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4 posts from December 2015

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.