At tale of beer and books

Southern Tier Iniquity black ale

Out there in The Long Tail you'll find some mighty fine brewskies.

Only imagine: MSNBC has a story up about beer sales, and lo and behold, they’re plummeting — for mainstay brands like Bud, Old Milwaukee, and Michelob.

Of the 23 “largest selling beer products” in the U.S., “eight . . .  have lost a staggering 30 percent or more of their sales between 2005 and 2010.”


But here’s what strikes me. For years, we’ve been hearing that “digital” is killing the publishing industry. Digital is killing newspapers. Digital is killing music.

And the focus for the most part has been on the medium. You’ve probably heard “kill the medium!” arguments along these lines:

  • Blogging makes it too easy for know-nothings to pose as journalists. Result: newspapers face too much competition from low-quality websites. Newspaper circulation plunges.
  • Digital music is too easy to steal. Producers can’t control their product any more — people are getting for free what they used to have to buy. Music sales plunge.
  • Self-pubbing books is too easy. Now unvetted self-proclaimed “writers” can put their better-hold-your-nose junk on Amazon or B&N with a click of a mouse. They are squeezing out legitimate publishers. Print book sales plunge.

But here’s the thing. With beer, you take the medium out of the equation. People can’t buy or sell beer in digital form. It’s an analog world experience still, thank doG.

So beer becomes a control case.


You have your traditional, old school industry — all those gargantuan beer brands that our grandfathers used to drink — and you have this nascent (well, still sort of nascent) decentralized craft brew movement with its funny labels and quirky flavors.

And what happens?

We learn that when people have a choice, lo and behold, they will abandon “safe,” boring, insipid products and seek out interesting, imaginative, vibrant alternatives. In proverbial droves.

This also suggests IMO that “brand” — which you  may have noticed has been elevated in the past couple decades to near-mystical status in the marketing lexicon — is actually not enough to carry a product. On the contrary, “brand” has some mighty heavy clay feet.

Anyway, a prediction. Bud, and Old Milwaukee, and Michelob (which btw is in my WP spellcheck. Really? My spellcheck doesn’t recognize the word “spellcheck” but it generates its red squiggle if I type Michalob or Michelobe? Really????) are already working furiously behind the scenes to launch a stunning new menu of “craft-style” beers.

Second prediction. Book publishers will engage in a parallel activity, if they’re not already. And they’ll figure out which self-pubbed products sell well (possible examples: shorter novels; serials) and start assembly-lining e-books into those niches with a vengeance.

But without offering author advances ;-)



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