Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Seth's Blog
Is there a future in selling digital words?

Sanj points me to e-Books & Docs: Just in Time: Sony Talks About PSP [DOWNLOAD: PDF].

This is a special "flash report" from a reputatable firm. It costs $1,500. According to my favorite review:

If you were stunned by the shocking twist ending of "No PSP for the Holidays," well, you haven't seen anything yet! Quite possibly the best sequel ever written, "Sony Talks About PSP" takes everything you THOUGHT you knew about its predecessor and turns it on its head.

One page of data for $1,500.... certainly there is information out there that's worth that much. I think the interesting question is not "who would have the guts to charge this much?" or even, "who is stupid enough to buy this?" but, "are businesses or consumers willing to pay for a report in a medium that they've been trained should be free?"

Nobody has created a viable channel for selling this sort of information in a format like this. I wonder if they ever will.

I have participated in expensive report writing for companies, but usually it's fairly customized and often full of confidential stuff for limited distribution. $1500 for a PDF on Amazon about one product of one company is pretty amazing. I really would like to know how many of these they will sell.

I'll try to see if I can find a copy this week in Hawaii. Since Mr. Idei Kutaragi and Mr. Kutaragi will also be in Hawaii, I'll see if I can make my own version of "Sony Talks about PSP" here.

Maybe I can pre-sell a $1500 paper called "The market-size for $1500 PDFs" and later send the people a list others who ordered it. They can make a little community or something. Hmm... Maybe the list of people who buy the $1500 Sony report is more valuable than the report itself.


I was just thinking "Sure, I'd accept $1500 in exchange for having to read their PDF. Send me the cheque and I'll go download the PDF."

"Maybe the list of people who buy the $1500 Sony report is more valuable than the report itself." - I'm sure it is! Yet i doubt it's worth $1500..

Well, the deal with this is probably something like the following. Normally, places like Gartner and IDC only deal with you on a subscription basis. They charge you 30 grand or so for access to a stream of research, and access to the researchers who compile it.

Now, like I say, they like subscription clients. They give them an assured cashflow and allow them to build up relationships at the high levels within client companies. However, every so often, someone will go to them and say 'I really need the blah blah paper.' The sales guy tries to sell them a subscription, but the guy just wants that report, and isn't interested in subscriptions or relationships or any of that stuff. So rather than dealing with all these losers on the phone, the sales department decides to just put the in-demand document on Amazon, to save themselves some trouble and get in some fast money.

Here's a list - I would put it on Amazon but I can't be bothered.

Game hardware manufacturers (at least MS and Nintendo)
Software houses (Say 10 potential creators of PSP games, and their competitors)
Stock analysts of Nintendo and Sony in investment banks (at least 30 or so)
Major electronics retail chains
Gaming magazines (although $1500 probably doesn't give the rights to republish it)

I think you'll find there's actually a rather large market size for $1500 PDFs; there are companies that do a very nice business selling publically available statistics from the UN etc in Excel format at around $1 a data point. If the report contains information people actually want to know and is marketed properly, I'd expect they could sell 20-50 copies at the very least.

More likely about ten people in Microsoft will buy it independently on expense accounts (and similiarly in other firms) and they'll make a fairly tidy profit on one or two days work.

If anyone is interested I'm willing to expound on these comments for a small fee :>

Okay, the original post title is:


and the salient comment therein is:

"Nobody has created a viable channel for selling this sort of information in a format like this. I wonder if they ever will."

Obviously Seth's going for the insane end of things - would you pay $1,500 for 250 words of information. The only time I can imagine doing so would be if I had a vital document that was password-protected and there was absolutely no other way of recovering it - and the 250 words contained that password!

But Seth is going to extremes in using this as an example of "Is there a future in selling digital words?" Lower the price to $100, $25, or $10 and you'd find plenty of people willing to pay for business microcontent. I've bought archived newspaper articles, QuickTime commercials, and one-day passes to content.

The $1,500 is outrageous, but it's also a strawman in this case.

Maybe someone can convince IDC to use Amazon's "search inside this book" feature. ;-)

Ha ha ha. I like the way you think Joi. Turned the table and flipped it over you did.

