Why is text-to-speech only an afterthought?

Buttons-304219_1280I spend a lot of time commuting to and from work in my car and I try to use the time wisely. I cycle through a playlist of podcasts every week but I feel like I’m missing out on other types of content. Regardless of your daily commute, I’ll bet you’d feel the same way if you’d stop to consider the possibilities.

I’m thinking mostly about short-form content such as website articles, whitepapers and other documents. If someone sends me a link or I discover an interesting article online it’s highly likely I won’t have time to read it immediately. That’s why I typically save it in Instapaper or Evernote.

This approach has turned me into an article hoarder as I have countless unread articles in both Instapaper and Evernote. So while I thought my problem was a lack of time at that moment, the truth is I rarely have time to read many of these things later either.

To its credit, the Instapaper app for Android has a text-to-speech feature built in. But the way it’s implemented tells me it was added as an afterthought. Sure, I can tap the “Speak” button and sit back and listen, but how useful is that when you’ve got a bunch of 2-4 minute articles stacked up and you’re trying to go hands-free while driving along the highway (or taking a walk, or running on a treadmill, etc.)?

Publishers sometimes talk of engaging with the consumer who’s reading their content while standing in the proverbial grocery store check-out line. Next time you’re in line at the grocery store look around. Nobody reads like that. Some people have their phones out but they’re probably scanning Facebook or sending a text message. Rather than heads-down reading you’re more likely to see people with ear buds in, listening to music while they shop or wait in line. And let’s face it: nobody reads while they’re running or doing other strenuous activities.

So along with all those “send to” buttons for various social and “read later” services, why isn’t there one built exclusively for text-to-speech conversions that open up all sorts of new use-cases for content consumption?

The service has to do much more than just transform text to audio though. There’s an important UI component that needs to be considered. The entire platform has to be audio-based, including voice commands. Picture an app on your phone that has all the voice command capabilities of Siri or Alexa, for example. Whether you’re driving or running, all you’d have to do is say things like “skip”, “next article”, “archive”, “annotate”, etc. The user should be able to manually create playlists and the service should offer the option of automatically detecting topics and placing each article in a relevant folder (e.g., sports, business, DIY, etc.).

Don’t forget the social aspect and opportunities here. Using voice commands I should be able to quickly and easily share an interesting article via email, Twitter, etc. Let me also keep track of the most popular articles other users are listening to so I don’t miss anything that might be gaining momentum.

One business model option is probably quite obvious: insert short audio ads at the start of each article, similar to the plugs I’m hearing more frequently in podcasts. And since the article topic and keywords can be identified before streaming it’s easy to serve highly relevant ads that are closely aligned with the articles themselves; think Google AdSense for audio. Give publishers an incentive to feature new “send to audio” buttons on their articles by sharing that well-targeted ad income with them.

Doesn’t this seem like it’s right in Google’s wheelhouse? I suppose they’ve got bigger fish to fry but this looks like an existing marketplace gap that’s just waiting to be filled.


Here’s how indexing could evolve with ebooks

Telescope-122960_1920Last month I shared some thoughts about how indexes seems to be a thing of the past, at least when it comes to ebooks. I’ve given more consideration to the topic and would like to offer a possible vision for the future.

Long ago I learned the value an exceptional indexer can bring to a project. For example, there’s a huge difference between simply capturing all the keywords in a book and producing an index that’s richly filled with synonyms, cross-references and related topics. And while we may never be able to completely duplicate the human element in a computer-generated index I’d like to think value can be added via automated text analysis, algorithms and all the resulting tags.

Perhaps it’s time to think differently about indexes in ebooks. As I mentioned in that earlier article, I’m focused exclusively on non-fiction here. Rather than a static compilation of entries in the book I’m currently reading, I want something that’s more akin to a dynamic Google search.

Let me tap a phrase on my screen and definitely show me the other occurrences of that phrase in this book, but let’s also make sure those results can be sorted by relevance, not just the chronological order from the book. Why do the results have to be limited to the book I’m reading though? Maybe that author or publisher has a few other titles on that topic or closely related topics. Those references and excerpts should be accessible via this pop-up e-index as well. If I own those books I’m able to jump directly to the pages within them; if not, these entries serve as a discovery and marketing vehicle, encouraging me to purchase the other titles.

This approach lends itself to an automated process. Once the logic is established, a high-speed parsing tool would analyze the content and create the initial entries across all books. The tool would be built into the ebook reader application, tracking the phrases that are most commonly searched for and perhaps refining the results over time based on which entries get the most click-thru’s. Sounds a lot like one of the basic attributes of web search results, right?

Note that this could all be done without a traditional index. However, I also see where a human-generated index could serve as an additional input, providing an even richer experience.

How about leveraging the collective wisdom of the community as well? Provide a basic e-index as a foundation but let anyone contribute their own thoughts and additions to it. Don’t force the crowdsourced results on all readers. Rather, let each consumer decide which other members of the community add the most value and filter out all the others.

This gets back to a point I’ve made a number of times before. We’re stuck consuming dumb content on smart devices. As long as we keep looking at ebooks through a print book lens we’ll never fully experience all the potential a digital book has to offer.


Another way to monetize ebooks

Coins-948603_1920In today’s market there are typically two methods for ebook distribution: free or paid. I’ve said before that one day we’ll see an ad-subsidized model take hold. Purists generally reject that concept, saying they won’t let advertisements interfere with their reading experience. That’s fine. They can pay full price but I’ll sometimes opt for the cheaper (or free) ad-subsidized version.

There’s another option that could become popular one day and it will be almost as as frictionless as the free model.

Are you familiar with Google’s Opinion Rewards app? I learned about it a couple of years ago and now I use it to buy three or four ebooks per year. Once the app is installed on your mobile device you’ll get periodic notifications asking you to respond to a survey. These questions can feel kind of creepy as Google uses the geo service in your device to ask specifics about stores you recently visited, for example. It takes about 10 seconds to answer and each survey nets me anywhere from 10 to 50 cents, sometimes even more; I usually end up with $10-$12 in my Google account every two to three months and I always use it to buy an ebook in the Google Play store.

With that in mind, imagine a service where you can download all the ebooks you want, for no charge. The content is locked and it becomes accessible as you answer a survey question every few pages. Or maybe you answer a few survey questions at the start of each chapter. Either way, rather than cash or credit card, you’re paying for the ebook with your data and opinions.

Again, this model isn’t for everyone. Privacy freaks will definitely choose the traditional option, paying full price to avoid sharing more data or opinions.

