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28 posts from November 2007

Coming Soon: Dynamically Generated Ads in PDFs

AdobeFile this one under "what took them so long?"  According to this article on InfoWorld.com, Adobe is working with Yahoo to create a system where publishers will be able to dynamically embed contextually relevant ads in PDF files.  It's like AdSense for PDFs.  Brilliant.  This will give publishers of all shapes and sizes many more options to consider when distributing their content.


My Favorite Bookstore

Union_square_2Anytime I'm in the New York City area I always make a point of stopping in at the Barnes & Noble store in Union Square.  It's a book-lover's paradise.  Floor after floor and shelf after shelf...it seems like it never ends.

On this particular visit I noticed something different: This store now has several touch-screen kiosks that help you find what you're looking for.  OK, maybe that's not so revolutionary.  After all, Borders has offered this sort of thing for quite awhile, but I've always missed it when searching through a Barnes & Noble store.

The B&N kiosk not only lets you search the store and bn.com, but it also prints out all the information you need about a given book in a nice receipt-like format.  For example, I did a quick search for our Blogging Heroes title.  It's not in the store yet but the kiosk created a handy little printout that tells me when it's due in and, my favorite feature, a list of related titles I might also be interested in.  As my shopping buddy and Sybex Publisher Neil Edde said, "it's like 'Amazon in your pocket."  I hope they roll out these kiosks across the entire chain.  Very helpful and handy.


Wiley to Launch Fisher Investments Press

FiThe big announcement out of the home office in Hoboken today is the Fisher Investments Press deal.  Wiley's business publishing program continues to grow by leaps and bound under the leadership of Joan O'Neil, the group's Vice President & Executive Publisher.  This particular announcement is exciting because it results in an entirely new line of books with Fisher Investments.  That name probably sounds familiar because it's an extremely well respected investment management organization led by Ken Fisher, author of Wiley's best-selling The Only Three Questions That Count: Investing By Knowing What Others Don't.

The first title,10 Roads to Riches, is due out in 2008.  Congrats to Joan and her team for forging this exciting new Press alliance!


The Wonderful World of Widgets

Cogs_2To paraphrase the famous line from The Graduate, "I've got one word for you: Widgets!"  If you need a nice reminder that widgets are the future, particularly in the world of content, read this article in this morning's USA Today.

Several book-oriented widgets currently exist but we're only scratching the surface of what can be done with this technology.  I use LibraryThing's widget on my blog.  If you hover your mouse over one of the covers in the left panel you'll find a link to that book on Amazon.  That's nice, but how about adding content access?  Wouldn't it be cool to add some functionality and have that same widget cycle through a few excerpts from the book?  Just hover over it and a pop-up appears showing a few sentences.  Want more?  Click on a set of horizontal arrows that will take you through all the excerpts the publisher wants to make available.

That's still pretty rudimentary.  How about making it more interactive and customizable?  Let's say I'm reading one of those books on a Kindle.  Shouldn't I be able to highlight a passage and have it added to the content I'm able to show via my widget?  Yes, the publisher would probably want to cap the amount of content someone could use for customized excerpts...or would they?

Better yet, let's say I'm reading that same book on my Kindle and I come across a paragraph I want to send to a friend.  With a few quick clicks I select the excerpt and send it off to them along with a note saying, "I immediately thought of you when I read this."  The excerpt shows up in your friend's e-mail in-box along with a cover image and link to buy the book.  Is there any better advertising than that?!

Take that last example a step further.  Let's say both of you are using the iRead app on Facebook.  One future option would be to enable your friends to post book excerpts and comments on Facebook.  So in the previous example, there would be a box you could check to automatically have this book, the excerpt and your comment posted on their Facebook page.

As the USA Today article notes, "there's no limit to what widgets can do."


Andy Grove on Big Companies vs. Startups

PortfolioI haven't been overly impressed with Conde Nast's Portfolio magazine but this article from the latest issue is a very worthwhile read.  It's written by Andy Grove and it talks about the opportunities Grove sees for large companies.  Everyone talks about how startups can be more nimble and focused, as outlined in Clayton Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma, one of my all-time favorite books, btw.

Grove's article offers somewhat of an anti-Innovator's Dilemma point of view.  As Grove puts it, "In looking at various companies that have been hindered by their own success, we found that under certain conditions a firm can create a new growth spurt for itself by entering an entirely different industry."  He calls it "cross-boundary disruption" and uses Apple's decision to invade the music industry as Exhibit A.  OK, I buy that one, but his next example is Walmart and health care.  Huh? 

Sure, I've seen the mini-clinics they've set up in many of their stores but can Walmart really become a disrupter in the health care industry?  This seems like a major branding message issue to me.  It wasn't that long ago that Walmart's tagline was "Everyday Low Prices."  That's great when you're looking to buy motor oil or milk, and it might even work for a flu shot or a quick checkup, but is that really the message you're looking for at your doctor's office, the person who might be making life and death decisions for you?

