buy the game with a one-off purchase, or content (? bite-sized, where the author often does get a royalty), or by subscription.  The author does not normally get a royalty on sales, being paid a salary.  The owners of the devices and networks have traditionally taken the largest cut of the revenue, though this is changing with apps and games on PCs.  Others make money through fan magazines, tee shirts, —-.

Book (also CDs, DVDs, magazines) Scenario

In this scenario, the content is static, and can be accessed by the customer or reader. The customer pays a one-off charge.  The author normally gets a royalty on each sale, bookshops take a slice and publishers/printers the remainder.  In the digital era, the online book is available to download (on Kindle for instance) and the bookstore function is replaced by the online retailer.  Others make money through fan magazines, tee shirts, —

Book Club Scenario

In this scenario, the supply chain is greatly not changed from that for books, and the immersive experience and additional value added is supplied by a community of informed readers.  The members of the community normally do not get paid, and authors do not get paid extra for being read at a Book Club, except through multiple sales and recommendation.  The community can easily be on-line.

Concert Party Scenario

In this scenario, relating to films, plays, radio, TV, concerts and lectures etc, the supply chain includes providers of venues and musicians as well as the author, publisher (director/conductor).  Book scenario products (e.g. CDs) are sold in order to get live audiences.  This is also the model for academics who write books and publish research papers in order to get their “live gig” i.e. staff roles as teachers or as travelling speakers.  Others make money through fan magazines, tee shirts —

There is already some bleed between these scenarios, vertically, horizontally and diagonally, and it will be interesting to see how they change in the near future as suppliers develop new chains.

Implications for owners of content in the digital era

  • look at all four scenarios to understand the opportunities for publishing content and how it could be used
  • think how finding and developing a community could increase use of content
  • analyse whether and how services could be provided
  • understand the role of IPR and copyright in the digital world

Written by Gill Ringland

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