In order to make this happen we’ll need an ebook application and platform that supports a survey-driven business model. Google would be the logical choice as they could easily integrate their Opinion Rewards service in their ebook app. I doubt that will happen though as Google has expressed almost zero interest in the ebook marketplace. Doesn’t it seem as though they only released an ebook application because Apple has one?

In order for any company to offer this option they’d have to place a high value on the survey data. That means they’d either use the results to improve their own business (unlikely) or sell the anonymized results to others (more likely).

The key difference with this model for publishers is that they’ll earn only as their content is read. So if most users download the book then lose interest after a chapter or two, that’s all the survey income the publisher will earn; this pay-as-you-go model scares the heck out of most publishers because they’d rather get full price up front and not worry about whether the content was engaging or if readers finished the book.

There’s a huge ecosystem of free ebooks today. Publishers and authors typically give these books away and hope some number of readers will buy the next title in the series or another book from that author. A pay-as-you-go model, which doesn’t really force the user to open their wallets, could become a more viable option, helping authors and publishers better understand how their content is being consumed.


What’s the missing ingredient for unlimited reading services?

Infinity-1179939_1280I’ve been a fan of unlimited e-reading services for at least a couple of years now. When Oyster Books went under I shifted to Kindle Unlimited. For short-form magazine content I use Texture, the offering formerly known as Next Issue.

Prices for these services are typically in the $10-15/month range and, for the most part, I think they’re worth it. Even though I refer to them as “unlimited” one key shortcoming is what’s not available in the all-you-can-read platforms. You’ll rarely find the bestselling books in an unlimited reading service, for example. Just because the catalog offered contains hundreds of thousands of titles doesn’t mean you’re likely to find the next great read there.

Lately I’m realizing that I’m not getting much use out of my Texture subscription. The issue isn’t so much that it lacks titles. In fact, now that Texture includes access to almost 200 magazines it’s hard to find ones that aren’t included, and that’s the problem.

The value proposition for these unlimited services has always been based up on overwhelming you with content. What I really want them to offer now is a curated experience.

Texture knows that I enjoy reading BusinessWeek and Sports Illustrated, for example. Why not let me configure my Texture subscription to ensure I never miss articles about my favorite teams and industries/companies I want to follow? Then use that information to help me continue expanding my horizons, presenting me with content on adjacent businesses, for example.

Put all that material together in a custom magazine, made just for me every week (or whatever frequency I prefer). Let me vote up/down on articles so the system can better determine what I really like (e.g., certain writers, themes, styles, etc.) How about letting me share my custom magazines with other Texture subscribers, and vice versa?

Curation of unlimited book subscriptions is a bit trickier. But how about starting by sending excerpts from newly added titles I might enjoy, based on my reading habits to date? It often feels like I’m searching for that needle in a haystack when I try to figure out what book I should read next. There have got to be ways to simplify and help me narrow things down as well as ensure I don’t overlook an obvious winner.

I’m not looking for a million books or hundreds of magazines. I want what most interests me and I’d like to see the subscription services figure that out. Don’t make me just come to you and open your app. Communicate with me via email and/or text messages if I prefer. Surprise and delight me rather than simply expecting me to be wowed by the overwhelming amount of content offered.


A new take on ebook windowing

Window-941625_1920Ebook windowing is a technique designed to prevent ebooks from cannibalizing print book sales. The original thinking went something like this: Release a new title in print format only, thereby preventing e-cannibalization.

The result? Frustrated consumers. If you’re an ebook reader there’s nothing worse than realizing a digital edition doesn’t exist for that new book you recently discovered and were ready to buy. These days it seems the lack of a digital edition isn’t the result of publisher windowing as much as publisher ebook indifference.

I think it’s time to reconsider the windowing model, but with a twist.

Rather than offering print without digital initially, why not offer that ebook exclusively on the publisher’s website? For the first 30 days, for example, the ebook is only available as a direct-to-consumer option from the publisher. Most ebooks are ready for download before the print book anyway, so this is a new way of taking advantage of the print manufacturing and distribution delays. When the final version is ready to send to the printer the publisher can make it available for purchase as an ebook on their site. The e-exclusivity period expires when the book is off the press and in stores a few weeks later.

Two of the big challenges with this approach are:

  1. Making sure consumers are aware of the initial exclusively direct availability
  2. Getting consumers to change their buying behavior

Neither of these is easily overcome but both are critical for a successful direct-to-consumer strategy. They also require a long-term commitment, so don’t expect game-changing results initially.

The awareness obstacle starts with creation and careful management of a customer list. Email newsletters are critical and they must contain valuable information and insights, not just one promotional message after another. This isn’t just about emails and list management though. A publisher needs to be committed to building community with their audience, giving them reasons to come to their site on a regular basis, etc. Many publishers have an allergic reaction to this approach; these publishers will never create a successful direct channel.

Raising and maintaining consumer awareness is hard enough, but changing consumer buying behavior has a much higher degree of difficulty. If you’re a Kindle reader and you’ve built a large e-library with Amazon you need a compelling reason to buy your next ebook from somewhere else.

The direct sales model eliminates the retailer and enables the publisher to keep a larger chunk of the revenue. In many cases this means the publisher nets 100% of the selling price vs. only about 50% when the ebook is sold through a retailer. So why not pass a portion of that difference along to consumers? A 40%-off deal during that initial direct-only stage might be a compelling enough reason for some of those Kindle loyalists to consider buying direct instead, especially if the Kindle price ends up being close to list.

I realize this strategy won’t put a dent in Amazon’s ebook dominance. But over time it can enable publishers to build a stronger direct-to-consumer business, the benefits of which include knowing who your customers are, being able to market directly to them and gathering analytics about their reading behavior.


The lost art of indexes in ebooks

Labyrinth-1015639_1920When was the last time you used an index in an ebook? Maybe the better question is this: Have you ever used an index in an ebook? One of the challenges here is that most ebooks don’t have indexes, the result of the misguided notion that text search is a better solution.

Every so often I come across an ebook with an index. More often than not it’s just the print index at the end of the book, sometimes with nothing more than the physical page references that offer almost no value in a reflowable e-format.

Fiction represents a large chunk of ebook sales and those books generally don’t benefit from an index. The same is true for some types of non-fiction books. But for pure reference guides, in-depth how-to’s and other works, an index can be pretty useful.

If you’re relying exclusively on text search in an ebook you have to know exactly what you’re looking for. More importantly, why do we settle for such a lame text search solution when we’re spoiled every day with powerful, relevance-ranked search tools like Google?

When you search for a phrase in an ebook the results are shown in chronological order. You see all the occurrences from the beginning of the book to the end. Imagine if Google worked that way. So when you type in a phrase Google tells you the first (oldest) site to use that phrase, then the next oldest site that used it, etc. Users would laugh and reject it, yet that’s exactly what we’re forced to accept in ebook search.

