How Amazon Underground will affect content pricing and business models

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 9.29.05 AMAs interesting as the all-you-can read models from Next Issue, Oyster Books and Scribd are, I believe Amazon just introduced a new model that’s likely to be much more disruptive in the long run. I’m talking about Amazon Underground, where paid apps go to be free.

If you haven’t heard about Underground it’s a collection of paid Android apps that are now available free if you download them directly from Amazon. The initial collection is mostly games but it will undoubtedly grow over time. It’s also important to note that the catalog includes paid apps as well as those with in-app purchases (e.g., additional levels for a game); those in-app options also become free in the Underground world.

App developers get paid for engagement in the Underground model. So if their app gets downloaded but never used they earn nothing. On the other hand, if their app is wildly successful and used extensively, Underground represents a whole new developer revenue stream.

Any app developer will tell you there’s an enormous difference between the number of downloads of a 99-cent app and that same app as a freebie. Amazon gets that and may have cracked the code in leveraging free while also driving revenue.

It all has to do with advertising revenue. You may not see much (any?) advertising in some of these apps today. For example, I haven’t seen a single ad in a casino game and Office app tool I downloaded. That will undoubtedly change in the future. After all, in order to keep investors happy, Amazon’s losses today always need to point to profits and other benefits in the future.

What are those benefits?

First of all, it’s an interesting way to co-opt the Google Play store. Remember, you can only get these Underground apps direct from Amazon, not Google. I’ve got to believe Amazon’s own app store isn’t exactly thriving, so this is a great way to give it a gentle boost.

Second, all those Underground apps you download ultimately pull you deeper and deeper into the Amazon walled garden. This too might not be apparent today but it will become crystal clear when those ads start popping up. And don’t forget that you’re opting into a model where all your app usage is closely tracked. After all, that’s how Amazon determines how much to pay developers. If you’re a privacy freak, Underground is not for you.

Why should publishers care about Amazon Underground? It sounds like an interesting model for game developers but not all that applicable for books, newspapers and magazines, right?


I’ve been talking about advertising in books for quite awhile now and I think Underground represents a viable, incremental business model for this vision. It’s obviously not the best option for some content but I’m convinced enough publishers and authors will embrace it, so much so, in fact, that naysayers will even have to consider it.

Let’s be clear about this though: I’m not suggesting an ad-based model will generate the same amount of per-unit revenue as the paid edition. That’s simply not going to happen. If a publisher is earning $5 per copy sold of an ebook today they might only earn ten or twenty cents (at best) from each download of the Underground version.

So why would any publisher ever agree to this?

It’s all about extending reach. Sure, nobody wants to trade a $5 sale for one netting ten cents. But what about all those readers who aren’t going to buy the book, newspaper or magazine to begin with? You’re netting zero from them today and possibly ten cents from each of them in the future. All that, with no cost of goods, btw.

Here’s another interesting use-case: Underground becomes a better sampling solution. Once the service is loaded with a bunch of ebooks, readers will be able to download the entire catalog without paying a penny. Amazon won’t be on the hook for any payment till pages are read. Consumers who like what they see but get frustrated with all the ads will always have the option to go back and actually pay for the original, ad-free edition. The rest of us will simply deal with the ads and enjoy the free ride.

That sounds like a win-win model for quite a few books, newspapers and magazines.

It’s time to radically improve the content sampling experience

Bulb-305162_640The goal of the content sample is to acquire new customers, right? So why are publishers settling for sample content models that are outdated and largely ineffective?

Look at ebooks, for instance. Publishers mostly rely on retailers for discovery and distribution, just like how they sell the full ebook. To make matters worse, most of these samples are under lock and key inside each retailer’s walled garden. What if you want to send your friend the great sample you just read? Even though publishers should fully embrace and encourage readers to pass samples around it’s next to impossible in today’s model.

Newspapers and magazines aren’t much different. Yes, they tend to offer some number of free articles on their websites. They even offer email campaigns where the links to these articles automatically appear in your inbox every day or month. One of the benefits of the old newspaper and magazine format is the original container though. Even though containers are disappearing over time there’s still a benefit to having the material presented in a curated manner as envisioned by the editor. So why not make samples available in that format as well as the website version? Put it in an app and make it portable, so prospective customers simply download and go. And don’t forget to include the ads; after all, samples can also represent another revenue stream. 

Speaking of containers, why aren’t more publishers doing cross-container sampling? My local newspaper knows my reading habits. I use their mobile app to stay up-to-date with local news while I’m on the road. So why aren’t they using that information to offer me samples of books on those topics I tend to read most often? Book publishers would love this opportunity and I’m sure an affiliate deal could be cut with the newspapers so everyone enjoys a portion of the resulting revenue stream when I purchase an ebook through this sampling model. It’s also a way for the newspaper publisher to add some value and show me they’re really paying attention to my interests.

