Excess Competition In The DAM Solution Market And The Consequences For Innovation

David Diamond, Marketing Director for Picturepark and author of the DAM Survival Guide has written an article for CMSWire: It’s Time to Kill the Competition.  The basis of the article is what we have discussed on DAM News quite a lot, that vendors spend too much time copying each other with ‘me too’ feature duplication:

The problem is that DAM vendors waste energy trying to one-up one another when they should be focused on what happens next. Vendor X introduces an integration with Dropbox, so Vendor Y has to do one too. How many different DAM integrations with Dropbox do we actually need? Shouldn’t an integration with Dropbox be on par with a printer driver in terms of how many we need on the market?” [Read More]

Under the article, there is a comment from David’s boss, Ramon Forster (CEO of Picturepark) where he disagrees with David on the basis that competition drives innovation – which if not present can lead to cartelisation and complacency (and less choice for customers).  It’s always good to see a bit of public discussion between employees of the same firm (rather than dissenters being summarily executed) as it does suggest the business is confident enough to debate relevant topics without it being viewed as a threat to the authority of the senior manager.

I tend to come down on the side of David with this issue – but I think the situation might be a bit more nuanced than an initial read through of his article might suggest.  I take Ramon’s point that a lack of competition can lead to complacency and suppliers coasting rather than driving forward innovation, however, I agree with David that in DAM, it’s gone too far in the other direction.  There is now so much competition that the prospective buyers don’t know where to start looking and I know that all kinds of spurious reasons for choosing different products are made (and in enterprise software, the decision making process is already sub-optimal).

Large sections of the time vendors spend on developing their products are now spent replicating features that someone else already has.  I would contend this is limiting innovation and making it far harder for vendors to pick a specialism and then work with others to aggregate the capabilities of their combined solutions.  When you talk to buyers, what they often want to do is pick feature x from product y and combine it with another solution.  The threat for the DAM Industry is that no one is able to provide what the end users want and others from a related field are able to do it more efficiently instead.

It’s been noted before that DAM is top-heavy and biased towards enterprise users, mainly because that is the lowest risk way for the vendors to recoup their burgeoning development costs.  Vendors probably refer to these as ‘product investment’, but they can’t really legitimately capitalise them in the way that term suggests; they are essentially just expenses incurred to enable them to participate in pitches (some of which they might win).  As much as DAM vendors are doing well at selling licences to their products and support/hosting packages to go with them, I would imagine a decent sum comes off the bottom line just on staying in the feature arms race.

A few of the smarter ancillary vendors who make products that work with DAM systems are catching on to this.  If there is an area where competition needs to step up, it’s in that segment so there is more choice for vendors and ability to differentiate their offer.  Overall, however, I think the excess number of DAM system suppliers will need to be curtailed somehow.  That might happen through specialisation and collaboration – or it could be through a form of commercial natural selection.  Considering that this is ultimately a human endeavour with real people behind the product logos, I rather prefer the former to the latter option.

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