Friday, August 31, 2012

The universal pressures of the digital economy

The thing about the digital economy is that it's all-pervasive. It taps directly into consumer behaviour and has basically smashed the traditional barriers that existed between different industries. This morning I heard Kim Winser interviewed as the Friday Boss on Radio 4's Today programme, talking about the evolution of the fashion retail industry. The parallels to the evolution of libraries and their provision of digital content are pretty obvious and I'll just let her words do the talking. You can listen here (in at 20:00), but I've picked out some parts of her interview below.

"A lot of British retailers and businesses have got old-fashioned structures and are not looking to have very flexible, very versatile business structures as a way to operate... I think a lot of them really have online as a secondary channel to the consumer as opposed to really thinking about it first... Secondly, they also buy far too much stock before they really know what the customers are wanting and the inventory is really dragging the business down, particularly when you have an excessive number of retail stores."

This prompted interviewer Simon Jack to ask: "Is there still a role for a high street presence?"

While Kim felt that there was, the obvious similarities between the transition to digital in libraries and the fashion retail industry beg the question as to whether the solutions might be equally similar. If anyone hasn't yet visited NET-A-PORTER's website, they need to go there and see a truly great example of digital content management. Kim used this example, observing that they are doing the customer a "phenomenal service, putting the customer absolutely front of house of what they want and how they want it... the whole experience of shopping on NET-A-PORTER just shows up far too many of our retailers as not impressive."

I'm not going to labour the point, except to quote from one more interview, this time one that I conducted myself only yesterday:

"I think if you were to treat the research library proposition as though it were a start-up, and if you were starting from today, you would look at creating a product that emphasised connecting people to information as quickly and as efficiently as possible, and then you would use the best of the current generation of technologies to achieve that outcome; I think you would build a business model that was around the public valuing that civic function."

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