Book review: “Business Model Generation”

Normally I tend to be quite careful with business books; quite a lot of them seem to be quite over-hyped and need a lot of pages to illustrate one single theme. I felt that “Business Model Generation” by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur is different though. The book is all about using a business model canvas to work out (or improve) the business model of an organisation. Forget about doing lengthy strategic documents or   even boring SWOT analysis, filling a business model canvas with lots of colourful post-its and arrows is the way to go, if you ask me.

The main underlying premise of the business model canvas is around 9 building blocks that “allow you to design every possible business model that you can imagine.” Good examples of these building blocks are “customer segments”, “revenue streams” and “key activities”. I can imagine that these might sound very obvious in their own right, but the way in which the business model canvas combines these blocks makes it a very compelling tool in my opinion:

  1. A good, comprehensive way of looking at a business model  I am sure that there are thousands of business books out there that talk about things like “cost structure” or “key resources”, but I believe the business model canvas is very effective in bringing all these elements together in a very visual and comprehensive kind of way.
  2. Unpicking things – I feel that the visual way in which the business model canvas lays out the different building blocks really helps businesses in ‘unbundling’ their models (“what kind of business type are we?”) or with figuring their key value proposition or revenue drivers.
  3. Easy to share and communicate – What I like most about is that one can create a number of collaborative workshops or exercises around the business model canvas. For instance, you could get a multi-disciplined group of employees in a room to brainstorm about different customer scenarios or market opportunities and figure how to best design the business model accordingly.

Main learning point: books like “Business Model Generation” really help in making thinking about business model design a lot more accessible and practical. The main premise of the book, using a visual approach to designing a business model, is as simple as it is effective. The real-life examples of businesses that have successfully used this approach are relevant and illustrate the different purposes for which the business model canvas can be used. Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur have truly created a book (and an approach) that enables companies to start with a blank canvas and make it their own!

DRM free ebooks!? It is going to happen …

Last year I wrote about J.K. Rowling, author of the immensely successful “Harry Potter” series, breaking out of the traditional publishing mould by offering Harry Potter ebooks through her own site. Another interesting recent development within the ebook world is digital publishers slowly starting to drop digital rights management (‘DRM’) from their ebooks.

The main thing about DRM is that it is meant to stop piracy and to stop people from sharing content. However, DRM also makes it harder to read an ebook across different devices, limiting users to a single technology to read ebooks with.

This BBC post explains this problem very clearly: “At present a user who buys a DRM-encoded book via Amazon, for example, can only read it on one of the firm’s Kindle e-readers or a device running one of its Kindle apps. They cannot transfer the title to a Sony Reader, Kobo eReader or use it with Apple’s iBooks.”

Last month, sci-fi publisher “Tor” announced that it will release all its digital titles DRM free as early as July 2012, citing author and reader requests as the main reason for this bold move. Tom Doherty, president of Tor, explained about his readers that “they’re a technically sophisticated bunch, and DRM is a constant annoyance to them. It prevents them from using legitimately-purchased e-books in perfectly legal ways, like moving them from one kind of e-reader to another.”

Going back to J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore site; she also chose to offer her ebooks DRM free (mind you, this only applies to ebooks sold through her site directly). The only thing she did do instead was inserting a digital watermark to prevent users from copying her books illegally. The question remains how many other, less ‘niche publishers will start releasing their ebooks without DRM protection. It is interesting to note in this respect that Tor  is part of Macmillan, a publishing giant, who seem to have gone for a strategy whereby DRM is dropped on a small scale first, to then roll it out across a much larger catalogue of – more mainstream – titles.

Main learning point: it will be interesting to see how many other, more mainstream publishers will follow Tor’s lead. One could argue that the effectiveness of DRM protection in light of battling piracy is limited and that therefore a better user experience should prevail. The publishing industry seems to be going for a ‘softly softly’ approach where DRM free ebooks are introduced gradually, which makes a lot of sense. From a purely personal point of view, I welcome any move towards DRM free ebooks since I think it will force publishers to rethink their anti-piracy measures and improve their readers’ user experience at the same time.

Related links for further learning: