India's Tata Motors has been getting a lot of publicity lately thanks to their recently announced "People's Car." When you see pictures of families of 4, 5 or more traveling together on a scooter you quickly realize that India is an excellent target market for a sub-$3,000 car.
I can't help but think that GM, Ford, etc., are looking down their noses at Tata and laughing, figuring there's no way a car like this would ever be allowed in the U.S. thanks to our stringent safety standards. That's too bad because I'd like to buy one even if I only used it for my 3-mile commute to work each day. I'm toying with the idea of riding a bike 2 or 3 times per week this summer; no matter how flimsy the People's Car is I've got to believe it's no more dangerous than a 10-speed bike (or a scooter or a motorcycle) on those same roads!
So what does all this have to do with publishing? It's all about what's considered "good enough." In this case, the People's Car will definitely be good enough for quite a few people in India and will be considered an upgrade from the family scooter. If someone could come up with a sub-$3,000 car for the U.S. it would likely turn the auto industry on its ear.
In the publishing world, "good enough" has been defined again and again by Google and all the free content that's readily discoverable today. I can try to kid myself that our $40 book will always be preferred over the free alternative because of the "quality content" and "editorial rigor" we apply, but in reality, plenty of people feel the free alternatives are good enough and that's all that matters.
I enjoy the challenge of creating new products that customers will want to spend money on. As publishers it keeps us honest and forces us to constantly work to improve our offerings. I hope the big auto manufacturers feel the same way. It would be easy for them to hide behind all the federal regulations and effectively lobby to prevent a product like the People's Car from ever seeing the light of day here, which would be unfortunate.