The other thing that really annoys me about cable is that it’s a bundle. It’s only offered at a sale price for six months, euphemistically referred to as an “introductory offer.” Pretty words for a nasty $200 surprise down the road, and for the rest of the relationship. Talk about the honeymoon being over. And just as bad, while there are different tiers of service, you really have no choice on the core set of content, you’re getting the Truckers’ Network and the Knitting Network whether you like it or not. In every other walk of commercial life, we are told that our choices reflect our personal identity. If you buy a Prius or a Tesla, it means you’re green, and very green, respectively. But buying a big cable bundle doesn’t mean anything. In fact, it’s very generic, pretty much communist. Definitely un-American. Why is this relevant? Because all bundles aren’t created equally. Behold the genius that is the Humble Indie Bundle.
Curation is the key. It’s the reason XBLA and PSN have relevance. But the Humble Indie Bundle represents something new. It’s a game development studio that takes a handful of top indie games, collects them in one transaction, leaving the consumer to pay whatever price he or she wishes, including the ability to set which percentages go to overhead, the developers, and charity. It’s commerce based on direct appeal to the consumer. This isn’t big cable coming in, telling you the bill is $200 and squashing all other comers. Instead, the Humble Indie Bundle performs discovery for you, and asks you to rate the work by your estimate of its worth.
Discovery works both ways. Those developers selected to participate see it as a collective ladder to rise above the noise created by the infinite digital shelf. Consumers are often bewildered by the range of games, apps, and wiggly inflatable figures vying for their attention, it definitely helps to have some independent, trusted source cut through the static for you. We all do this. I just used priuschat.com to tell me to get Michelin Energy Saver tires from Tirerack.com. I don’t have time to waste figuring everything out. I’m too busy trying to get American Express to waive the finance charge on my long-canceled EA corporate card and Adesso to ship me the right bulbs for my brand new lamps, which don’t seem to be sold anywhere. Maybe too much choice wears you out. But no choice is definitely bad. Not wavering on that.
I’m not saying the HIB model works for everything. If Comcast allowed the consumer to set the price on cable service, that may backfire with people sending them a bill for lost time waiting between 8-5 on a workday. Frankly, I’m not sure the cable business is redeemable, in fact I hope the best channels will go directly to the consumer. But perhaps they can take a look at curation. And not just them, any purveyor of seemingly endless content. Take a look at XBLA’s Summer of Arcade, or their current promotion, Block Party, of which my personal favorite, Warp, is a part. This is the store manager making you a personal recommendation, from a limited menu. This is what humans like. They like people on the inside giving them the scoop. We don’t think too much about the reasons for the recommendation, but generally, it’s a pretty good thing that comes recommended. Like the home-made pappardelle with prawns and artichokes in a light tomato cream sauce at Pazzia. Just go with it.
The iTunes AppStore does something very interesting, in that it’s wide open for all kinds of product, while also curating through the “new and noteworthy” channel. Apple also has bundled recommendations, albeit no bundled pricing. Some developers, or really just one mega-developer Zynga, even gets its own page. But it’s clearly the most successful digital merchandising platform out there, at least today. It would be interesting to see storefronts continue to take the best lessons from XBLA, PSN, Steam, iTunes AppStore, Android Market, the Chrome Web Store, and other game outlets. Imagine if this were applied to other content we get, like TV and movies. Add in Amazon’s amazing recommendation engine for custom, procedural bundles. And maybe catalog content would fare better with a little humility in the pricing model. And maybe offering packages at prices set by market forces wouldn’t create demand for piracy. Just a thought, big content. But then, why I should stick my neck out for you is far beyond my capacity.
SF: I’m generally anti things that are anti-American. Mostly because of my deep affection for jump high-fiving Old Glory, which I consider the pinnacle of patriotism. Permitting optimization for personal preference is ideal for content consumption platforms, and I can’t quite fathom why cable resists the effort so. Large cable operations appear to prefer wallowing in their monopoly until required to act by external forces (it took TiVo for us to get the DVR). On the subject of the benefits of curation versus open platforms, you should really check out this epicly awesome article written by 2D Boy (makers of the equally epicly awesome World of Goo) once upon a time.