Reselling water: a publishing analogy

I’ve been working on an argument (when it grows up it’ll be a presentation) about how publishers should set up simple ways to sell licenses to their content. These licences could be bought by a small or large business from the publisher’s site, and that business could then reuse and resell the content. (Publishers could make the licenses valid only for regions their supply chain doesn’t normally reach anyway.)

I won’t go into the operational aspects of making that happen here, except to say that my argument tries to keep those simple and cheap to set up.

When I think about this, I’m always tempted to use this analogy: content is like water. Publishers find it, clean it, and sell it. Print books are like bottled water. Digital content is like flowing water, which you can easily license others to resell, be it bottled, trucked, frozen or boiled. And if you want to reach underdeveloped, far-away places, like most of Africa, then this kind of licensing is your best bet, if you can get lots of small licensees easily and quickly.

I tend to get carried away by the analogy, boring my wife with long explanations of runnels and hillsides and catchment areas, till she tells me to sit down and have a glass of wine.

I’ll return to this idea in more detail in future. For now, I’m just thrilled to discover a real-world version of my analogy. Sarah Bramley, Water For People’s Regional Manager for Africa, has been talking to Blantyre Water in Malawi, and tweeted this today:

@sbramley: We've learned that though it's not legal to sell #water from your private tap, many people do it, and some have made quite a good business.

And that is exactly what I mean.