Thursday, August 06, 2009

Is Amazon the Most Interesting Media Company in the World Today?

The move to digital content has to a large extent was initially spearheaded by Apple. It's initial focus on its business system was on simplicity. Pricing per track was set at 99 cents. Simple and understandable. A good pricing model for a new and complex technology.

But today, the world looks quite different. Digital music is now mainstream. And with mainstream businesses, traditional retail issues and innovation start to become more important.

Amazon is at the forefront of this new trend. It is a result, possibly the most interesting media company in the world.

Consider the following:

Amazon sells traditional books, electronic books on Kindle or iPhone/iTouch, traditional physically delivered music, downloadable MP3s, new and second hand DVDs, downloadable movie purchases and downloadable rentable movie viewing. Other than a subscription model, Amazon has most of the purchase options covered.

Even more interestingly, unlike Apple, Amazon is behaving like a smart retailer. It uses free songs, free Kindle copies of the first book in a series to create traffic, in a way analogous to the supermarket offering cheap milk to bring in customers or samples to get customers to try a new brand.

And Amazon is testing pricing. It offers daily specials pricing anywhere from 99 cents to $2.99, with $1.99 as the most common price point to encourage traffic, obtain sampling and give customers a reason to keep coming back every day to their web site. It's better than advertising, because revenues are produced by the hook that pulls in the customer. And of course, the big problem with an ecommerce site is getting traffic. If they visit, you have a chance of selling them something.

But the really interesting capability that Amazon is building is deep understand of individual customer tastes and price elasticity, something that Apple has spurned. Amazon is learning about the tradeoffs that individual customers make on different types of purchase, lease or download of content. When will a customer own or rent? What do you need to do to create trial? When does it make sense to discount to trigger additional purchases of content from a writer or artist, or to addict a reader to a book series?

Great businesses don't freeze their strategy. They continually improve them. Amazon seems to be aggressively learning faster than other players. Kudos to them.

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