Digital distribution

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Digital distribution is the delivery (through downloading) of any digital content, including audio, e-books, games, PDFs, pictures, software, and video. Digital distribution is handled through a digital distribution platform that's designed to stream the digital content or allow the content to be downloaded in full.

Also referred to as content delivery, online distribution, or electronic software distribution (ESD), among others, is the delivery or distribution of digital media content such as audio, video, e-books, video games, and other software.

A primary characteristic of online distribution is its direct nature. To make a commercially successful work, artists usually must enter their industry's publishing chain. Publishers help artists advertise, fund and distribute their work to retail outlets. In some industries, particularly video games, artists find themselves bound to publishers, and in many cases unable to make the content they want; the publisher might not think it will profit well. This can quickly lead to the standardization of the content and to the stifling of new, potentially risky ideas.

By opting for online distribution, an artist can get their work into the public sphere of interest easily with potentially minimum business overhead. This often leads to cheaper goods for the consumer, increased profits for the artists, as well as increased artistic freedom. Online distribution platforms often contain or act as a form of digital rights management.

Online distribution also opens the door to new business models (e.g., the Open Music Model). For instance, an artist could release one track from an album or one chapter from a book at a time instead of waiting for them all to be completed. This either gives them a cash boost to help continue their projects or indicates that their work might not be financially viable. This is hopefully done before they have spent excessive money and time on a project deemed to remain unprofitable. Video games have increased flexibility in this area, demonstrated by micropayment models. A clear result of these new models is their accessibility to smaller artists or artist teams who do not have the time, funds, or expertise to make a new product in one go.

An example of this can be found in the music industry. Indie artists may access the same distribution channels as major record labels, with potentially fewer restrictions and manufacturing costs. There is a growing collection of 'Internet labels' that offer distribution to unsigned or independent artists directly to online music stores, and in some cases marketing and promotion services. Further, many bands are able to bypass this completely, and offer their music for sale via their own independently controlled websites.

An issue is the large number of incompatible formats in which content is delivered, restricting the devices that may be used, or making data conversion necessary.