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The Digital Stock Keeping Unit (aka, the dSKU)

Apr 15, 2013
Innovation

The Stock Keeping Unit – its acronym, SKU, serves as the phrase’s very own when it comes to English.  I learned in practice what a SKU was long before I ever came across the term in business school.  A single piece of gum at the Seven Eleven or a pack, a case of toilet paper at the Costco or a roll at the local Korean deli, a truck full of cement or a bag of dry mix from the hardware store, and following the post-war consumer revolution, whatever an individual desired has come in all shapes and quantities for all budgets and occasions.

One semi-exception to this rule has always been the world of print media.  I say semi because we could always purchase a single item off of the newsstand, i.e. a magazine, or several, i.e. a subscription to the same magazine, which we would regularly receive, no newsstand required.  Often the single purchase SKU would lead to more lucrative subscriptions for publishers.

Then along came the Internet, and as incredible as it may seem, when it comes to paying for content, our choices of what we would like to pay for online remain more limited than they are offline.  How could that be?

We all know the story that began in the mid-90s and is now, we here at Tinypass strongly believe, running its course.  Everything online wants to be FREE!!!!  All advertising, all the time enabled by journalism driven to “Top 10 Thats”, 20 Best This’”, slideshows, etc.  Or is it ads enabling the dumbing down of “online” journalism?  It’s getting so bad that they are running out of names for calling a spade a spade.  The newest term is “native advertising”.  Check out http://nyti.ms/ZtAWVp – how does that make you feel about the integrity of what you are consuming online?

“With the possible exception of the broadcast network monopoly that ended in the eighties, there has never been a working business model for quality content, in any medium, that could rely on advertising alone…and there never will be again.”

Jeff Bewkes, Chairman & CEO, Time Warner

I suppose that it is natural that as news and information providers come to the realization that some level of direct audience support is needed to sustain their businesses they have chosen the one, most lucrative SKU from their halcyon days, i.e. the subscription.  In their defense, it comes in different flavors, from “hard” to “porous”, I won’t bore you with all the permutations here, but at the end of the day it is still a subscription.  Think about that for a second, in a medium that allows you to peruse editorial content at its most granular level – an individual article, or passage, or quote, or video clip – it will only sell you a bundle of largely unrelated content.  Hell, you can’t even buy the equivalent of today’s newspaper online, you know, $1.99 for 24 hours of access to a site, much less access to just those sections, or columnists, or subject areas that matter to you most.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

In a world of infinite niches, curation, and content customization, we here at Tinypass believe that the time is long overdue for content providers to begin to think differently about their SKUs, about how they package what they sell.  There is untapped value in “Thinking Differently” when it comes to digital media.  The naysayers grumbled that it was sacrilegious to break up the LP.  See Steve Jobs.  Digital music sales, mainly all of those $0.99 purchases, now account for more than half of all music sales.

Well music, we are told, is different.  The conventional wisdom is that no one will buy content by “the drink”, primarily, the reasoning goes, because they never have.  Look, selling a subscription to your content, depending on who you are and what it is you are selling, can be the right answer for you and there is no better way of doing that today than using Tinypass.  But if subscriptions aren’t the right answer for you, don’t despair and conclude that there is nothing more you can do but cast your lot solely with the advertising gods.  People who won’t pay full-freight will pay for the niches that interest them.  We also firmly believe that people will pay for curation, for customization, for participation, for inclusion, for a look behind the scenes, for a taste of home.  The time is now to start uncovering what it looks like to pay for online content beyond the subscription.