Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, there was a realm in which one economic sector had been using the same business model for many years. The author created a work, the publisher selected a work among different authors, assured its work quality, prepared and advertised it; and the distributor made sure the work reached its potential readers. Sometimes success or failure depended just on choosing the right title to catch the attention of a large enough target of readers. It was not an easy work, but it was well known and everyone accepted it.
Suddenly –or maybe not so suddenly, but these things are only well understood once they happen-, the wizard of technology came to shake the foundations of that sector. The work became digital, and once it is digital the work can be easily copied and reproduced. And in that scenario, a business based on the physical book issue could only end up as a target for pirates. Pirate is a somewhat sinister noun, and it quickly reminds us of Captain Hook fighting to death with Peter Pan. But in this tale it is not that simple. Because here, a pirate is simply someone who wants to consume those contents, but doesn’t like the way they are offered: "I log in, I download it. I set it in my reader device. I read it and send it to my friends. They want me to pay for an issue when I can get a free issue. And in addition, I can share the pirated copy…” So the pirate plague spread easily. And, unfortunately, it spread even more easily among good readers. Because a pirate can be many things, but a very important, and many times forgotten characteristic a pirate has is that she loves what she is pirating. Though she certainly does not share the same feelings with the industry behind it. And hence the publishing industry started to be discouraged and looked at what other industries had done in similar situations. Control and restriction was the answer, but it just did not work. When people love something, they find ways to overcome restrictions, whether they are legal or not. It seemed the wizard of technology had cast yet another deadly spell to a cultural and entertainment industry.
But in a small corner of that remote country someone thought that there should be some alternative to resignation, that the reader should be offered benefits instead of limitations. That there should be a meeting point between publishers, authors and readers. That the reader experience should be as easy as "I log in, search the library, select one book and start reading without downloading anything, everything is in the cloud. If I switch devices I can keep reading from the same point. I can share and recommend books. Now I am hooked on it. If I pay a subscription I can enjoy even more advantages." All legal, all open, with a clear return of investment to publishers and authors, and with great advantages to potential readers. And they all lived happily ever after.
We liked the tale so much that we decided to make it real. After months of hard work 24symbols is currently in private beta and offers a web-based version of a service that lets users log in, search or browse a limited catalog with the first publishing houses that already believe in this model, select one book and start reading. To test this beta, we have just invited our fans in Facebook. We expected less than 5.000 friends, and we had 18.000 of them. We wanted to give 5.000 invitations, and we had to stop at 10.000. A new version will be available on June 30th with additional content, availability of apps for the most popular tablets and smartphones, and the subscription model ready.
In future posts I will tell you more about the business model, the challenges we are facing, pricing and technology, etc. But, in the meantime… did you like the tale?