What I really want is relevance-based results. Show me the location in the book with the highest density of that phrase and prioritize occurrences of it in a heading over occurrences in body text. I’m sure there are other attributes that could be rolled into an effective ebook search algorithm but I’ll take just those two features for starters.

The other problem with relying on search instead of an index is that you lose the benefit of synonyms and related terms. An indexer takes all that into consideration so you’re much more likely to find everything you’re looking for with a good index than a simple text search.

I’m not lobbying for back-of-book indexes in ebooks like they appear in print books. That’s another aspect that needs to change when you go digital. I want to see index functionality right there on the page I’m reading. The trick here is to offer it in a manner that’s not disruptive for the reader.

Remember that article I wrote a few weeks ago with the video showing a vision for auto-enriched ebooks? The same UI approach described there could be used here. The content is initially presented in as clean a manner as ebooks are today. But when you tap the screen on your tablet all the phrases that are indexed magically change color or are denoted with some other UI effect (e.g., underline). Just tap the phrase you’re interested in and a pop-up appears with relevance-ranked index results. These would be presented in a scrollable list with each entry having a preview of the text from that location in the ebook. Make it easy for me to bookmark those entries right in the pop-up. The net result is a way to quickly and easily access a smarter index without having to leave your current location.

This feature doesn’t exist today because we’re still stuck in the print-under-glass era of ebooks. I’m optimistic that one or two of the popular reading applications will eventually add such a capability though and help us get beyond today’s model where we’re consuming so much dumb content on all these smart devices.


Why I’m not on the Amazon Echo bandwagon…yet

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 9.32.56 AMI almost bought an Amazon Echo last November. It was on sale for $129 and I figured it was too good a deal to pass up. Amazon promised two-day Prime delivery but they got overwhelmed by all the orders and, like many others, they botched mine and said I might receive it by end of year. At that point I decided it wasn’t meant to be so I cancelled and I’m glad I did.

I already have a couple of other terrific Bluetooth speakers and while the Alexa voice control feature is nice, I’m not convinced it’s worth $100+. It reminds me of dedicated GPS devices and fitness bracelets, both of which have been replaced by sensors in my phone.

Echo is more of a nice-to-have, not need-to-have, item for me, especially with its ability to turn news and other types of written content into streamable audio content. But I’m much more interested in a mobile solution, not one that sits on a countertop.

Like GPS and fitness devices, Echo’s main functionality will also eventually find its way into the phone itself. The reason I’m prefer a mobile solution is that I spend a lot of time in my car where I use the Bluetooth feature of my radio and phone to listen to podcasts, music, etc.

The Echo platform becomes very attractive to me when it’s nothing more than an app on my phone that plays through my car radio. The app handles all the speech command conversion via the cellular connection, the same way the streaming content arrives.

This app doesn’t have to be free, btw. Charge me $5/month or something close to that and I’ll gladly pay for the option to “play news” and other commands in my car.

Where this really gets fascinating is with longer-form content and the ability to use voice commands to annotate and highlight audio books, for example. Whether it’s in my car or at home, it would be nice to finally have the ability to do more than just listen to an audio book. For example, when I hear a noteworthy passage, I’d like to be able to say “pause”, “highlight last two sentences”, “add private note to highlight saying ‘this is something I should pass along to the marketing team’”, etc.

Take it a step further and integrate my email app so that rather than just making that verbal note to pass along to marketing, let me say, “create email to Joe Smith at company.com, subject ‘key discovery’, body is highlight, send.”

Let’s say you’re listening to that book and you hear a phrase, person or location you’re not familiar with. The app should have the ability for me to say, “pause”, “tell me about phrase/person/location” and the app responds with the appropriate audio stream (e.g., top Google search result, Wikipedia entry, etc.)

All my audio highlights and annotations must be searchable, by voice as well as text. In fact, let’s add the capability to integrate all these highlights and notes into Evernote so I can keep everything in one place.

Amazon might be happy selling $100+ voice-controlled Bluetooth speakers today but the real opportunity is with a fully mobile, app-driven solution that integrates with a broader number of content sources and streams. We’re not there yet but by combining voice control and streaming audio the Amazon Echo platform is starting to show us what’s possible down the road.


A vision for making ebooks more engaging

Light-bulbs-1125016_1920I’m convinced we’re still in the very early stages of ebook evolution. The current print-under-glass model works great for some books but long-form digital content has so much more potential.

The market will ultimately move beyond the only option readers have today of consuming dumb content on smart devices. Content enrichment is one way forward but neither authors nor publishers have an appetite for the effort required to add video and other web elements to their books. And before anyone suggests that I’m trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist, let me once again say that some books are just fine with the print-under-glass model. But there are plenty of books and genres that would benefit from digital enrichment and those are what we need to focus on.

If the manual process isn’t viable, how can we use technology to our advantage to take this content to the next digital level? I propose an automated solution, one where auto-tagging, text analysis and search results all play a role.

Here’s how it would work:

  • The ebook contents are analyzed by an enrichment tool where key phrases, names, locations, etc., are identified and tagged,
  • Those tagged elements are then viewable by the reader when they tap the screen in their reading app; the service remains completely invisible to readers who don’t wish to use it,
  • When the reader taps on one of the tagged elements a pop-up menu provides the opportunity to dive deeper on that topic with links to video, audio, maps, web pages, etc.; all of this is fed by the application’s preferred search engine (e.g., Google, Bing, etc.),
  • The reader is then able to take that deeper dive, pin links to the page for future reading and share their favorites with other readers of the ebook.

Because this vision integrates web elements with the book it requires an active internet connection. If the reader is offline they’re still able to read the original print-under-glass version of the book.

The video below is a quick walk-through of how this concept is presented to the reader. As you watch it, remember the intention here is to develop a front-end content analysis/parsing tool that tags and builds all the linkages, so no work is required by the author or editor. Also note the opportunity to create new income streams for the publisher and author via paid and sponsored link campaigns.


Ebook sample subscriptions and automation

Censorship-610101_1920Each time I finish a book I end up going through the same inefficient process: I head to Amazon and a couple of other sites to look for other titles on similar topics that might interest me. I usually find several candidates and then I go through the equally inefficient process of requesting samples for those ebooks.

Why is it that I can subscribe to dog food for my three basset hounds but I can’t subscribe to ebook samples? This is an opportunity not just for retailers like Amazon but for publishers as well.