Hmmm. It would be interesting to buy that one only to see what would the recommendations be of the other people that bought it.

"people who bought this book also bought..."


I don't think this is as outrageous as it sounds (and no, I am not the author of the report nor associated with the publisher. $1500 is an insignificant sum in a multi-million/billion information driven corporation. If a Senior Executive wants a quick summary about a given technology (even as widely publicized as the PSP), it's far better to allocate $1500 to a PA or someone junior to obtain the report, rather than allocate a briefing task (even if it may take 1 hour to cut and paste data from press releases and format it) to someone competent in the department. It's all about opportunity cost. $1500 is peanuts for this type of seemingly trivial or widely available information; most large corporations have multi-million dollar subscription and advisory relationships with the likes of Gartner etc. Besides, for the publisher, only 1 copy of that report need to be sold for it to be considered profitable.

Having said all that, I have never, and never will, take anything I read in a report seriously given the hidden politics within their forecasts or conclusions. Reading these reports is just one of those 'strategic' things any corporation has to do in order to justify its decision making, no matter how inaccurate the underlying market data may be.

Research firms are therefore the corporate world's equivelant of circus fortune tellers: they'll tell you whatever you want to hear.

Before spending $1,500, you can do a "search inside the book" at

A search for "Sony" yields the following:

...IN THIS EVENT FLASH IDC Flash provides an analysis of Sony's October ## PlayStation Portable (PSP) Japan launch announcement.

SITUATION OVERVIEW Sony has confirmed that it will indeed launch the PSP in....of video viewing. One day later, during its earnings call, Sony clarified that software pricing would be set at #,### yen....very small delta. We believe that for the Japan launch, Sony has deliberately formulated a pricing-focused strategy. While the vendor has....DS, only a few weeks before 's PSP launch. Traditionally, Sony has sold its videogame hardware for....with the DS' $## software pricing indicates the importance that Sony has placed on software as a primary revenue driver.

FUTURE OUTLOOK The battle between Sony and Nintendo for dominance in handheld gaming will be fierce....battery life suggests that to launch the product on time, Sony was forced to launch with less-than-acceptable power consumption....system's life span. It is important to point out that Sony's announcement is only applicable to the Japan market, and really,....the PSP will launch in North America or Western Europe. Sony will likely launch the PSP at a slightly higher both regions in the first half of ####. If Sony can create significant momentum behind the PSP in Japan „....higher pricing in other regions should not be an issue. Sony could also increase the price within the next #....## months,....In our May #### videogame hardware forecast, we estimated that Sony would ship ###,### PSP units worldwide this year and that...

Andrew that is so true.
Thankyou, from me to you!

In a market economy everything is worth what someone is willing to pay for it. This includes information and opinion. My electronic publishing products are priced to sell, mostly at the Amazon minimum of $1.95, but they are reprints of articles previously published in print. Original work cannot be obtained so cheaply. I've seen a lot of special reports offered on Amazon for far more than $1.500. It should be rememered that Amazon is a book store and uses the practises of the book trade, working exclusively with Lightning Source as a distributor. That means that the publisher gives up 55% of the retail price just to get it online through Amazon, which then offers it all over the world. Then if the publisher is not also the author, a royalty must be paid out of the reminder.
If the publisher is the author, there is still the cost of composing and preparing the item for publication; not just the writing, but the editing, updating and formatting of the work, along with legal nicities like Copyright Registration.
So there is a lot of risk in getting a narrow-range product to market. Very few people buy, for instance, a report on the pig iron industry in Malaysia, but it is available from Amazon -- and if you need it,it is far easier to buy that report than to go to Malaysia and do your own. Less expense as well. By the way, while Amazon deals exclsuively with Lighting Source, Lightning Source has many other retailers as customers, some of whom discount the retail price. The dynamics of the marketplace function very well online.

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Sony talks about no PSP for the holidays, or, some fuckhead called Schelley Olhava from IDC tries to sell you `information' for a stupid price and expects you to buy it: the truth, Sony fucked up with the PSP, their... Read More