Dandelion DistributionBy http://profile.typepad.com/1237764140s22740 // October 24, 2012 in Publishing
In answer to a question at his public appearance and reading at the UW Bookstore in Seattle yesterday, Cory Doctrow explained his dandelion distribution strategy.
From Google I can see that he put this idea forward years ago, but I was encountering the metaphor for the first time.
The premise is that copying gets easier and easier over time. Methods of copying continue to proliferate; the cost of copying continues to diminish.
And yet, to attempt to swim against the tide, to try to centralize distribution of a work of authorship (musical recording, movie, book), does cost something. Those costs include, not simply the making of the copies, but the shutting down of other copy-making, and, I would infer, costs of advertising, to make up for lost awareness from the copying suppression effort.
Given that the means of copying are cheap and continue to get cheaper, one's thinking about distribution should, if one is rational, shift. To focus the mind, one might ask this question (paraphrasing Doctrow here): is my goal to stop anyone from having a copy they didn't pay for; or is my goal to be paid for as many copies out there as possible?
The dandelion strategy follows from seeing the wisdom of focusing on getting people to pay for copies, rather than impeding the making of copies. If your distribution strategy is about maximizing getting paid, you will "think like a dandelion," and not a mamal, and scatter your seed everywhere, hoping it will land in every conceivable crack, and replicate.
Doctrow gave an example of this in publishing, the Humble Bundle. The screenshot below is of the homepage of the Humble Bundle this morning, showing that a campaign to sell a bundle of science fiction books has just ended. The basic principle, I think, is that you can pay what you want for the package. But the payment process is structured something like a game. For example, you are shown stats on averages by category of buyer, and allowed to allocate portions of your purchase price to certain authors. The campaign aspect must certainly be part of the payment maximization strategy, getting readers to focus on a purchase decision at a defined release event.