In all fairness I see Walmart has changed their tagline to "Save Money. Live Better."  That's a subtle shift from "Everyday Low Prices" and it might help avoid the branding conflict I'm talking about.  Regardless, I wonder how many people will still equate Walmart with "low prices" no matter what tagline they use.  Then again, I suppose the old joke is still true: What do you call the person who ranks lowest in their med school class?  "Doctor."


Print Is Dead, by Jeff Gomez

Print_is_deadGiven Amazon's recent release of the Kindle ebook reader, the timing of Jeff Gomez's Print Is Dead couldn't be better.  Regardless of your beliefs about print vs. e-content, you need to read this book, especially if you're in the publishing business.  You might not agree with Jeff's opinions but I guarantee you he'll make you think about the industry in ways that you've never thought about it before.  Even if you're just a fan of reading in general you owe it to yourself to read this excellent book.

The way I test the value of a book is by looking back and seeing how many times I've folded over a page or highlighted a passage that got my attention.  My copy of Print Is Dead has so many folds and highlighter marks that it looks like it's been read by 10 different people.  Here are some of my favorite excerpts:

Many of those in publishing see themselves as guardians of a grand and noble tradition, so much so that they sometimes suffer delusions of grandeur.

...pretty much anyone under the age of thirty qualifies for being accustomed to a 'constant stream of digital stimulation.'  And so to expect future generations to be satisfied with printed books is like expecting the Blackberry users of today to start communicating by writing letters, stuffing envelopes and licking stamps.

Today's kids are not going to want to pick up a big book and spend hours in a corner silently, passively reading.  Why in the world would they do that?  It's not interactive.  They can't share the experience with their friends.  There's no way to change the book to suit their own tastes.

The publishing industry needs to realize this, and it needs to also find a way to get to these kids by making content available in a way that will first reach them (i.e., digitally) and then will give them the tools to interact with it and share it (post excerpts on their MySpace pages, email chapters to friends, IM paragraphs across class, etc.)  If not, there are dozens of ways this generation will choose to spend their time, and none of them will involve books.

Of course there are many who contend that books are works of art and shouldn't be reworked or touched at all.  The latter is of course a silly view since readers 'rework' these books all of the time by skipping whole sections as they read, the same way that people rarely ever listen to the entirety of "The White Album."

The ability to alter, and then share, text to this degree would mean that you could edit a book to your own liking and then send an amazing chapter or even a couple of sentences to someone, via email or a webpage, along with a message that says, 'Take a look at this; I think it's amazing.'  Imagine all of the sharing of literary material that would occur if the reigns were loosened just a little.

Most of the early ebook formats and devices tried to faithfully mimic the ink-on-paper experience, and they failed not because they didn't look like real books, but because they looked too much like traditional books.

In the same way that Jimmy Buffett has created a multimillion dollar business around the success of his 1977 song 'Margaritaville,' so too will future authors create online communities and brands built around their works that have the potential to be even more popular than the works the communities were built to support.

Writers who are unskilled in the ways of the Internet, or just don't want to play any part in the online discussion and want to write their books and be left alone, will be like movie actors at the end of the silent era who were forced to have elocution lessons when talking pictures were suddenly the brand new thing.

If publishing can't find a way to tap into this need for discussion, then it's going to find itself and its product increasingly left out of the conversation.

...one day (perhaps soon) a printed book in a digital world will seem as quaint and as antiquated as a watch or a fountain pen feels today.

It's simply not possible that the Internet is going to have an effect on every area of our lives except reading books.

If I had to rank the 12-15 books I've read this year this would be #1 by far.  It's extremely insightful, well written and is one of those gems that makes you stop and think.  I've only hit some of the highlights in this post.  You need to read the entire book to appreciate the vision Gomez has for print and e-content.  Highly, highly recommended!


Kindle eBook Pricing

Money2 In the midst of the Amazon's new Kindle device debate there's one key item that doesn't seem to get much coverage: the price of the ebooks.  Yes, $400 is way too much for a monochrome dedicated reader, no doubt.  It's the early adopter model though and you can bet Amazon knows that mass appeal will require a much lower price along with many more features.  Let's assume they get they address all that in version 2.0 or 3.0 down the road.  How do you feel about paying $9.99 for an ebook?

Given that most of the bestsellers currently available for the Kindle retail for more than $20 in print, I'd say $9.99 is an excellent price point.  It's like the 99-cent per song model that Apple established several years ago: Easy to remember and, more importantly, it feels like a bargain when compared to the print price.

Of course all books aren't $9.99 on the Kindle list.  I had to look long and hard before I finally found a book over $9.99.  In fact, I gave up after page 10 of the search results.  They're out there though.  For example, the Computers & Internet list has plenty of them: 7 of the top 10 are more than $20 and 2 of those are over $30.  Then again, the first real computer book on this list is only #1,377 overall so it's not like early adopters are buying the Kindle for computer book reading.

On the other end of the spectrum, how about $3.50 for Dale Carnegie's classic How to Win Friends and Influence People?  $3.50?!  The paperback edition lists for $14 and Amazon sells it for $11.20, so how could you resist buying the ebook for $3.50?  Most people will figure it's a book they should read and now they can get it for less than a cup of overpriced coffee.  Long tail titles like this one will benefit greatly from the Kindle, assuming they maintain the sub-$5 price point.

