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11 posts from June 2005

Grokster, Cable and The Supreme Court

I’m still trying to determine the likely results of two Supreme Court decisions today on P2P file sharing and the cable industry. Although I initially worried about the Grokster loss on the former, I’m more puzzled by the decision on the latter…

OK, so Grokster loses and all P2P systems are now considered guilty until proven innocent. Maybe. I’ve been following a Grokster Roundtable on The Wall Street Journal’s website (subscription required). John Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society and co-author of a brief that supported Grokster’s position had this to say:

Imagine you're the entrepreneur in your garage: can you figure out whether your new killer application will violate copyright's secondary liability rules? If not, you'll call your lawyer. Will she be able to tell you? My hope is that future courts will set the bar high, relying upon plain text readings of words like "purposeful" and "clear."

In other words, scare tactics on this front today will (hopefully) be offset by reasonable interpretation of this ruling's intent in the future. What sort of safeguards can a P2P file-sharing tool vendor put into the program to prevent, or at least discourage, illegal activities? The first one to find an answer to that question is likely to become the new industry leader, don’t you think?

How about the other technology ruling, the one about protecting cable companies and their broadband interests? The analogy often referred to is the one years ago when the phone companies had to lease their lines to competitors, resulting in intense competition, broader consumer choices and lower prices. What was so bad about that?! I’m dreaming of the day when I can tell my cable company I’m switching to another broadband provider. Instead, I’m stuck with them because I don’t want to switch to DSL just to get a lower monthly rate for a limited period of time. Why can’t we introduce true competition here and let the best company/plan win?


Books24x7

E-books and online accessible content have both been popular topics on this blog. While I wait for the perfect platform and device to arrive, I thought I would take a closer look at one of the more popular existing solutions: Books24x7.

Books24x7 has an impressive array of online content offerings for anyone in IT, engineering, sales, marketing and more. Unlike pure e-books which are delivered to you as a large file (e.g., PDF, Microsoft Reader, etc.), Books24x7 hosts the content online and you access it via your browser. They render the content using their own engine and present one small piece of a chapter at a time on screen. The platform supports full search and bookmarks, as well as the ability to annotate your bookmarks, a nice way to leave yourself a note for follow-up or later reference.

A typical subscription to one of the Books24x7 programs costs $399 per year, but corporate site license discounts are also available. New content and programs are constantly being offered. In fact, Book24x7 is about to launch a new program for our WROX line – watch for this one in late July…

If you’re not familiar with Books24x7, you should visit their site and sign up for a free trial membership.

(In the interest of full disclosure, Books24x7 is an important partner of my employer, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.)


Podcasting and New Music

I’m almost a week into experimenting with podcast downloads to my MP3 player. Although I have yet to find a tool that’s perfectly suited to my needs, I’m finding that even a manual loading process (from website to MP3 player) is pretty simple. More importantly, there’s loads of great content out there to choose from…

My favorite so far? The Rock Show from The Podcast Network. How can I not love a program with a tagline that plays off one of my favorite Spinal Tap moments (“This show goes to eleven”)?! Every week your host, Ewan Spence, plays the six most interesting, new songs from all the ones he’s recently received from up-and-coming bands. The result is a half hour of new, good, commercial-free music with minimal DJ introductions.

My colleague Jim Minatel likes to say that ever since I got my MP3 player I’ll never have to listen to any music made after 1979. Well, aside from the fact that very little good music has been made since then, I almost fell into that trap. Thanks to The Rock Show, I can listen to great new music every week without having to listen to those lousy DJ’s and annoying commercials. Oh, and did I mention that I haven’t listened to the radio for almost an entire month now? How did I survive before buying this MP3 player?!…


Author Tip: The Non-Compete Clause

Most publishing contracts include language to prevent the author from writing a similar book for a competing publisher. The language undoubtedly differs from publisher to publisher, but the intent is the same.

The language used is often very broad and general. Authors sometimes interpret this as the publisher trying to prevent the author from writing magazine articles or speaking at conferences on the subject. Nothing could be further from the truth. Both of those activities are likely to result in promotional opportunities for the book – publishers love that, of course.

If you, the author, feel the language is too broad, talk to your editor. Your editor probably has the ability to fine-tune the language so that the non-compete is very specific and more limited. For example, if you’re writing an entry-level tutorial on Visual Basic, the language could be tailored to allow you to write books on other aspects of Visual Basic. Your editor will probably want you to bring those future proposals to him/her, but if they build a good relationship with you that’s likely to happen anyway.

One other point about non-compete language: Authors sometimes ask why it doesn’t “cut both ways”… Shouldn’t publishers be obligated to not publish books that compete with ones they’ve already published? Sure. It only makes good business sense, especially in this challenging market. I’ve certainly been guilty of publishing too many books on the same topic for the same audience – I’m always trying to improve here, but I admit that it still happens from time to time.