As I’m browsing a book catalog, either a retailer’s or a publisher’s site, a seemingly endless list of titles and covers are presented to me for consideration. Once I find one that looks promising I should be able to click once and have the sample sent to me. That assumes I have an account set up on the site, of course, but if you’re browsing a catalog you probably have log-in credentials there; if not, it’s a terrific opportunity for the retailer or publisher to encourage you to create an account.

Since I tend to read books on a narrow range of topics why not let me subscribe to new samples in each of those areas? Retailers and publishers, push the sample content to me and quit waiting for me to come to you.

I get a kick out of back-of-book ads that promote related titles at the end of an ebook. Those are nice solutions for print, especially when you have a few blank pages at the end of the last signature. They’re next to invisible in an ebook though. Here’s a better idea: add info about a couple of related titles inside the ebook, maybe between a couple of chapters. Don’t disrupt the reading process, hence the suggestion to message between chapters, but please feel free to let me know I’m getting close to the end and that I might want to consider a follow-up title, especially if you’re going to give me an extra discount as an owner of the first title.

What I’m ultimately suggesting here is to think about applying some technology and automation to the ebook sample distribution process. And as I’ve said before, make sure you’re sending those samples in a totally DRM-free format and one that encourages sharing via email and social channels.

Anyone who has been reading my articles over the years knows that samples are a hot topic for me. Long ago I suggested that ebook samples are one of a publisher’s most underutilized marketing assets. What’s changed since I first started hyping the ebook sample opportunity years ago? Pretty much nothing. Now that I’m back in a publishing role I plan to take my own advice and make sure that we’re getting the most out of our ebook samples. Stay tuned as I’ll be sure to report on our team’s progress in the weeks and months ahead.


How “Send to Kindle” can help neutralize Amazon

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 10.52.39 AMPublishers who sell ebooks direct to consumers typically do so in EPUB format. That’s because most publishers are still wedded to the false sense of security DRM provides and EPUB offers a popular DRM solution. Contrast that with Amazon’s format, MOBI, where Amazon is the only company who can apply and manage MOBI’s DRM’d files and settings.

A former colleague of mine and I used to get a kick out of reading the many painful steps readers are forced to go through when buying DRM’d EPUB files direct from publisher websites. It’s not uncommon for the process to require more than a dozen steps to proceed from buying to reading. Most of the process has to be endured once again if the consumer decides to start reading the same book on another device.

Click here or here to see the many hoops one must jump through to install DRM’d EPUB ebooks on one device as well as read them across multiple devices. It’s no wonder when you search for help on the topic the most popular links aren’t how to manage the process but rather how to remove the DRM and eliminate the associated headaches.

More and more publishers are starting to realize that DRM is pointless but they’re still missing out on one of the biggest opportunities of all: Putting their DRM-free ebooks into a reader’s Kindle library.

It’s no secret that Amazon dominates the ebook marketplace. Most readers have built a substantial Kindle library and the last thing they want to do is create a new library outside the Kindle ecosystem. They simply want all their books in one place.

Amazon’s Send to Kindle functionality has been around for quite awhile and I believe it’s one of the most underutilized services available to publishers. The Send to Kindle email option lets publishers push non-DRM’d ebooks directly onto a consumer’s Kindle bookshelf. I’m sure it was originally designed for documents other than ebooks but I think it’s time for book publishers to take advantage of it for their ebooks as well.

In addition to simply selling EPUB or PDF ebooks, why not provide readers with the MOBI version and push them directly onto their Kindle devices and apps? All you have to do is ask the reader for their unique Kindle email address and then have them enable inbound emails from your domain. Once that’s in place you’re able to place the ebook on their shelf just like Amazon does.

Once you’ve established that direct relationship with the consumer and their Kindle account, why not ask them if they want to opt in to receiving future related ebook samples from you? They’ll no longer have to search for similar books from your list as you’ll be able to automatically push samples to the reader’s Kindle bookshelf as they’re published. Take it a step further and make your samples available via this service 30 days before they’re available anywhere else. Get even more creative and offer a random free ebook prize to some number of lucky winners every month. There are plenty of ways to make Send to Kindle work for you and your customers.

It’s all part of creating a compelling reason for readers to come to you, the publisher, rather than always relying on retailer partners. Used wisely, the Send to Kindle service can help neutralize Amazon’s dominance while also helping publishers establish a better direct relationship with their customers.


What’s your mobile, snackable content strategy?

Snacks-1025396_1920Last week I highlighted some of the more interesting findings reported in a document Google published called Micro-Moments: Your Guide to Winning the Shift to Mobile. This week I want to focus on a couple of other important points in that document as well as provide an example of how publishers need to leverage the mobile opportunity that awaits them.

In my earlier article I mentioned Google’s stat about searches for video how-to content. The search giant said the year-over-year growth rate for how-to videos is 70%. So despite the fact that YouTube is hardly a new sensation it’s clear the momentum for how-to solutions is with video, not written content. After all, would anyone dare claim that how-to written content is growing by at least 70%?

Here are two other noteworthy stats in Google’s document:

  • On page 14 they state that 48% of smartphone users are more likely to buy from companies whose mobile sites or apps provide instructional video content.
  • On page 22 we learn that, when in stores, 82% of smartphone users turn to their devices to help them make a product decision.

Last week I asked you to consider how your brand performs on keywords searches that are vital to your business. Now let’s narrow that down and ask the same question specifically for an in-store mobile experience. My guess is your brand is nowhere near the top of the results and even if it is it probably doesn’t deliver a short, effective mobile-optimized solution.

In the publishing world we often focus on print vs. digital and how digital will one day replace print. Recent trends indicate that the digital shift has slowed and ebook momentum has plateaued, for example. I tend to agree with Bookshout CEO Jason Illian who points out that we’re actually on the same trajectory other technologies have experienced and that we’re currently sitting in what Gartner refers to as “the trough of disillusionment.

If so, what should the publishing industry do as we await the market’s advancement to the next stages on Gartner’s curve, “the slope of enlightenment” and “the plateau of productivity”? I suggest we stop framing print and digital as mutually exclusive and focus instead on how digital can complement print (and digital).

As an example let’s use the print edition of the best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. (I picked this one simply because it’s currently #1 on Amazon’s bestseller list but the same model I’m about to describe could be applied to a wide variety of titles and genres.) According to Amazon, the author offers 200 pages of advice on how to “declutter homes into spaces of serenity and inspiration”. My loving wife has often referred to me as a hoarder, so I’m sure I could learn quite a bit from this one…

I’m not sure I could force myself to read 200 pages on decluttering. It would be a long and slow effort but here’s what could make it more interesting and engaging: a mobile companion that provides inspiration and bite-size nuggets of tips to guide me on my decluttering journey.

