Physical vs Digital

As I was biking this morning, I was behind a black Ford truck that was delivering papers. I got to thinking that this was a very expensive way to get a paper to a reader. The driver's time, the depreciation on the truck, the gas, the printing press, the paper costs, etc. And that got me to thinking about what I would do if I was Bezos and just bought a business with a big cost structure around printing and distributing a physical product.

And speaking of Bezos and Amazon, I just read this Nicholas Carr post about the slowing growth of e-books relative to physical books. This jumped out at me:

E-book prices have not fallen the way many expected. There’s not a big price difference between an e-book and a paperback. (It’s possible, suggests one industry analyst, that Amazon is seeing a plateau in e-book sales and so is less motivated to take a loss on them for strategic reasons.)

So back to my bike ride. As I watched the truck deliver the paper to driveway after driveway, it occurred to me that many people prefer to get the paper in physical form. The Gotham Gal does and so does her sister. But my brother in law reads it on his iPad and our daughter Jessica reads it on her iPad mini. I prefer to read it on the web.

Different strokes for different folks. But clearly there is a large and important customer base for the physical product and it is not going away any time soon. Many of the early adopters of ebooks and tablets to read books and the newspaper have made their move. The diehards aren't going to make that move it seems, or they are going to take their time.

So what to do? The obvious move seems to me to price the physical product at a significant premium to the digital product reflecting that the marginal cost of a digital product is zero and the marginal cost of a physical product is not. That will either drive more adoption of the digital product where the profits are likely to be higher or it will drive the margins up on the physical product because the diehards will accept the price increase and keep reading the paper and/or book in physical form.

But we have not seen this happen in the book market and I am not sure we have seen this play out completely in the newspaper market. Is the market and the companies that make it up behaving rationally? Or are they protecting the physical market at the detriment of the digital market?

I realize things are never this simple. But that's the question I was wrestling with on my bike ride this morning. And so I thought I'd share it with all of you so we can discuss it. So let's do that.