Thursday, January 19, 2006

Digital Media Supply Chains Coming to a Phone Near You

Enticed by a free iPod Shuffle I recently subscribed to a neat little service that sells audio versions of books and some magazines for MP3 players. As part of the agreement, which costs $21 a month, I receive the audio version of any two books I choose, plus a free daily audio download or podcast of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, but not to my iPod to my mobile phone. For New Yorkers like myself this relieves me of the frustration of trying to read a newspaper, that is printed on 25 x 23 inch paper, while carrying my ThinkPad and my gym bag, on a subway that is jam packed with a hundred fellow straphangers. It's absurd, but a way of life in the big City.

It's called AudibleAir and its very simple. Using a smartphone, such as a Palm Treo 600, you download a simple fulfillment application (see image) that schedules when you want to receive the files and where you want to store them. Then using the audio player software that is provided you listen to the file just like an MP3 song, with the ability to skip to whatever section or article you are interested in. Now if you squint you'll see a supply chain here, albeit one for digital assets.

The digital media supply chain is quietly, but quickly becoming a huge industry. Industry estimates say that at the end of 2005, people will have access to more than 100 billion gigabytes of digital content in the form of images, text, software code, device drivers, audio, music, video and graphics. Digitizing and managing this content can be vexing, unless you manage it just like you would auto parts or cans of soup - with a supply chain. Using supply chain best practices to manage digital content is estimated to be a $13 billion industry and even at 100 billion gig of data, I believe its just the beginning. The supply chain loop is similar to making a car. It's manufacturing=content creation, procurement=payment and logistics/distribution/fulfillment are duplicated similarly.

The next time you download a song from iTunes or a movie on demand from your cable company its a supply chain that makes it happen.

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