The publisher could offer a free mobile app that complements and also serves as a marketing and discovery tool for the book. First the reader sets a goal of how fast they want to read the book. Maybe it’s spread out over a four-week period. The app also asks the reader if they want to opt into either push messages in the app or text messages to their phone; either way, the goal is for the app to provide the reader with tips on how to act on what they’ve already read as well as provide a preview of what’s to come in the next section of the book.

The key is to focus on mobile presentation and consumption. That means short bursts of content, much of which is probably 20- to 30-second videos.

This model offers the following benefits:

  1. It enables the publisher to establish a direct relationship with all their otherwise anonymous readers. The publisher features the free companion app on page one of the book and the quick registration process enables publishers to make the direct connection with their readers.
  2. The app helps make the book more engaging for readers, likely leading to a higher rate of success as they declutter their world.
  3. It serves as a gateway to discovery of the book itself. Since the publisher gives the app away it helps market the book by providing tips and techniques, the details of which can only be found in the book itself. Think of this as the next generation of the book sample.

As I mentioned earlier, this solution works well for a book on decluttering but that’s just one example. And notice that I positioned the app as a companion to the print edition. It also complements the ebook, of course, but my point is to show how print and digital can work together.

Give some thought to the type of content you produce. Can you envision a model where a digital companion delivers the three benefits I outlined above?


Maximizing mobile micro-moments

Girl-925284_1920Google recently published a document entitled Micro-Moments: Your Guide to Winning the Shift to Mobile. You can download the PDF here. It’s a quick read and worth a close look.

I’ve long felt the publishing industry is too focused on simply delivering the print experience on digital devices, something often referred to as “print under glass.” That strategy has created new revenue streams over the past 10 years but it’s not the end game. Mobile represents opportunities for new methods of engagement and discovery; that’s precisely what Google’s document outlines with plenty of interesting stats.

For example, the document notes that “we check our phones 150 times a day” and then reminds us that each session is barely a minute long. That might be an average length but I’ll bet the mean is even shorter. How often do you pull your phone out for only a quick, 10-20 second peek at your email inbox or news? That’s probably my typical session length and based on what I see around me I’m confident it’s the case for plenty of others as well.

So what about that oft-used scenario of pulling the phone out to read an ebook while standing in line at the grocery store? That’s clearly something publishers fantasize about but consumers rarely, if ever, do. It’s more info snacking and short, bite-sized pieces of content that are consumed in most of these mobile sessions.

That trend isn’t changing anytime soon. As the Google doc states, in the past year mobile sessions have increased 20% while session time has decreased 18%. We’re shifting from longer desktop sessions to shorter mobile sessions.

Google asks this very important question: How does your brand perform on keywords searches that are vital to your business? Don’t just focus on search results ranking, btw. You may appear at the top but does the resulting link take a visitor to a terrific mobile experience? Responsive design is part of that but the more important point is that the destination page is constructed with content or a call-to-action perfectly designed for those 10-20 second mobile session bursts.

What does a great, mobile-optimized destination page look like? For one thing, it’s probably a single screen requiring no scrolling on even the smallest of phones. If you can’t deliver on that promise you need to focus on giving the visitor a reason to provide their email address for more details. Again, everything should be designed for an extremely short user session.

On page 8 Google says that that video how-to searches are still on an extremely steep growth trajectory. They’re up 70% year-over-year and far from plateauing. Your business is probably built around written content, but if you’re in the how-to space you’ve got to think about how to remain relevant as more solutions are discovered via mobile searches and delivered in video, not written, format.

Take a few minutes to read and highlight elements of Google’s report. There’s a lot of terrific information here and I guarantee it will both inspire you as well as force you to think about the importance of reframing your brand around mobile. There’s so much here, in fact, that I want to revisit the document in next week’s article. So stay tuned for part two where I’ll highlight several other important points as well as share a use-case for how mobile can complement, not replace, print.


When will content truly become mobile?

Mobile-605422_1920After 7+ years of working remotely from my home office I recently started a new job with a daily commute. It’s actually quite an enjoyable ride and I originally planned to make it even better with a variety of mobile/audio content. Podcasts were at the top of my list but I also figured I could finally dive into audio books and a variety of text-to-speech solutions.

Mobile content has been a hot topic for years so I figured the options would be endless. Boy, was I surprised. My car has all the modern navigational bells and whistles but it seems the most cutting-edge mobile content feature is Sirius radio, a technology that’s now almost 15 years old.

Satellite radio is nice but is that as good as it gets? Since Sirius puts their receivers in most new cars I’m wondering if the publishing industry has missed an opportunity to create a new distribution channel. Why aren’t audio books and other digital content products available via satellite radio? Yes, I realize satellite focuses on broadcasting, not narrowcasting, but surely there’s bandwidth available to send individual packets of content like an audio book to an individual receiver. That content could then be stored locally and played back at the driver’s convenience.

You could argue that Bluetooth is the solution to this problem. After all, I can buy an audio book on my phone and listen to it in my car via Bluetooth. I’d rather see a service directly integrated with my car’s in-dash system though so I’m not fumbling around with both the dashboard display and a phone. Sirius could represent an entirely new distribution partner. (What’s more likely to happen is that Amazon will eventually make its way into your new car’s touchscreen and their dominance will be extended yet again.)

Audio books probably aren’t the right solution for me after all though. I’m still reeling from sticker shock after surveying the audio book landscape. You’d have to be pretty committed to the book and format to pay more for the audio edition than you’d pay for the print edition. I thought the unlimited monthly subscription platforms might be an alternative but they have too many restrictions. Scribd is a great example. I’m limited to one audio book per month so it’s really unlimited for ebooks but very limited for audio.

I get it that most audio books incur a high production cost, especially if they’re read by a celebrity author. But why does the author have to be the audio talent? In fact, do we really even need human voice talent to create the audio editions? If you haven’t recently explored the text-to-speech world you’ll be amazed at the current capabilities. We’re no longer limited to those tinny, lifeless monotone streams, so why not automate the text-to-speech conversion without the need for pricey audio talent?

Here’s a radical idea: Sell the all-in-one edition where my print purchase also includes the ebook and audio formats. We’re seeing the beginnings of this with alternate format add-ons like Amazon’s Audible narration and Kindle MatchBook; the former brings audio to the ebook and the latter provides a discounted Kindle edition if you’ve already bought the print version. Let’s make things simpler though and stop hoping consumers will discover these tiny add-on links on the Amazon product page. Publishers should sell the all-in-one edition directly, and perhaps exclusively, giving consumers a compelling reason to buy direct.

