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Generation On-Demand

Generation On-Demand is the second of a 3-part series.  The first installment,  Disruption, explored my personal content consumption over the years and ended with the observation that everything that I used to enjoy had now seen a dramatic reduction in consumption. I ended the piece with the question “So if I am not purchasing as many new books and I don’t buy as much new music and I don’t really watch TV and I only watch movies when I want to in my own home, what the hell am I doing with all the time I must have on my hands?” I will now try to answer that question.

I was interviewed the other day Adam Penenberg, who is writing a piece on ebooks for Fast Company magazine. Adam described how his 5-year-old daughter consumes content; she watches exactly what DVD she wants, when she wants, and in fact, skips right to the specific part of the movie she wants to see. The same is true for the digital games she plays and the CD’s she listens to. Adam’s daughter is born into and immersed in a world of customization and choice and expects, on demand, to go right to the content she wants, when she wants it. Adam and I agreed that his daughter and the entire generation of kids growing up in the age of the Internet is Generation On-Demand.

When Generation On-Demand wants to watch a movie, there is no need to see what is on HBO or is playing at the theater. Generation On-Demand can watch a movie on their iPhone, at Netflix, on their Apple TV.  If they aren’t interested in a full-length feature but want to watch something entertaining, they have billions of hours of content on You Tube.  If they want to listen to music, no need to turn on the radio when there are a gazillion services that cater to every imaginable taste.  And in the unlikely event they want to read a book, they can download an ebook instantly.

Today’s generation is growing up in an on-demand world that is never constrained by physical distribution, doesn’t wait for scheduled broadcasts, and needn’t look to rigid intermediaries to enable entertainment. Generation On-Demand forces disintermediation by the very nature of how they (we) access content.

As I look at my own day and how I spend my time, I realize that I too have become part of Generation On-Demand.  I have become untethered to the world of wires, schedules, and even places. I do what I wish wherever I am, whenever that happens to be. I work on demand, I play on demand, I even write on demand. In fact, I am writing this sentence while sitting at an automotive garage getting my car fixed. There are no longer rigid boundaries of work and play in my life.

In the past I worked only when I was at the office, I played only when at home or out somewhere. I read a book when I was at home or consciously brought my book out with me. I watched movies or TV at home or in the theater.  Today I can be at the barber and check my Facebook account on my Blackberry. I can read an RSS feed from Michael Cader’s Publishers Lunch service and read an analysis of the Google Settlement while waiting for a soccer game to begin. As I wait the requisite 10 minutes for a transcontinental videoconference to actually work, I can quickly visit Funny or Die and get a few giggles in. If I am meeting a friend at a pub in London and he is late, I can pull out an iPhone and read the NY Times, scan Zagat.com, and book a table at OpenTable.com, all before my friend arrives for a pint.  I can read and reply to comments and even update my blog. I can tweet or read tweets.

I can do virtually anything on demand, and that anything grows and grows by the minute, and I do it all. I am doing and doing and doing and doing – never at a loss for things to do. And therein lies the key to the decrease in book and music purchasing in my life. I am so engaged, so deeply immersed in anything and everything that I want, whenever and wherever I want, it has made for very little time to do some of the things I have always loved to do. I don’t rue the loss of TV time, nor do I really miss not seeing The Dark Knight in a wide screen theater. But I do miss being on top of new music and I do miss the constant churn of novels and biographies. My time is filled with what I want, when I want it, except for some of the things I used to like most.

Yes, I have a Kindle, and with the iPhone I certainly have a better choice of immersive reading than ever before. But the Kindle is a new technology and platform and it has years of catching up before it offers anywhere near the selection immersive readers are accustomed. Don’t get me wrong, the Kindle is light years ahead of everything else, but the Kindle is just a drop in the bucket of change that must occur to the book industry before we can ever imagine immersive reading working for Generation On-Demand.

Generation On-Demand will require a freedom of content that simply isn’t possible today. I am not talking about DRM – the anti-DRM argument is inane and irrelevant. I am talking not about ownership rights but about access rights. It’s all about access to Generation On-Demand – content in the “cloud” that it can be accessed from anywhere at anytime on any device (including print!)  It’s not about downloading and archiving to Generation On-Demand, it’s about ubiquity of access.

But ubiquity of access runs counter to a world where structured distribution is fiercely protected by intellectual property contracts. Ubiquity of access – be it on any device, in print, via an TTS reader, in any language, in any territory is what Generation On-Demand expects. Yet as we have seen over and over, intellectual property industries have been set up to protect and manage traditionally structured distribution rights, which leaves us without the means to address the needs of Generation On-Demand.

The challenge we have ahead of us as an industry isn’t whether Generation On-Demand will embrace ebooks – that’s a no-brainer. The question is whether we can deliver immersive reading in a manner that is relevant to Generation On-Demand. Can we deliver immersive reading On-Demand? Can we allow customers to purchase content and read it how and where they want, when they want, how they want it?

What will we need to do as an industry to make that happen? Probably reconsider the very notion of how we structure contracts – moving away from the notion of distribution rights and toward a future where end users buy or rent access to an IP, not an object.

Part 3 of this series will look at the challenge of moving from distributing objects to licensing intellectual property as a means to success with Generation On-Demand.

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