Re-edited Version as I rushed this out whilst kids were asleep and wanted to add some detail.
One of the strangest stands I came across at the Birdfair was the CollinsBirds Dotcom stand, although Lee Evans 'Don Johnson' impression ran a close second. It seems that Collins have decided to move into the already crowded market place for bird information and social networking. Free alerts, sightings maps, checklists and look up for species information as well as 'Chat' (someone in their marketing team really needs to move on from that word like the rest of the world).
The website wasn't ready and they were taking email addresses for future reference. I was there Friday, first day and there seemed few takers but maybe it improved over the weekend.
The question on my mind after leaving the stand was WHY? Why divert valuable resources and finances away from your core business model?
After some thought the answer is probably this. They have perhaps recognized that an increasing proportion of a birders time when not in the field is now spent on the net. Whether that be looking at sightings, uploading pictures, blogging, reading ID articles or having conversation with birders across the world. As a result of this 'social networking' many birders are now accessing informed opinion from other birders on a whole range of topics. I read a simple statistic today that perhaps adequately demonstrates the point, surveys reveal 14% of us trust adverts, 78% trust personal recommendation, what does that tell you about how companies need to market their products?
All well and good but, there's always a but, their a tad late in my opinion. The market is now maturing, companies such as Birdguides, Surfbirds & Birdforum are effectively market leaders and way ahead. Birdguides for example just past the 100,000 mark for uploaded pictures, a substantial milestone and a huge asset to their business. Between these three they have a huge number of subscribers. It might take Collins ten years to catch up if indeed they ever could.That is assuming they can deal with some of the thorny issues that lie ahead, moderation and quality control are absolutely key if they want to attract 'serious birders'. I simply cannot see them catching up as the current market leaders are unlikely to stand still and will continue to build on their current success.
Perhaps too late now but they really should have forged a key partnership with one of the existing online players, or bought one of them. OK a partnership may not have given them complete control and a Collins-specific offer but it would have given them access to a ready made market for a great deal less investment and they would have avoided loads of pitfalls. My bet is that their initial investment will wither when they fail to capture significant market share and somewhere down the line the tap will be turned off and a slow death as a result of lack of newness will ensue. Or maybe they'll crack the bigger and more lucrative US market, though I suspect this may prove a step too far as again quality competition in Sibley & Chirptracker will cause them issues.