The untapped mobile opportunity goes beyond books. In fact, I think there’s an even bigger mobile opportunity for short-form content. For example, why don’t newspapers and magazines offer audio editions? They seem to think the “digital” version of their content is limited to website articles and print replica editions. Yes, some of the replica edition platforms offer text-to-speech but not a complete, mobile audio experience.

Periodical publishers should ask themselves this question: what would Steve Jobs do? I’m pretty sure for starters he’d offer a full audio edition, structured in playlist format enabling the consumer to simply say “next” or “listen” as the app reads each of the headlines to you. Today’s audio options are simply grafted onto the written edition and not offered in a mobile-optimized format.

Many of these periodical publishers continue losing brand relevance with the younger generation. I wonder if a better mobile audio solution could help them reverse that trend.

For now my commute is limited to a variety of podcasts and one-off audio feeds and I’m left asking this question: Can we really call it “mobile” content when there are still this many gaps?


Kindle Instant Preview reinforces Amazon’s dominance

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 3.51.46 PMEbook preview widgets have been around for quite awhile but when was the last time you saw one on a blog or website? I can’t recall the last one I saw but I’ll bet that’s about to change.

Amazon recently released their Kindle Instant Previews widget and it does what its name suggests. In short, this tool makes it incredibly easy to embed or share an ebook sample on a web page or via email. The fact that it’s offered by the biggest ebook platform on the planet means it’s well positioned for success.

The sample below showcases the Kindle Instant Preview widget with one of my favorite books, The Innovator’s Dilemma.

It’s simple yet quite powerful. Most authors want to push their sales towards Amazon to help boost rankings there. Now authors will be able to place samples directly on their site, encouraging visitors to explore their content without ever leaving the site. Kindle Instant Preview also lets you add your Amazon Associates ID so you’ll be able to earn income from purchases generated by the widget.

As simple and effective as this widget is, there’s at least one key feature that’s missing. Some website visitors will have the time to read an entire sample while they’re on your web page but many won’t. The widget offers a “Read in Kindle App” button that opens the sample in the Kindle app on your device. I don’t want that though as I’ll probably discover the sample while browsing on my laptop but I don’t have (or want) the Kindle app installed on my laptop. Amazon, the king of “one-click buy” should add a “one-click send” option to push the sample directly to my Kindle app or maybe even my email inbox where I can read it later.

Given the popularity of free titles, especially the first one in a series of other paid titles, I’m wondering how liberal Amazon is with their definition of “sample.” Since the book is free I could see where an author might want to offer the entire book as the sample. If so, they could then enable visitors to read the entire book on their website. Again, that’s only for visitors who have the time to read an entire book on a website, but perhaps a few creative authors will find ways to encourage this sort of behavior.

No matter how this service evolves, one thing is clear: It only helps Amazon further increase the reach and dominance they already enjoy in the book industry.


My 2016 ebook marketplace hopes and wishes

Sylvester-1097596_1920Rather than speculate on what might happen in the ebook sector this year I thought it would be wiser to simply list the developments I’d like to see. So although some, and perhaps all, of these are a long shot, here’s my short list of hopes and wishes for the ebook market in the New Year:

Less DRM – Publishers continue to be their own worst enemy with digital rights management. It’s part of what makes it so hard for publishers to create an effective direct channel and it provides nothing more than a false sense of security. As I’ve said before, if a reader really wants to unlock and share an ebook there are a number of freely available DRM-removal utilities that are just a few clicks away. Plus, most readers have no idea where their mobi and EPUB files are stored on their devices; those who do know the location probably already have a DRM-removal tool on their computer.

Better direct-to-consumer options – Once a publisher abandons DRM it suddenly gets much easier to create a frictionless direct-to-consumer (D2C) solution. And of course I’m not suggesting publishers should abandon retailers. But it’s time for publishers to diversify their channel strategy and focus more on the one channel they have 100% control over: their D2C channel. As I’ve said before, don’t assume “if you build it, they will come.” You need compelling reasons for consumers to buy direct (see here, here and here, for example).

New, sustainable unlimited ebook subscriptions – My Oyster subscription expired a few days ago, consistent with the sunset plans Oyster announced a few months ago. Oyster itself is about to expire soon, the victim of an unsustainable business model. The all-you-can-read subscription model is not dead though. I’m convinced the way forward is with topic verticals such as sports, religion, cooking, etc. They need to offer more than long-form book content and they need to focus on building community. Think “membership” and the old AMEX line, “membership has its privileges.”

Better notes and annotations, outside the book – I’ve read quite a few ebooks over the years and I’ve highlighted a lot of passages. I’ve also added notes to several, but not as many as I should have. The reason I haven’t annotated more is because I know those notes are stuck inside the book. I want a quick and easy way to export my highlights and annotations, collate them into other documents and make them fully searchable. For example, I’d love to see ebook applications embrace Evernote functionality, making it super easy to sync all my highlights and annotations to an Evernote folder.

I hope we see progress on all of these fronts in 2016 and I hope that the New Year is a wonderful one for you, your family and your organization.


The ebook value proposition problem

Money-256319_1920My youngest daughter asked for a Harry Potter boxed set for Christmas. As I wrapped the heavy, bulky package I kept wondering why she didn’t opt for the ebook collection instead. On Christmas morning I learned why: each title in the boxed set comes with a new cover. Actually, they were supposed to have new covers but we got the wrong box, so the heavy, bulky package is about to be returned.

My daughter reminded me that ebooks are often inferior to print books. In this case, she values the ability to showcase her collection, something you just can’t do with ebooks. When we finally get the right set I’m sure she’ll smile every time she looks at the box on her shelf.

Let’s compare that to the ebook experience. My collection is a library buried deep within my iPad. When I look at my iPad I don’t smile…I just wonder if it’s fully charged for the day ahead. And although services like Goodreads can fill the digital void and help you show off your print and ebook collection, I stopped logging books there years ago; Goodreads can never replace the serendipity and conversation-starter capabilities of a physical bookshelf.

DRM and publisher pricing models also often make print more attractive than e. DRM prevents me from sharing a book with a friend or passing it along to a family member when I’m finished with it. Also, the the new agency pricing model means that consumers often only see a small savings between the e price and the print price. In some cases publishers are asking consumers to pay almost the same price for the e edition which clearly has no COGs, comes with plenty of restrictions and offers nothing more than a print-under-glass experience.

In short, most ebooks suffer from a value proposition problem. To address this situation publishers need to rethink their digital value proposition and invest in innovation.

Regarding value prop, publishers need to understand who is buying their content and how it is being used. For example, if the ebook is simply a digital alternative to the print version, offering nothing more than a print-under-glass experience, they might want to consider employing the digital companion model I described last week.

