Previous month:
January 2010
Next month:
March 2010

4 posts from February 2010

Three Questions as I Head for Tools of Change (TOC)

Picture 1It's time for our Tools of Change (TOC) conference.  I'm heading to NY and an looking forward to taking in as many of the sessions as possible.  Before I head east though, I thought I'd share a few industry-related items that are on my mind:

Where are all the in-app purchase/subscription apps for the iPhone?  This was supposed to be one of the major features of an iPhone OS update last year, so how come I have zero apps using the model on my iPhone?  I'm sure some apps with this functionality exist, but how obscure are they?  Where are the big magazines and newspapers?  I use the free New York Times app but I'd gladly pay for a feature as simple as sending me the entire edition (as opposed to forcing me to retrieve each article separately).  I've purposely avoided renewing some print magazine subscriptions, figuring apps are right around the corner.  Wrong!  What an enormous missed revenue opportunity.

iPad: To buy, or not to buy?  Several friends and family members have asked me if I plan to buy an iPad.  My answer: If you're in the publishing business, can you really afford not to buy one?  I waited about 8 months to get a Kindle and, despite the fact that I'm now abandoning that platform, I wish I would have bought one sooner.  Owning both a Kindle and an iPhone has enabled me to appreciate the user experience and think more about what features are useful, missing, etc.  I figure the iPad adoption rate will be higher than the Kindle's but lower than the iPhone's, so how much sense does it make to sit on the sidelines for this one?

What can we learn from radio?  Owning an iPhone causes you to wonder even more about the future of radio.  I'm not talking about the fact that the device holds all my music.  I'm talking about the radio apps that make the clunky thing on your nightstand or in your car dash seem so old-fashioned.  One good example is AOL Radio, which lets me listen to stations I can't pick up with an antenna.  But while you could argue that radio is dying, use of these apps indicates the content is finding a new way to customers, many of which are well outside the station's traditional reach.

As this USA Today article notes, "Those high-powered smartphones that can access the Web from virtually anywhere may be the best thing that's happened in years to one of the oldest and most beleaguered of traditional media: radio."  I find myself listening to more radio now than ever before, but it's almost always from my phone.  If stations are smart, they'll build apps that do much more than just tune in to the live broadcast.  Why not offer recording capabilities too, turning my iPhone into a TiVo for radio?  What lessons from the radio might apply to the book publishing business?

Speaking of radio, I was an XM customer until a year or two ago.  I loved XM at first, mostly because it allowed me to go well beyond the limited AM/FM offerings here in Indiana.  I was hooked for a couple of years and then tossed it aside, partly because I discovered so many better alternatives on my iPhone.  Sound familiar?  That's pretty much what's happened to my early fascination with the Kindle.  Is the Kindle our industry's XM Radio?

Audio Footnote

Picture 2 On the surface, it's just one of more than 140,000 apps available for your iPhone/iPod Touch.  That's what I originally thought of the Audio Footnote app (iTunes link), but as I played around with it I saw so much more potential.

Footnote lets you record audio notes while you listed to audio books or podcasts, for example.  Simple enough, right?  Think about how something like this could be extended in so many other ways though.

Why limit yourself to audio products?  What about e-books?  Wouldn't it be nice to be able to record audio notes while you're reading that how-to guide?  Then there's the textbook angle.  Imagine something like this being available to students so they could "make a note" right in their e-textbook; the note is spoken, not written.  Take it a step further and imagine the student being able to record the portion of their teacher's lecture that relates to this particular page or section of the book.

This functionality requires audio input, of course.  Gee, there's yet another feature Amazon hasn't considered for their Kindle family.  Doh!  Apple is on top of it though as even their upcoming iPad has a microphone.

Although I think the Footnote app is pretty cool, I worry that it's a feature that would be extremely easy for all reader app developers and device makers to add to their core products.  If they do, I hope they think of all the other features that could also be added.  Social networking is an obvious one.  Maybe you'd like to tweet a few of your notes.  A more impressive feature is one that collects all your notes into a separate audio study guide, something you could listen to during the daily commute or even share with (or sell to) other students.

Even if you don't have an iPhone/Touch you owe it to yourself to check out the Audio Footnote website or watch their demo video that I've embedded below.  If you come up with additional feature ideas I didn't think of please be sure to share them with the rest of us!

Audio Footnote Demo from Eric Granata on Vimeo.

eReaders & eBook Prices

Picture 2I considered opening with a snarky comment about the Nook ereader.  Something about how it's destined to be the RC Cola of ereaders seemed appropriate.  And when I went looking for a graphic to insert, guess what I found?  Amazon is actually selling the Barnes & Noble device on their own site!  Whodathunkit?

Nevertheless, how would you like to have been B&N these last couple of weeks?  There you are, trying to get some enthusiasm for your newly-released Nook while Amazon is fighting for any sort of attention amidst the biggest announcement in years: Apple's iPad.  Good luck with that.  It kind of makes Borders look smart for staying on the sidelines and merely reselling the Sony Reader.

I came across a number of interesting articles this week and I wanted to share them here along with my thoughts on each:

Gizmodo says $9.99 ebook prices are dead.  I an extent.  The agency model is a good way to put the brakes on Amazon's race to the pricing bottom but as an industry we've got to get beyond simple print-to-e conversions.  Let's add value, people.  Otherwise, $9.99 might be the high end of what consumers will pay.

Mike Nash leaves Microsoft for Amazon's Kindle.  Boy, I can't wait to see how this one plays out.  It gives me hope that maybe, just maybe someone at Amazon will finally have a sense of urgency about moving the Kindle platform forward.  If it seems like a long time ago when Amazon wowed everyone with Whispernet and eInk it's because it was.  Not much has changed on that platform since November 2007 but maybe Nash can turn it around.