Next, how about making these cross-container samples bigger and therefore more valuable than the ones I can get elsewhere?  Again, it’s a way of adding value to existing subscriptions or prior purchases.

Lastly, once and for all, publishers, please start encouraging a frictionless sharing model with your samples. Make it super easy for me to email the sample to a friend. All my friends don’t use the same ebook platform I use. So if I’m enthusiastic about a new sample I just read, make it easy for me to share all the popular formats with my friends.  And please, please, please…remove DRM from samples. You want these assets to become a viral sensation, so it’s time to remove all the obstacles that prevent this from happening. 

How content containers can dramatically affect user experience

Library-488678_640I’m a big believer in the notion that content containers are slowly going away in the digital world. Those things we think of in the physical world as books, newspapers and magazines are being redefined digitally. It’s a slow evolution but one that is definitely taking place.

In the years ahead we’ll see more blurred lines here. One format will bleed into others and the edges around them will become less rigid. We’ll also encounter new ways of discovering and consuming content. For example, maybe you won’t have to actually buy an “ebook” to obtain full access to its contents.

The lenses through which we read content are going to change dramatically in the future as well. Wikiwand is a good example of this. It’s described as “Wikipedia Reimagined” and “a beautiful new interface to the world’s knowledge.” In short, it’s a Chrome plug-in that completely changes your Wikipedia experience.

Over the years the Wikipedia has started to look rather dated, almost as quaint as the old print encyclopedias it replaced. Compare a typical Wikipedia page to a more dynamic page from The Guardian or ESPN, for example, and you’ll see what I mean. Both The Guardian and ESPN are rendering the same type of content they presented 10 years ago but with a much more modern user experience. It sounds superficial but sometimes that’s all it takes to make content more engaging. 

Wikiwand is simply rearranging the objects on a Wikipedia page and presenting them in a more attractive and logical manner. I’ve always wondered why the table of contents for a complex Wikipedia page is buried below the introduction. Take a look at the World War II Wikipedia page, for example. You won’t see the outline for that page till you scroll down a bit and once you scroll further it’s no longer on the screen.

Now look at the same page in Wikiwand. The outline for the page is conveniently placed in a panel on the left. And notice that it always remains on the screen no matter how far you scroll down the main page.

Search is another area where Wikiwand offers a superior experience to the original Wikipedia. If you type in a search phrase in Wikipedia you’ll see a dynamic list of potential matches. It’s a user experience that’s been around for quite a few years now.

Type the same search phrase in Wikiwand and that dynamic list of potential matches comes to life. You can hover over any of them and a small pop-up window is displayed featuring a quick summary of that particular page. All of this happens without leaving the original page where your search began.

I’m just scratching the Wikiwand surface. Install the plug-in, try it out and you too will quickly discover this is a much better Wikipedia content experience.

As I’ve said before, we’re stuck in a “print under glass” era where publishers are taking the easy way out by offering quick-and-dirty digital editions that look just like the print format. We spend all our time consuming dumb content on smart devices.

I realize the cost of creating a true “born digital” approach for most content is too expensive and doesn’t offer an attractive ROI. At the same time, I believe innovative approaches like Wikiwand, where the same content is presented in a new and more engaging manner, can inspire new thinking and help publishers take baby steps beyond the print under glass stage where the industry is currently stuck.

Are content curators becoming more important than content creators?

Man-814697_640I’m sure most of you bristle at the thought of curators being more valuable than creators. After all, the former have no job without the latter. I agree, but it’s not as if the content creation population is declining. In fact, that number only increases every month, and that’s what’s driving up the value of curation.

Regardless of your preferences and interests there’s simply too much content to read. Whether it’s books, magazines, newspapers, blogs, websites, newsletters, etc., every year it becomes more difficult to keep up. Faced with this steady firehose stream of content, we can all use some help determining which elements are worth reading and which are a waste of time.

Separating the good from the bad is, of course, where curation comes into the mix. My favorite magazine, The Week, shows just how powerful and useful curation can be: Every week their editors sift through the latest news, presenting both sides of every story and saving readers countless hours with their summary coverage. Flipboard is another example of a platform that leverages curation. At first Flipboard curated the content and then they expanded their platform so now anyone can create a Flipboard magazine. Here’s mine, for example.

Despite its success, Flipboard illustrates the fact that curation still has a long way to go in its evolution. I say that because the signal-to-noise ratio of Flipboard and Flipboard magazines is getting worse. Every week I find fewer new, interesting Flipboard stories to read and reflip for others to discover.

So where will this valuable curation and consumption take place in the future? Today it’s spread across the web but I’d rather have it all united in one convenient stream.