Here is perhaps the most important part of this post: Before you ever sign that publishing agreement with your editor, ask them what other books they’re planning on this topic, how are they different from your book, etc. As a partner in this venture, you have a right to know what the full publishing list looks like. If the answer is vague or you feel there’s at least one other book that’s pretty close to yours, you might want to consider signing with another publisher.


iRiver AFT 100 Mobile FM Transmitter

After much searching and disappointment, I finally found a great FM transmitter for my MP3 player. I started out with a cheap-o, battery-powered unit I bought at Target. It only cost me $17 but it was a waste of money. It was one of those with 4 presets for the lower end of the FM dial. Sure, it worked every so often, but it faded in and out and sometimes had more static than a bad phone connection.

While searching for a better alternative, one of the clerk’s at Fry’s suggested I try the iRiver model. Great choice. I’ve had it now for a couple of weeks and I have zero complaints. There are three reasons why I love this thing:

  1. It doesn’t run on batteries. I was constantly replacing batteries in the cheap-o transmitter and always wondering if the weak signal was the result of fading power. This one plugs right into the cigarette lighter and has a cord long enough for any vehicle.
  2. It lets you use any FM frequency, not just the lower end of the dial. Can’t get a clear signal at 88.1? Try 93.7, or 98.5, or any other FM frequency. It also has 3 presets so you can lock down the ones that work best.
  3. As Steely Dan said, “No static at all”. OK, I’ve heard static once or twice over the past couple of weeks, but 99% of the time it’s crystal clear.

I haven’t listened to an FM radio station since sometime in May. With 3,400+ MP3’s to choose from and the iRiver FM transmitter for the car, I might never have to listen to “Bob & Tom” or any of those other knuckleheads again!


Customer Loyalty

I’ve been reading Michael Treacy’s Double-Digit Growth and recommend it for anyone running a business or having P&L responsibilities. In this book, Treacy outlines what he calls his “5 Disciplines of Growth”:

  1. Keep the Growth You Have Already Earned
  2. Take Business from Your Competitors
  3. Show Up Where Growth Is Going to Happen
  4. Invade Adjacent Markets
  5. Invest in New Lines of Business

I’ve read through the first three and found #1 and #3 the most interesting so far. The first point about keeping the growth that you’ve already earned has really sparked my interest. Treacy talks primarily about customer loyalty and programs to support it…which got me thinking…

How many publishers are really doing a good job building customer loyalty? Quality is “Job One” as Ford used to say (in their pre-Firestone/Explorer days). That phrase certainly applies to all industries though and is generally assumed to be a given. If you don’t offer quality products, how do you expect to build customer loyalty? With cheap prices? Maybe, but is that a long-term solution?

Part of the challenge is that most publishers don’t have a direct relationship with their customers. Most customer loyalty programs have to be conducted through a retailer. Should publishers be more aggressive in establishing a direct relationship with their customers? If so, what sorts of programs make the most sense? How about these:

  • Frequent flyer program – After you buy a certain minimum number of products, you get one free.
  • Premium content program – Access to a premium content site is offered for free or at a discounted price.
  • Bookclub program – Customers who promise to buy a certain minimum number of books over 12 months get a special discount on all of them.

Some publishers already do a good job of tracking and following-up with their existing customers. O’Reilly is a good example. Every O’Reilly book you buy generally has a blown-in registration card. I’ve received catalogs and e-mail blasts from O’Reilly in the past, most likely from a prior reg card submission.

Amazon is clearly a leader in building customer loyalty. They not only experiment with various programs, but they study the data and leverage the results. It’s one thing to launch something like the 3 programs I’ve listed above, but it requires a much larger effort to regularly analyze the data, use it to make improvements to the programs, etc.

I’m looking forward to reading Treacy’s next chapter on how to invade adjacent markets. I’ve always felt there are loads of opportunities with that strategy, especially in the computer book-publishing segment. In the mean time, what are your thoughts on customer loyalty and how publishers can do a better job building it up?


Google AdSense is NonSense

I tried it, “earned” a few bucks, but now I’m dropping the program. When I originally added Google AdSense to my blog I figured it might be a way to at least break even on the annual TypePad hosting fee. After all, how long should it take to earn $50 in click-thru’s? The answer: Too long, at least for the traffic levels this blog generates.

Here are the final results: I launched Google AdSense on March 7th and removed it on June 11th. During that period, there were almost 13,000 page views and 132 clicks. Here’s another tidbit that makes me question the value of AdSense, at least on my blog: quite of few of those clicks resulted in zero earnings. I understand Google tracks IP addresses and apparently doesn’t pay for clicks if they appear to come from someone who’s just trying to run up the click rate. That’s fair, but don’t you wonder if the advertiser still has to pay Google for those clicks? Does anyone know the facts on this?

