A New Class of Online Media (But Would It Work for Books?)

Hello Digitalist readers! (Digitalists?) James and Sara asked me to guest blog, so I'll be posting every now and then. I'm the Internet Marketing Manager for the U.S. side of Macmillan, and you can find out a little about me here. It's best to imagine a flat American accent when reading my entries.  I'm very interested in the film industry's experiments with online content and new revenue models, especially as they attempt to sidestep the failures of the music industry. The Criterion Collection has taken an interesting step forward, almost contrary to their “mission statement.” If you're not familiar with them, think of them as a Taschen or Rizzoli of DVDs. They began creating laserdiscs of canonical films and lost classics in the 1980s, inventing both the Director's Commentary and the supplementary materials that are now de rigeur in the trade. They've been producing top-notch DVD editions of world cinema for some time now, and they enjoy a well-earned sterling reputation. (I felt my own amateur film buff status validated when the Criterion edition of one of my favorite films appeared in 2006.)

Since each Criterion DVD is as much an art object as you're going to get on a commercial scale, I would expect them to resist the digitalization of content. Well, surprise: with their website re-launch, Criterion is offering online rentals of a broad selection of their almost 500 titles. For $5 USD you get to watch the film as many times as you want for one week. A little like iTunes Movie Rentals or Netflix Instant, sure. But Criterion's real innovation is your rental fee also acts as a coupon off the purchase of the physical DVD from their online store. They’ve found a great way to link the online and offline content experience.

They can do this across territories because all of their DVD releases are region-free already. In publishing, it would be like a UK publishing house retaining global rights.

Could this work for ebooks? The subscription model idea has been kicked around the industry for a while now – what if it was tied to an easily accessed online platform? A publisher doesn't even need to experiment with rentals. Simply offer ebooks on mobile devices and dedicated e-readers cheaply, with the cost acting as a coupon toward a physical book purchase.