The Evernote platform has the potential to move from simple note taking to becoming a more powerful content curation, sharing and consumption service. I’ve stopped using Instapaper because it’s so easy to clip, annotate and save web pages into Evernote. I’m also clipping magazine pages from my Next Issue subscription and pouring those into Evernote. In short, Evernote makes it easy and convenient to curate content from a variety of sources and splice them all together. 

Here’s the thorny question that will probably need to be answered soon: At some point, does a service like Evernote offer an option to buy access to the curation of others? In other words, can I charge you for access to my curated Evernote collections, including all that content I have no right to redistribute?

It’s yet another example of The Innovator’s Dilemma: Traditional publishers will aggressively fight to prevent it while forward-thinking ones find a way to participate in the revenue stream it represents. And this revenue stream, by the way, will be one where the curators are highly valued and, in some cases, become the key brand.

What is a "book-plus" and who are tomorrow's readers?

Amy July 2014Some people think the book is dead, much as Joe referred to obsolete single-use devices like the GPS while discussing the potential for peer-to-peer content distribution. The truth is, we're living in a world that's going to want and need not necessarily more books in general, but more great books. These books won't be plain-text as so many are today. They'll be book-plus, not book-minus.

One of the biggest lessons of self-publishing and the e-book explosion is that form and function are inextricably intertwined. What goes between the covers of a book (or on an e-reader or tablet) matters. We have tools and technology right now (EPUB3) to make books that are visually exciting, and which present imagery, type design and interactive elements in ways that work together to delight readers.

Form is one aspect of innovation. Content, i.e. writing, art, and design: these things also need to be made better in order to meet the expectations and needs of readers.

Let's take writing itself, for example. For some reason, even among publishing veterans, many people think that writing a good book that delivers value to the reader is some sort of accident – or they think it's something that is best-done under extreme adverse conditions (such as working in a hostile environment for free for years). Writing is may also be assumed to be a simple skill anyone can learn quickly from reading a couple of books or taking a $99 "Masterclass" provided by video instruction.

Of the over 2 million books published each year, fewer than 20 sell more than 250,000 copies – and of those, some are multiple editions of the same book/author (i.e. paperback and movie tie-in versions). Those same crazy big numbers also tell us that a lot of people desire to communicate with others via the written word.  We have more books than ever before, but we don't have better ones. We also don't have books that meet the needs of all of today's potential readers, much less the readers of tomorrow.

Book innovation isn't about quantity of product or "discoverability." It's not about devices or technology. Today's innovators in other industries aren't making new tools, they're inventing new ways to use the tools we already have. Take Slack for example. Slack is taking the working world by storm, revolutionizing how teams work together. The company took marketing and development inspiration from Michael Schrage's 2012 book (yes, book – published by the Harvard Business Review) Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become?

According to Schrage, "innovation is an investment in your customer’s future — a human capital investment in who your customers really want or need to become."

Currently, about 20 percent of North Americans regularly buy and read books (about 70 million people). This percentage hasn't shifted much in recent years. Although book quantity has increased exponentially, book quality in physical and objective content measures hasn't. Almost 80 percent of North Americans have read at least one book in the prior year, far more than have listened to all genres of music, used Facebook, bought a movie ticket or watched the Super Bowl. The highest rate of readership is found among a group that media sometimes portrays as non-readers: African-Americans. Media also portrays millennials as online consumers, not readers. The truth is, young people ages 18 to 30 read more, and more often than any other age group. They prefer paper books to e-books for reasons of quality, user experience, and personal benefit from reading. You can see these facts reflected in the 2014 PW sales figures.

These facts are all opportunities for innovation.

Despite the technology that has enabled a large number of people to self-publish books – the publishing industry and nearly all of its elements and operational systems hasn't changed much since Jack London's day. The only difference is that now, self-published writers can directly reach readers. They still have to perform all the other tasks that go into making, publishing and selling a book in any format.

Books are still made and sold with the same attitude and approach as they were during a time in which a much smaller number of "elites" were literate and had time and money to buy and read books. In those days, Henry Ford famously said, "If I'd have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me a faster horse."

Ford inspired Apple's Steve Jobs (who equally famously - and wrongly - declared "No one reads any longer" – ironically, the iPad is the best delivery system for enhanced e-books today, far superior to the Amazon Kindle, a product that Jobs was criticizing at the time).

"We build products that really turn us on," Jobs told Fortune in 2008. "It's not about pop culture and it's not about fooling people, and it's not about convincing people that they want something they don't. We figure out what they want."