Regardless of how the AdSense program is supposed to work, it only generated $16.61 in advertising earnings for me over the past 3 months. Google makes it very clear that they pay only on click-thru’s, not impressions. Nevertheless, I feel there’s a significant imbalance between the visibility I’ve been providing advertisers and the income I’ve earned. For the modest traffic levels The Average Joe generates, I think it would be better to use that space for something else. So, over the next couple of weeks I’ll work on adding more cross-references and archive information to the right column of this blog.

In the mean time, I guess I’m forfeiting my $16.61 in AdSense earnings. I’m pretty sure I had to exceed $20 in earnings before a payment would be made. Oh well. I’m hoping that by providing this information, it might help other aspiring bloggers decide whether or not they should try the AdSense program.


Podcasting, DotNetNuke & Photoshop

I finished loading up my new MP3 player with every CD I could find in my house. The darned thing has 3,400+ songs on it and I have almost 30 Gig of storage space left. I’m still going to look into one of those all-you-can-download song rental subscriptions, but in the mean time, I plan to dive back in to the world of podcasting.

I played around a bit with a couple of podcasts with iPodder on my PocketPC. It felt like a clumsy solution though and I quickly lost interest. Our group just published the first book on the topic, Podcasting: Do It Yourself Guide. I’m pleased to see it debut on the Amazon Computers & Internet bestseller list. I plan to start reading the book this weekend and test-drive some podcasts on my Creative MP3 player. By the way, I’m trying to see how long I can go without listening to FM radio. Thanks to the broad assortment of tunes that are now at my fingertips, I haven’t listened to the radio since late May…

Speaking of Amazon bestsellers, I’m also thrilled to see one of our newest WROX books, Professional DotNetNuke ASP.NET Portals on the list as well. As Jim Minatel reported over on his blog, the book has been very popular at TechEd this week.

Finally, now that Sybex is officially part of the Wiley family, it’s great to see Tim Grey’s latest book, Photoshop CS2 Workflow: The Digital Photographer’s Guide doing so well. It’s not only been a regular on Amazon’s list, it was #1 there for a few days there earlier this month. I got to speak with Tim today and welcome him to the Wiley family – he’s a terrific author with a great platform.


E-Book Platform Wish List: Dynamic Split Views

As I’ve noted in at least one prior posting, I’m a big believer in the future of alternative content distribution methods. (See Naba Barkakati’s blog as well for some interesting e-book posts.) The naysayer will tell you that e-books haven’t worked yet and they never will. I choose to believe we just haven’t built the content the right way and there’s no killer device…yet.

While I’d love to have the chance to influence the design of future devices, content is where I tend to focus. With that in mind, I’d like to suggest an element that would help create a winning formula: dynamic split views.

Let’s say you’re reading a book on Java programming. The way a printed book is designed today, you read some of the narrative text, which refers to a listing that may or may not be on the same page. Heck, the listing might not appear for 2 or 3 pages, or it might actually have been first referenced/shown much earlier in the chapter. The reader then has to flip back and forth to compare the code in the listing to the information in the narrative text.

This is a common shortcoming of a printed book, but something that can easily be overcome in an electronic one. Why not encode the e-book and have the reader application be smart enough to know when this situation arises? For example, when you scroll to that 3rd paragraph on page 52 that refers to the Java program, the screen could automatically split into two panes: the top pane still shows the narrative text while the bottom pane shows the listing. Both can be scrolled independent of the other. Better yet, why not have the key piece of code within that listing highlighted somehow (e.g., shade code lines 17-23) when that paragraph first appears on screen? Then as the reader scrolls down further in the narrative text, the listing scrolls too, highlighting the next segment discussed in the pane above.

This solution isn’t limited to programming books only. Why not use the same approach for any other type of book where screen shots, tables, illustrations, etc., are used? Again, just build in the logic so that the reader app knows what to show in the companion frame when each part of the chapter is being read.


Author Tip: Author Advances vs. Marketing Funds

I never really thought to compare these two items until I saw a note about it on the “Mad Max Perkins” BookAngst 101 blog. He cautions, “Beware publishers who boast of their marketing capabilities, and use it as a justification of their meager advances.” Amen.

I’ve worked at three different publishing houses and I’ve never seen a case where author advances and marketing funds were being pulled from the same financial bucket. Adding more to one shouldn’t really affect the other.

As I’ve noted many times before, my experience is with computer book publishing. If you’re faced with this dilemma on a different type of book, you could at least ask your editor/publisher some follow-up questions. For example, if they’re really going to offer you a lower advance to help fund marketing, what specific marketing initiatives are they planning?