Amazon has just announced the creation of a new publishing imprint for mystery books called Thomas & Mercer, joining four other imprints they created in a continued attempt to vertically integrate the publishing industry.
Apple’s retail stores are celebrating their 10th anniversary this month, a notable achievement as retail was Apple’s last step in the vertical integration of the computer market. While many analysts predicted Apple’s failure, the stores have been instrumental to the launch of Macs, iPods, iPhones, and iPads and helping make it the largest tech company in the process.
These two news stories dovetailed with an idea a friend hypothesized, that we may be entering a phase where we see a “Moore’s Law” for atoms. The analogy between general purpose computing devices and general purpose 3D printers breaks down pretty quickly, but it is apt in another way.
The first computer was designed on paper. The second computer was designed partially on the first computer, the third on the second, and so forth. The history of the last 30 years of technology has been self-reinforcing with each previous generation of technology enabling a faster and better delivery of the next.
This phenomena is especially apparent in the last 5 years of web innovation where Amazon’s Web Services platform has enabled entrepreneurs to permeate every nook and cranny of the consumer web because the technical infrastructure details have become almost trivial.
In the “Maker” world we are beginning to see “EC2 instances for atoms”. Services like Ponoko let you get started with a CAD file and a credit card. Once you have a product ready to go to market, Protomold can make a proper injection mold for less than the cost of a big screen TV.
My guess is that the increasing availability of small scale manufacturing tools will lead to more vertical integration. Product inventors will be able to fund their designs via Kickstarter, produce them at Protomold, create a store front using Shopify, and send products to customers using Amazons “Fulfillment By Amazon” service.
This vertically integrated approach will increase the margins of product creators and allow them to produce and sell more unique offerings. More SKUs will be introduced by smaller and smaller vendors. There will be more friction than with web innovation, but I have a feeling we will soon see a Cambrian explosion in the physical world as CAD, production, and fulfillment become available to anyone with an idea.