retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

This past Sunday offered the return of "Downton Abbey" for its sixth and final season on public television, with fans riveted to the screen as we (yes, I am among them) waited to find out what would happen to the Crawley family, Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes, and whether John and Anna Bates would get beyond the personal tragedies that seem to bedevil them. (The good news is that Lady Mary continues to be the very picture of women's liberation, even in 1925 ... but I digress...)

At some level, I think, Downton Abbey is a relic of the past ... but not because of the era in which it is set. Rather, to a great degree, I think it remains appointment television. For many people - and this, indeed, may be an age thing - it is a show that they want to see when it is on, as opposed to later, on some digital device.

But times change.

The New York Times has a piece about how Julian Fellowes, who created "Downton Abbey," now is turning to more modern media.

"For his next project, 'Belgravia,' Mr. Fellowes is marrying an old narrative form — the serialized novel, in the tradition of Charles Dickens’s “The Pickwick Papers” — with the latest digital delivery system: an app," the Times writes.

“'Belgravia' takes place in London in the 1840s and opens decades earlier during the Battle of Waterloo. It explores the class divisions between the established aristocracy and newly wealthy families who made their fortunes through the Industrial Revolution. But instead of having the sweeping narrative arc of a novel, it will unfold more like a new network TV series, in 10 weekly digital installments that will arrive automatically on readers’ phones, tablets or computers. The chapters cost $1.99 each, and $13.99 all together. The app will also incorporate an audio version, music, video, character portraits, family trees, images of period fashion and maps of Belgravia."

The story notes that "app-based novels remain a relatively new and unproven format, but they could begin to catch on as some prominent authors experiment with the interactive possibilities of apps." But Fellowes and his publisher clearly hope that the project's pedigree - it will begin being posted shortly after the airing of the last episode of "Downton Abbey" - will help it gain traction.

Fellowes, it should be noted, seems to be form-agnostic. In addition to "Downton Abbey," he's written movies, stage plays and books. And I think that's a good lesson for businesses in general.

Form, in fact, may be less important than content.

As I write those words, I realize that I am to some extent contradicting myself. I am, after all, a guy who has been writing for years that stores have to be more than just the products they sell, that they have to create their own implicit value proposition that distinguishes them from the competition.

To be honest, I still think that's true. But I also think that the Fellowes metaphor can serve as a reminder that in the best of circumstances, form and content can be molded together to become a unified and distinct value proposition. That's what a great store does, and if it works, what a great piece of art does.

Unified and distinct, they can be Eye-Openers.
KC's View: