Previous month:
March 2011
Next month:
May 2011

5 posts from April 2011

TOC Sneak Peek Webcast Series

Toc2011_logo It's hard keeping up with all the newest tools and technologies in the e-publishing space.  That's why we're introducing a new Sneak Peek webcast series as part of Tools of Change (TOC).  The details are here, but I can sum things up by saying that Sneak Peeks are short presentations of upcoming e-publishing products and services.

Each webcast will feature a behind-the-scenes look at 3-4 of the most interesting startups we've come across...before their products go live.  That's right.  We're working with these all-star startups in pre-release phase, so you're likely to be one of the first to see the specifics when you attend one of these free Sneak Peek webcasts.

The first one is happening in a few weeks, so stay tuned for more details.  In the mean time, two of the slots have already been filled but we're currently evaluating other startups for the first webcast.  If you're part of an e-publishing startup with a cool technology at the pre-release stage, email me and I'll make sure the TOC team contacts you for possible inclusion in this webcast series.

Short Form Content...with Depth

Best biz books ever Have you ever heard of a title called The Best Business Books Ever?  I recently downloaded the Kindle sample and started reading it.  It offers a very short (2-3 page) summary of of more than 100 popular business books.

The model is highly formulaic.  The following elements summarize each book:

Why Read It?
Getting Started (main themes)
Contribution (most important points)
Context (immediate reaction and long-term significance)
For More Information (bibliographic info)

So in a couple of minutes you get a very good idea of what makes that book special.  I'm finding I typically have one of two reactions to each summary: I either want to know a bit more on certain pieces, but not the entire book, or I have no interest in reading anything further from it.  The former is happening more frequently than the latter.

These book summaries highlight the opportunity for what I've referred to before as "content layering".  Think of each of these summaries as the highest-level content element.  What's missing is the ability to drill down deeper into any piece.  So if I've read the summary for The Art of War, I might walk away feeling this Contribution element (as noted above, the one that highlights the most important points) doesn't go far enough for me.  I'd like to dig in and read excerpts from the original book; not the entire book, just the pieces that appeal to me in the summary.

So why not take an approach like The Best Business Books Ever and add a back-end to it that lets the reader connect to the original work, accessing whatever pieces they're most interested in?  A nice pay-as-you-go model would work well, so you get the top-level summary for free but then readers pay per page or chapter to read the rest of the book.  Btw, based on what their website says, it looks like ValoBox offers the type of pay-as-you-go functionality this model would require.

Thanks partly to society's shorter and shorter attention span, short form content's future is bright.  Bite-sized nuggets are sometimes all it takes to communicate a concept.  But for those situations where the reader wants more, a pay-as-you-go content model on the back-end of the summary is a pretty enticing option.  It's similar to how we can now just buy the tracks we want and we're not forced to buy the entire album.  There are plenty of books I'm sure I'd like to read pieces of but I'd prefer to start with a free summary to help me understand which pieces I'm willing to pay for.

Ads in eBooks Are a Good Thing. Deal with It.

Kindle Ads Amazon is introducing an advertising component to the Kindle platform.  I love it.  Kudos to Jeff Bezos & Co. for their forward thinking on this initiative.  I'm talking about the less expensive ($114) device currently known as "Kindle with Special Offers & Sponsored Screensavers."  (It's not the sexiest name but it certainly describes the product!  Still, I wonder what Apple would have named this...)

I've blogged before about how advertising and its close cousin, sponsorship, will take on a larger role in the ebook world and most people have criticized that logic.  They say "books aren't magazines", "the book reading experience needs to remain free of ads", blah, blah, blah.

Why?  What makes books so special?  More importantly, who's to say there can't be two flavors of a book?: One without ads (higher-priced, for purists) and one with ads (lower-priced, for everyone else)?

Before I get too far ahead of myself, I need to point out that what Amazon introduced with this new Kindle isn't what I'm describing.  They're not talking about including ads in books.  Yet.  At this point, all this new device offers is a slighly lower price ($25 less), periodic offers from Amazon (e.g., a discount on an Amazon Gift Card) and "sponsored" screensavers.

Wait a minute.  I recently bought a $139 Kindle without Special Offers & Sponsored Screensavers and now I feel gypped.  So I paid $25 more and I won't get any of these nice discounts Amazon plans to offer owners of the new Kindle?  That stinks.  I wonder if they'd let me opt in after the fact.  Seriously, this makes no sense.  They should let all Kindle owners opt into this program, not just the ones that paid less than the rest of us.

I know prices are always subject to change but I really wish Amazon would have initially priced this new device at $99 or less.  As soon as the Kindle gets below $100 they'll have a mass market hit on their hands.  I can't believe I'm saying that, particularly since I gave up on the Kindle a year ago.  Amazon has done some smart things since then though and this is just one example.

Don't think this new Kindle is the furthest Amazon plans to go with ebook advertising though.  They're playing it smart by taking one small step at a time.  There's no point rushing into this, but one day ads will be presented as splash screens when you open an ebook and even somewhere on the screen as you read.  It's OK.  The world isn't going to stop spinning on its axis when this happens.  We'll all be fine.  In fact, this model will put more content in front of more people than could have been reached without advertising.  That's a good thing.  And if you want to pay more to avoid ads I'm sure that option will exist (just like it does today, where you can pay $25 more for a "regular" Kindle.)

Here's where it all gets very intriguing: Will Amazon (and other retailers) compensate authors and publishers for this advertising/sponsorship income?  I'm not convinced they have to, but think about the revenue-sharing models this could present.  Amazon could ask for additional discount points from a publisher and offer that publisher a cut of the advertising/sponsorship income.  Interesting.

The Photographer's Eye iPad App

Photographer's eye I'm about as far as it gets from being a professional photographer.  I have an old point and shoot camera but the one I use most is the one in my iPhone.  I've never taken the time to learn how to take better photos and it shows in my results.  I've got loads and loads of mediocre pictures despite the fact that sometimes I'm shooting some pretty breathtaking scenery.

I recently downloaded an iPad app called The Photographer's Eye.  It's the digital edition of one of the better selling photography techniques books.  At $24.99 it's certainly one of the more expensive iPad apps you'll come across.  Trust me when I tell you its worth every penny.

I've seen quite a few print-to-app conversions over the past year or so and they generally either (a) don't even try to take advantage of the digital platform or (b) try way too hard to use the platform and are full of forced video and audio content.  The Photographer's Eye is definitely one of the better conversions I've seen as it features loads of truly valuable content you'd never find in a print book.  None of it feels forced and all of it is well worth checking out.

You can, of course, simply read the written content from front to back as you would the print edition and skip the dozens of enhancements available in the iPad app version.  I guarantee that you'll find the digital enhancements irresistable though.  And unlike a couple of other book apps I've recently tried out (who shall remain nameless), the digital extensions in this one are well integrated; heck, you'd almost think the author built the digital edition first.

Two of my favorite features in The Photographer's Eye are the side-by-side and overlaid visuals.  It's easy to show do's and don'ts in a print book, but The Photographer's Eye makes use of the digital presentation by letting you touch icons next to certain images to see either other ways of capturing them or overlays that help reinforce the accompanying how-to.

The product lends itself to dipping in and out wherever you need help.  Curious about cropping techniques?  There's a highly effective two-page spread in chapter one you can use without having to read all the content that preceded it.  The same goes for pretty much every other topic covered in the app.

In just the first 15 minutes I spent with this app I learned at least 4 or 5 new techniques.  That's why, even though I'm the ultimate app cheapskate, I think $24.99 is a reasonable price for this one.  Look at it another way: The print book itself sells for $29.99, so you get all that content and much more for $5 less when you buy it as an app.  Highly recommended.

Why DRM Is Like Airport Security

While flying home from Bologna for our TOC event I couldn't help but think about some of the similarities between digital rights management (DRM) and airport security.  Here are a few common points that come to mind:

False sense of security -- Seriously, does anyone today still believe any DRM system is hackerproof?  Heck, even books that have never been legally distributed in any e-format are out there as illegal downloads.  Just Bing the phrase "harry potter ebook downloads" and you'll see what I mean.  Scanners are everywhere, so if physical books can be illegally shared what makes you think a DRM'd title will never appear in the wild?  On the airline side, I feel like we're always focusing on the last attack (e.g., underwear bomber, shoe bomber, etc.) and not focusing instead on what the next idiot will try.

Treats everyone like a criminal -- It's hard not feeling like a convict when you're going through airport security or coming back through immigration/customs.  The assumption is you're guilty till proven innocent by way of xray machines, full-body scans and patdowns.  On the book side, the fact that I can't treat my ebook purchase like I can my print book ones (e.g., can't be resold or lent to a friend indefinitely) makes me feel like the retailer and publisher simply don't trust me.

Highly inefficient -- DRM is such an enormous waste of time.  The only players coming out ahead are the DRM technology providers!  I now have two Kindles and an iPad.  In order to move content from one to the other I have to go through Amazon so they can make sure I'm not breaking the rules.  What if I don't have a web connection at that moment?  I'm stuck and can't shift that book from my battery-depleted iPad to my Kindle.  What's wrong with just connecting the two devices via Bluetooth?  Not an option.  And look at the crazy lines at the airport as well as the inconsistencies from location to location (e.g., take your shoes off here but not there, remove your iPad here but not there, etc.)

Introduces silly limitations -- The best airport example is the simple bottle of water.  Remember the good old days when all you had to do was take a swig of your water bottle to show TSA it's a harmless liquid?  I miss those days.  Here again, the bottled water industry must be laughing all the way to the bank as we toss half-full bottles on one side of security and then have to buy new ones on the other side.  In the book world DRM means that lending a copy, something easily done in physical world, comes with way too many restrictions in the e-world (e.g., two-week max, can only be done once in the life of the title, etc.)

OK, I admit that I don't have a solution to offer the airline industry.  I don't want to board a plane with a terrorist any more than you do.  A pilot friend of mine made an interesting comment about this awhile back though.  He pointed out that one of the results of 9/11 is that passengers are no longer willing to be helpless victims.  The shoe and underwear bomber events are examples of just how true this is.

IOW, passengers are stepping in to fill the holes that will always exist in even the best airport security system.  I suggest we follow a similar approach but take it a step further in the publishing world: Eliminate DRM and trust our customers to not only do the right thing but also ask them to turn in anyone they see making/offering illegal copies.