Innovation is where the real future opportunity lies though, and I’d like to illustrate that with a product that seemed to reach the end of its innovative life long ago maps.

Remember when GPS devices became affordable several years back? They brought an end to wrestling with enormous maps that required an origami degree to fold back into their original state. Then smartphones hit the scene and their built-in sensors made dedicated GPS devices obsolete. Google Maps on your phone showed you where you were and gave you turn-by-turn advice on how to reach your destination. It seemed as if there were no more innovation opportunities for maps…and then Waze arrived.

Waze brings the power of community to mapping and navigation. Thanks to Waze I see real-time warnings for debris on the road, stalled vehicles on the shoulder or congestion to avoid. Before I hop on the interstate I make sure Waze is up and running. And because Waze is community-based I try to be a good community member by contributing as much information as I consume.

The next time you think about your digital content strategy, try to avoid looking at everything through the simple, restrictive lens of print-under-glass. If maps can continue to evolve I’m quite certain books will as well.


Using ebooks to connect with indirect customers

Colorful-791927_1920Low website traffic and a lack of existing customer engagement are some of the most common reasons book publishers aren’t pursuing a direct-to-consumer (D2C) model today. They’ll point out that almost nobody comes to their site, so they question the value of investing in a D2C solution.

That’s a great point and one that shouldn’t be ignored. But it’s also a problem that can be solved and it starts with leveraging the indirect business every publisher participates in today.

I’ve suggested before that each book a publisher sells, print and digital, should include a prominent message to consumers encouraging them to connect directly with the publisher. I’m not talking about those lame “register your purchase with us” pleas that offer no meaningful benefit to readers. Just as you have to offer consumers a compelling reason to buy direct instead of from Amazon, you also have to give them a compelling reason to stop by your website and start a dialog with you, the publisher.

One bold way to do that is to offer the free e-edition of the book a consumer just purchased from a retailer. Let’s say you just bought a print book from a retailer but you also like to read ebooks in the Kindle app. Would you be willing to give the publisher your email address in exchange for them giving you the Kindle edition of that same book for free? I would.

Here’s how it would work… When I open my print edition I see this message on the very first page: Thanks for buying this book. Please visit whatever.url.com to get details on the free Kindle edition awaiting you.

Readers go to that web address and are asked to scan and email the receipt from their print purchase. They’re also asked to provide two email addresses. One is for future promotional e-mailings from the publisher and the other is the unique email address Amazon provides every Kindle customer; there’s an opt-in process for both, of course, so publishers can only send messages and ebooks after consumers have agreed to receive them.

If you’re not familiar with the Amazon-generated email address it’s something you should familiarize yourself with. It’s a terrific way to quickly send files to your Kindle app/device for future reading. For example, the Kindle app on my iPad mini uses this email address: joewikert_49@kindle.com. I’m fine sharing that with the world because Amazon also offers a simple way of preventing spam being sent to that address: In order for emailed content to make it onto my device I first have to approve the sender’s email address. So the opt-in process from the publisher says something like, “Be sure to enable messages from whoever@url.com in your Kindle settings.” Once that’s in place the free content can be sent and will automatically appear on the customer’s device.

You’re probably wondering about the authentication process. How do you prove a consumer really bought the book before you send them a free e-edition? As I mentioned, you ask them to scan and send their receipt. That requires someone on the publisher’s end to verify, of course, although I could see a programmer creating a fairly simple app that automates most of this verification step. Till then it’s something an intern or other resource would need to handle. You’ll also want to filter out the scam artists who digitally modify one receipt after another to game the system. Perhaps a limit of X books per year per email address is built in till you’re comfortable with the volume and flow of redemptions.

As you process these requests you’re building your direct email list and opening countless new marketing doors. For example, why not turn this into a way of delivering future ebook samples directly to consumers? Let them select the topics, authors or genres they prefer and use the send-to-Kindle functionality to push samples of new books before they’re published. In fact, make it more special by providing the samples direct to consumers days or weeks before the sample are available anywhere else. Maybe this becomes part of a larger membership program consumers can join.

Finally, in order for this to work the ebook (mobi) files have to be sent in a DRM-free format. After all, the only way an ebook can be DRM’d in the Kindle ecosystem is for Amazon to lock it down. If that scares you, consider this: Anyone who wants to dig into their device’s Kindle folder to find and share unlocked mobi files is more likely to simply grab a tool like Calibre and break the DRM on their entire ebook library. DRM provides publishers with nothing more than a false sense of security so it shouldn’t be the reason to ignore this opportunity.

It’s time for publishers to start leveraging all those indirect sales and establishing a direct relationship with their customers. This is simply one way of accomplishing that goal and I hope it leads to more D2C experimentation in the industry.


Whatever happened to innovation in the publishing industry?

Creativity-819371_1920Remember the excitement surrounding the launch of Amazon’s Kindle eight years ago? It was a clunky device, even by 2007 standards, but it was revolutionary. One of the original Kindle’s breakthrough features was the ability to download books via cellular network. The eInk display and extremely long battery life also led to its popularity despite the device’s hefty $399 price tag.

That was eight years ago and it’s hard to name even two or three other innovations that have had as significant an impact as the first-gen Kindle. Sure, the iPad was noteworthy but it didn’t exactly reinvent reading. And while today’s devices are faster and cheaper than yesterday’s they feature incremental improvements, not groundbreaking innovations.

The same can be said for all aspects of the digital publishing ecosystem, not just devices. The most interesting development over the past few years is probably the all-you-can-read subscription model. But any momentum there has been halted as Oyster is about to disappear and Amazon’s offering has no Big Five content. FWIW, I still believe in all-you-can-read models but only if they’re focused around a topic/genre and they avoid the unsustainable business model that crushed Oyster.

Why has there been almost no innovation in the book publishing industry since the original Kindle?

As I meet with publishers I hear a lot of conservatism and anxiety in their voices. Many are just trying to survive revenue shortfalls and staff downsizings. They’re also afraid of doing anything that might be perceived as a threat to the key retailers.

I believe most publishers are relying too much on the industry leader, Amazon, to also serve as innovation leader. Given that books (print and e) represent less than 10% of Amazon’s overall revenue I’m not convinced they’re motivated to innovate. Amazon is more focused on building other areas of the business and not so much on the book industry they currently dominate. They want to protect and grow their book market share, of course, but I doubt they want to pour a lot of money into reinvention breakthroughs. Amazon didn’t invent the all-you-can-read model, for example; they simply launched a service in reaction to Oyster and Scribd.

