In Nathan Bashaw’s recent post, Understanding the Web’s Massive Distribution Problem, he explains that in the world of physical goods, manufacturers had only to gain access to the distribution channel, i.e. a retail or specialty store, in order to to gain access to the wallets of a mass of consumers.
For the consumer, life is good too: no need to physically travel to the manufacturer to get a product that you want — a simple walk down to the retailer is far more convenient.
On the web, however, life is different:
Online, the consumer doesn’t need to buy apps through retailers, so they don’t. They just type in the URL of the site they want to use. If they don’t know the right URL ahead of time, they google for it.
Bashaw sees this as a big problem for manufacturers (i.e. app developers) who no longer have a reliable channel through which they can reach users (aside from the App Store, which hasn’t yet been a force on the web). However, for consumers, he sees this as a win:
Turns out, our lives are better when we’re not forced to go to an intermediary to get what we want.
But what about discovery? As a consumer, I go to the grocery sometimes not just for convenience, but also because I’m not quite sure what brand of cereal to buy.
So maybe a “retailer” for web apps could be a win for consumers and brands, by helping brands with distribution, and consumers with discovery. I just don’t think anyone has found the right way to do it yet.