Seth Godin recently wrote an interesting post on his blog (aren’t they always) about limiting distribution channels:
Some industries (like book publishers and analgesic makers) believe that they best serve their audience when the product is available everywhere. It’s pretty rare to find a book that’s only available in one chain of bookstores, or a pain reliever that’s only in one sort of drugstore.
The thing is, scarcity creates value. You can’t get a Pepsi at McDonald’s. You can’t buy Hermes at Target. By limiting choice, you can create value. Exclusivity is often underrated.
I get where he is coming from. Indeed a small number music biz experiments in unitary channel distribution have yielded spectacular results for the artist. The Eagles at Walmart for example.
But products with substitutes (such as analgesics) demand ubiquitous distribution. If I need a painkiller and the brand I usually buy isn’t in my local drugstore, I’m not going to drive around town searching for it. I’ll buy the one that’s available at the time.
Godin cites Pepsi and Hermes in his example, but the advantage these brands have over an item like a book is that they are long established in the market. Creative goods, as a rule, don’t have either the brand penetration or longevity of the likes of Pepsi.
So what’s an author to do? If you want to limit your distribution channels to create the kind of value Godin is talking about, you need to start early and stick to the plan. It will take consumers some time to learn that your books are only available in the spaces you choose and you will limit your potential revenues as a result. But you’ll probably make a greater profit; something to think about.