This is why I’ve always been a huge fan of the startup community. But it seems as though there are fewer and fewer new, interesting startups in the publishing space. Perhaps it’s because techies see more upside in other industries or maybe they too are afraid of getting squashed by the dominant player. Whatever the reason, there seems to be less startup innovation focused on publishing than ever before.

One interesting development on this front is the Ingram Content Group’s 1440 accelerator program. It’s great seeing an industry leader like Ingram stepping in to help drive and encourage innovation. I plan to keep a close eye on the startups who make the 1440 cut and I hope other publishers and leaders in the publishing ecosystem will work to support and develop similar initiatives.


Solving discovery with better content marketing

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 9.39.30 AMAsk a publisher to tell you the biggest challenge they face today and you’ll get a variety of answers. I know because I’ve been asking publishers for quite awhile now. I also made sure I posed the same question to the 20+ publishers I met with at the recent Frankfurt Book Fair.

Although the answers vary there are a small number of popular responses. One of the most common ones is simply “discovery”. Publishers are concerned that their content will never rise above all the marketplace noise.

One of the keys to addressing discovery is to focus on where consumer eyeballs already are. Facebook is a terrific example. As the planet’s largest social media network it represents an enormous opportunity for content discovery and consumption.

But go to any publisher’s or author’s Facebook page and what do you see? Mostly timelines with tips, comments and observations. Many authors that I’ve spoken with tell me that they’re trying to quickly redirect Facebook visitors to their personal websites where they have more control over things like sharing content samples with prospective customers. These same authors tell me they realize they manage to get far less than 100% of those Facebook visitors to click through, so many visitors leave without ever sampling the author’s content.

Other publishers and authors tell me they love it that they have tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of Facebook likes, but they don’t see any way to engage more deeply with those fans. As one author put it, “most people probably simply like my page and never come back.”

I’m pleased to announce that the Olive Software team, where I’ve had the pleasure of working since 2013, has come up with a way to help publishers and authors make their Facebook pages more engaging. And while it’s not limited to Facebook, let’s start there…

For a live example of this, check out best-selling author Valorie Burton’s Facebook page. It looks like a lot of author Facebook pages, right? One key difference is the “Read FREE Sample” button in the page’s nav bar. Click it and you’ll be taken to this view of her page; there the timeline has been replaced by a sample of her blockbuster hit, Successful Women Think Differently.

Rather than asking visitors to jump to another site or go through a multi-step process to download her sample, Valorie now lets them experience it right there on her Facebook page. And thanks to Olive’s SmartLayers capabilities, we were able to quickly add a call-to-action at the end of the sample where readers can buy the book from their favorite retailer.

I mentioned this capability isn’t limited to Facebook. Olive’s platform presents content directly in the browser, so there’s no app to download and no plug-in to install. That means the same sample widget you see on Valorie’s Facebook page can also be docked on an author website, on a publisher’s catalog page and even right inside the message body of an email marketing campaign. That’s right, publishers can now embed their ebook samples in email messages and not force readers through a bunch of multi-click gymnastics before they can even experience the content.

This solution goes well beyond samples, btw. A couple of publishers I’ve shown it to noted how they could resurrect some of their older, long-tail titles by publishing them in a serial fashion on their website, Facebook page and elsewhere. Their plan is to put the first chapter up one week, then replace it with the second chapter the next week, etc. They see this as a way of encouraging readers to visit their website or Facebook pages regularly, not just clicking a like button and never coming back.

It’s time for publishers to revisit the discovery problem, this time, applying tools like Olive’s Dynamic Book (ODB) application where content can be placed directly inside the pages and platforms where prospective customers are spending all their time.


Why the “smiling curve” has publishers frowning

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 9.30.33 AMAre you familiar with the “smiling curve” phenomenon? The details are provided here, but the short explanation is that a smiling curve depicts the value-add potential for each stage of an industry. For example, in the publishing space, you have three stages of content: creation, delivery and discovery. Those three stages are illustrated with a smiling curve here as part of a terrific article from Ben Thompson of Stratechery.

Note the y-axis in that graph. It represents value, so the stages with points higher up the y-axis generally add more value to the overall ecosystem. That graph indicates two stages with high value-add (creation, discovery) and one with low value-add (delivery).

Creation and discovery rank high because they’re capabilities that are extremely hard to copy. Sure, the self-publishing movement has resulted in a glut of authors, but how many are actually making money? How many have created a brand name for themselves they can leverage every time they release a new book?

The graph indicates Google, Facebook and Twitter are some of the more well-known discovery players. Thompson’s article focuses mostly on the newspaper industry but if you add Amazon to the list of discovery players the piece applies just as well to book publishing.

The key point is this: Publishers have considerably less industry and market leverage today than they did 20 years ago. Once upon a time book publishing was built around a scarcity model and publishers thrived. Digital disruption generally eliminates (most) scarcity. The resulting abundance completely destroys yesterday’s business models and forces most players to reinvent themselves to remain relevant. Those at the bottom of the smiling curve are at the mercy of those who rank higher on the y-axis.

In his article Thompson suggests that AT&T is “trying to stave off their inevitable future as a dumb pipe between valuable content and valuable devices”. Sounds very similar to the position book publishers find themselves in today, doesn’t it?

So how does a publisher climb out of the trough of the smiling curve? It’s easier said than done but I believe it comes down to publishers placing significantly more emphasis on what they do best.

For example, has your organization truly distinguished itself by being the best at finding and nurturing new author talent in a particular topic area? What would have happened to those authors without your team’s discovery and development efforts? If you truly believe your organization was the game-changer for these authors then you need to emphasize that capability and make sure every new author in your space is aware of it.

That’s one approach for dealing with the left side of the curve but what about the right side? If you’re wildly successful dealing with the left side you might not have to worry about the right side. But let’s face it. Most publishers aren’t really that great at the left side so they need to pay attention to the discovery element.

Is it even possible for a publisher to play a significant role in discovery? Some publishers would suggest they rely on their channel partners (e.g., retailers) to take care of this. These same publishers have a marketing and PR team though. They all have websites and most of them tend to utilize social media and email marketing campaigns, so I’ve got to believe they want to play a role in discovery.

The problem is most publishers only apply a half-hearted approach to discovery. They might even offer a full e-commerce solution on their site but then they wonder why nobody comes to buy. The problem is they don’t offer consumers a compelling reason to change their buying habits. It can be done though and I offered some advice in a recent article here.

Most publishers desperately want to preserve yesterday’s scarcity-based business model but what they really need to do is acknowledge and embrace abundance, be willing to cannibalize yesterday’s revenue stream and focus on what really defines their brand for both authors and consumers. If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to read The Innovator’s Dilemma and think about how it applies to your business and the discovery challenge.