As $9.99 ebooks evaporate, the Kindle will suffer, or so says Adrian Kingsley-Hughes.  He makes some good points in his article, but I'm still wondering about Amazon's tactics.  Ever since they started selling $9.99 ebooks at a loss I figured they would eventually come back to publishers armed with loads of data to show why the industry needs to adopt that pricing model.  After all, how long was Amazon planning to lose money on these sales?  And if they wanted to make a compelling case, they should have taken it not just to publishers but to the public in general.  That never happened and the iPad has already dealt a serious blow to Amazon's upper hand in all of this.  This seems like an enormous strategic blunder.

Although it took Amazon more than 2 years to even consider building an app store ecosystem like the one that's made the iPhone a runaway success, maybe there's still hope for the Kindle platform after all.  Jared Newman offers up these 8 Kindle apps he hopes to see.  Yes, even a one-trick pony like the Kindle can benefit from add-on applications.

P.S. -- I've already mentioned that I'm ditching my Kindle for the iPad.  That means I'm also completely stepping away from my Kindleville blog.  Paul Higginbotham has done a great job running Kindleville for the past year or so and I'm looking for others who might want to join him in that effort.  In the mean time, stay tuned for what I plan to do in the not-too-distant future on the iPad front...

Why Publishers Should Jump on the iPad Bandwagon

IpadThe worst-kept secret in recent tech history, Apple's iPad, was unveiled last week.  Some folks were wowed by the announcement while others were left asking, "is that all there is?"  I was somewhere in between.

A buddy called me that day and said he bet Jeff Bezos was..., well, requiring an undergarment change.  I told him I doubted it.  Not because the iPad won't have a significant impact on the will...but because Wednesday's announcement was the confirmation of something Amazon, like the rest of us, already knew about.

I'll get to the Kindle effect in a moment, but first let me say why I think every publisher on the planet should warm up to the iPad.  One word: Pricing.  Not device pricing but content pricing.  Ever since the Kindle arrived in late 2007 Amazon has led us on this downward path to lower and lower prices.  On the one hand, I don't blame them for this.  After all, we, the publishers, are the ones trying to build a significant business around quickie print-to-e conversions.

Amazon has been more than an accomplice in this regard though as they've developed a device that discourages and effectively prevents publishers from enriching their content offerings.  Two plus years into the life of the Kindle and they're just now announcing plans to open the platform to third-party developers?!  Are you kidding me?  Did they not notice that the App Store is one of the keys to the iPhone's success?

Compare the functionality of the Kindle to what the iPad will offer.  Look at the rich content opportunities the iPad presents.  Your newspaper won't just be a lousy text feed with a few grayscale images; it will be full color with video and audio built in.  Your travel guide won't just be some static black-and-white rendering of the full color print edition; the iPad will bring it to life with the type of imagery you'd expect and probably some you didn't even anticipate.  And how about your how-to guides?  No longer will they be quick conversions from print format.  They too will have all sorts of other types of video and audio content to make the job easier.

All this means we won't have to lower the price because customers feel they're getting print content with no added value.  In fact, the current model also typically loses the option to resell or pass along to a friend.  All that, along with the fact that customers realize there's no cost of goods or returns exposure for the publisher, is why Amazon has us all contemplating a future of $9.99 ebooks.

That model will still exist but Apple offers a different one.  The Apple model only differs if publishers are willing to make the investment in new forms of content, not just the written word.  If you're not willing to experiment with video or audio, for example, upside from the Apple platform will be limited for you.  Just remember that other publishers, as well as a whole bunch of start-ups, will be experimenting in this space, so watch out!

Btw, I don't mean to suggest that the iPad is guaranteed to become a runaway hit.  It's not the device I'm enamored with as much as the capabilities the device represents.  Others will undoubtedly mimic it and offer similar functionality at a lower price.  And while some consumers will stick with the Kindle platform, the way forward is one with full color, video capability and a connectivity option that's built for more than just downloading books.  (Seriously, have you ever tried doing any sort of web browsing on a Kindle?)

Here's something else to keep in mind with the iPad: It's not just an ereader.  Whereas the Kindle is a one-trick pony, the iPad enters the game with more than 140,000 other uses.  OK, I've only got a couple dozen of those apps on my iPhone, but that's roughly a couple of dozen more things than I can do on my Kindle!

None of this is a surprise to Amazon though.  Why do you think they created the Kindle iPhone app last year?  I'm sure that tool will let you read your Kindle books on the iPad, so at least we won't feel like total idiots for supporting the closed Kindle platform.

As much as I originally wanted the Kindle to succeed I'm extremely disappointed with Amazon's lack of innovation.  They're still well-positioned to be an econtent player, if not the leader, but I don't see them being dominant on the device front now.

I've got a tip for Mr. Bezos & Co. if they plan to remain committed to the eInk approach: Go for the low-end of the market and offer a sub-$100 dumb device that tethers to your smartphone for connectivity.  Dump the Whispernet service and the hardware required to support it.  Everyone has a cell phone, so leverage their existing service instead.  A sub-$50 option would be even better.  Do you think they could sell a few $49 MiniKindle's with this configuration?  I do, and they'd still be able to sell all the content they want.

FWIW, I'm currently planning to get an iPad when they're available.  I'll probably go with the mid-range 32-Gig model with wifi only.  I spend most of my time in one hot spot or another, so I don't see any reason to pay for the hardware or monthly fee on a 3G plan.

As for my Kindle, well, that's about to become a hand-me-down.  My wife said she'd like to try it out.  I doubt she'll have any interest in taking over my Kindleville blog though.  Kindleville has been largely ignored the past several months, so if you know anyone who plans to stick with Amazon's platform, ask them if they're interested in becoming the Kindleville custodian!