Speaking of interesting models, are you familiar with the Amazon Upgrade program?  For the tiny sum of $2-$3, Upgrade gives you immediate access to the online version of the print book you purchased earlier from Amazon.  It's a nifty way to overcome Amazon's lack of instant gratification.  Upgrade is an extension of the Search Inside feature so it's not like you get an ebook version for your computer; you need a live Internet connection to use this service.  Now that the Kindle is a real product, how long will it be before Amazon integrates it with the Upgrade service?  Think of all those books you've bought from Amazon over the years.  Would you pay a sub-$5 per title fee to get Kindle versions for some of them?  I would.


The Rejecter: A Publishing Blog with an Attitude

RejectI can't remember when I first discovered this blog but it's one I'm enjoying more and more each week.  It's called The Rejecter and it's written by an assistant at a literary agency.  As she notes (and yes, the author is a "she", at least according to the blog's profile), "I am the first line of defense for my boss. On average, I reject 95% of the letters immediately and put the other 5% in the "maybe" pile."  The blog's subtitle is "I don't hate you. I just hate your query letter."  Gotta love the attitude!

I'm a big fan of sarcasm but you might be put off by the snarky comments.  Don't be.  This blog is loaded with great info.  For example, here's an excellent post covering the financials from the agency side of the business.  If you've always wanted to take a peek at the world from an agent's point of view, this is the blog for you.


A Hands-On Review of Amazon's Kindle

KindleOriginalipod_3 No, of course I don't have one of these devices yet...and neither do most of the people hyping/bashing it across the blogosphere today.  That's why when I finally came across an initial review that was written by someone who actually has a Kindle I thought I ought to call attention to it.  Maybe you can avoid reading all the speculative posts that I've been fighting through this afternoon.

Here's an insightful first look at the Kindle from Joseph Weisenthal on paidcontent.  The bottom line: It sounds like a typical version 1.0 product, which means it has a number of flaws but could also be an interesting device at the 2.0 or 3.0 stage.  Kindle is no iPod, that's for sure, but put an original iPod next to the iPhone and think about how much that product has evolved in six years.  Now look at this first-generation Kindle and consider the possibilities...

P.S. -- Mike Hyatt was one of the first to buy a Kindle and offers this review on his blog.  He also talks about why Amazon was uniquely qualified to take e-content to the next level.  Mike reviews the product as both a publishing executive (President and CEO of Thomas Nelson) and a typical consumer.  Very insightful.


Become a Best-Selling Author -- Audio Toolkit

Bestselling_author_2Despite my best efforts I realize there are quite a few questions about the publishing industry that I haven't addressed on this blog.  When I was recently approached by an organization who sells a CD-based audio product called Everything You Need to Know to Become a Best-Selling Author, I was skeptical at first, but I wondered if all the answers might be included.  Over the course of the past few weeks I managed to listen to all 10 (yes, 10!) CDs in this product.

The result?  I'm extremely impressed with the depth and breadth of the information covered in this package.

The product was developed by Scott Jeffrey, author development coach, and a fellow who simply goes by the name "Dr. X"; the latter's bio says he's head of "one of the ten largest publishing companies in the U.S.", he started in publishing 25 years ago and has been an agent as well as the author of two New York Times bestsellers.  The audio content is presented in an interview format which helps keep things interesting, especially when Jeffrey and Dr. X have different points of view on a subject.

If you're skeptical like I was but you're curious to learn more about the product, go to this link for some audio samples.  You'll find an extensive list of the topics covered and questions answers on this page.

If you're thinking about buying this you need to know in advance that this product requires a significant commitment.  First of all, it's not cheap.  (More on that in a moment.)  Secondly, you need to invest the time to listen to all the CDs.  I managed to do so while riding back and forth to work but it required about 2-1/2 hours of my recent drive to Chicago to knock out the last 3 or 4 CDs.  Finally, you'll quickly discover that Jeffrey and Dr. X not only provide wisdom on the industry's inner workings, but they also tell you everything you need to do to maximize your results; IOW, you'll find there's a lot more work involved than just writing the actual manuscript.  You need to be willing to get your hands dirty, wear a lot of hats and follow their advice.

Once you've taken a closer look at what this product has to offer, if you decide to buy the package you can do so via this link.  As you'll see on that page, the product normally retails for $295 but it's currently on sale for $195.  (Or at least that's the price as of today since it's subject to change.)  That's still a serious commitment, but I think you'll be pleased with the product.  If you do wind up purchasing it I hope you'll come back later and share your opinion of it here on my blog.

In the interest of full disclosure, the link in the last paragraph includes an affiliate ID that will be used and credited for any sales that result from this blog post.  If you look at any book links to Amazon that I include on my blog you'll find that I include my Amazon affiliate code for those as well.  I'm certainly not getting rich from any of this but I want to make it clear that I'll earn a commission if you use that link to buy this product.