You're undoubtedly familiar with the 100 calorie pack snack boxes popping up all over the local grocery store. They're aimed at people who are either unwilling or unable to measure out the right amount of cookies, crackers, etc., for a small snack. I'm not critical of these people. After all, I'm one of them. I've bought several of these darned things over the past couple of months and I keep asking myself the same question: Why?
The answer is convenience and conscience, at least for me. It's easy to quickly grab one of these while sitting down to read or watch TV, but these packages also make me feel less guilty. For some stupid reason I feel more healthy when I'm snarfing down one of these, even if it's my second one in a row! It's totally a mind game but I'm obviously not alone as these things can now be found up and down the snack aisles. No matter how "healthy" I feel when buying and eating these, I feel like a real chump when I realize that I'm paying more per bite or calorie than I'd pay if I just bought the regular package of Goldfish or Chips Ahoy. I'm paying the manufacturer a premium to put less of their product into each package I buy.
What in the world does this have to do with books, content or publishing? I think there's a lesson in this and it has to do with value proposition and convenience. You could argue it all started many years ago with CliffsNotes; they delivered the core theme and other summary characteristics of a great book in fewer pages and therefore at a per-page price that's higher than the original work. We all bought them for the convenience though. Yes, they provided expert insight into the literary classics, but they also served as a great enabler for procrastinators around the world (myself included). The CliffsNotes brand is about to turn 50 years old(!) and while those yellow and black products are still as useful as ever, you'll also find summary products from companies like getAbstract and Soundview Executive Book Summaries. Even though both of these services deliver less content, you're paying for the convenience of getting the gist of the book without having to invest all the hours reading it. It's an excellent value proposition and it works well for plenty of customers (again, myself included, at least for certain titles).
After listening to Brian Clark's free summary report for Teaching Sells the other night, I found myself agreeing with much of what he had to say. Rather than chasing the tiny slivers of income represented by free, ad-supported content, why not take a closer look at premium paid content aimed at a smaller number of customers? I'm not suggesting anyone abandon free, ad-supported content, but I tend to believe many of us have become far too infatuated with it; it's easy to get distracted by that model and lose sight of the potential for premium content that a much smaller target audience is willing to pay for.
Part of that solution probably includes some form of summary content. After all, time is indeed money and I think customers are willing to pay a premium for convenience and time-savers, perhaps now more than ever. So the next time you see one of those 100 calorie snack packs in your local grocery store, think about how this might apply to your business.