We can feel what today's young readers want in their aspirations, hopes and idealism. We can see their openness to change, their embracing of diversity. Our young people are encouraged to participate equally in school, learn as part of collaborative teams, and express their thoughts openly. They graduate to a world of one-sentence pitches, arrogant agents, elitism, aggression, "fan communities," social media "platforms," and false market-driven conformity that assumes they are stupid herd beasts.

As one young reader recently said at San Diego's Comic-Con: "I like paper books because they're not like my tech. Their batteries don't run out." He said he enjoyed reading something that made his heart beat faster and put his mind in a better place. He spent about an hour reading Is SHE Available? "It's not like other books," he said. "It's a lot more. I have to go slow. It's overwhelming."

Is SHE Available? has blown everyone involved in making it away, and everyone who's bought and read it. Making it managed to bring the best out of everyone involved, from the author to the book designer to each of the 26 artists involved, the animators, and the musical artist/recording director.

The current sub-set of regular e-book readers are fine with e-book text dumped on a screen, but the majority of people don't just want text dumped on a screen and aren't interested in the same stories re-told with slight variations. This is one of the reasons why younger readers prefer paper books. If art, video, and music are included, it should serve the book well, not be tacked on as an afterthought. The writer has to be involved at all steps, not left behind at the production gate. Books, ideally, should be designed with readers in mind, not dumped into flat, HTML-based formats or crammed onto the smallest number of printed pages possible to save a few nickels.

Is SHE Available? is Chameleon's showpiece and first major publication. It won't be our last.

Thank you to Joe for giving us this opportunity to present our vision. It's about product, process, and value to the reader. Henry Ford loved cars and manufacturing and money: he created drivers. Steve Jobs loved tech and user interfaces, accessing data and other people and communicating and working: he created users.

We love words, ideas and books. Not for yesterday and not even for today. We want to create readers and writers for our world of 8 billion, not 70 million.

This article was written by Amy Sterling Casil. Amy is Founder and President of Chameleon Publishing, Inc., the visionary publishers of "Is SHE Available?". 

3 content pricing models from the future

Euro-447214_1280The year is 2020 and I’m about to make a digital content purchase. It’s amazing how much the industry has evolved in the past five years. For example, pricing is no longer a one-size-fits-all, take-it-or-leave-it component. I now have multiple pricing models to choose from: 

Social bulk discounts – That digital newspaper subscription I’m considering offers a 50% discount if I can get at least 30 of my social network friends to subscribe as well. Yes, the Groupon model is still alive but with a twist. In order to take advantage of the deal I first need to rally commitments from my friends. If successful, all the participants are also committing to broadcast their purchase via Facebook, Twitter or whatever other social network they opted in with.

Advertising-subsidies – It finally happened and publishing purists are still complaining about it. Meanwhile, the rest of us are thrilled to choose from two different options and price-points when we buy ebooks. Those who prefer the traditional ad-free approach pay full price while others pay less and are presented with ads as they read the book. Even deeper discounts are offered to consumers who agree to share their name and email address with sponsors and advertisers. I’ve completely embraced the ad-subsidized approach and find the same as reading a magazine or newspaper.

Clubs – Ever wonder what happened to the old record and book clubs of yesteryear? They’re back in the digital world. I get to choose from 3 deeply discounted ebooks to open my account and then I commit to paying full price for at least 10 additional ebooks over the next 12 months. If I fall short of that commitment my credit card gets hit with a penalty charge at the end of the term, so better to just buy all the books I want rather than pay a fine with nothing to show for it.

I hope you agree that tomorrow’s pricing models are terrific for consumers. The data and buying commitments ought to be good for publishers and retailers too, right?

You probably quickly surmised that Amazon isn’t a fan of any of these, mostly because they want to own all the data and sell it to publishers. That’s OK though because all the other retailers recognized the benefits and now offer all three models. Publishers are also using them in their direct-to-consumer efforts on their websites. As a result, the retailer playing field has been leveled a bit, benefiting both consumers and publishers.

Rest assured, the future is bright (but the Cubs still haven’t managed to win a World Series).

Peer-to-peer content distribution

Human-668298_1280The smartwatch movement inspired me recently, which is surprising because I haven’t worn a watch since I started carrying a smartphone many years ago. I’m about as far as you can get from being a fashionista and I liken a watch to other obsolete single-use devices like the GPS. I doubt I’ll buy one anytime soon but I believe the device synchronization model used by smartwatches lends itself to content distribution as well.

You’re probably aware of how most smartwatches get paired with your smartphone. Although they don’t have all the capabilities of a smartphone, things like text messages and phone calls can be redirected from your phone to your watch, thanks in large part to Bluetooth technology. Your phone communicates with your watch the same way your phone connects with a wireless headset or desktop Bluetooth speaker, for example.

Let’s fast-forward to the day when we’ve all become peer-to-peer content distributors. Rather than relying on centrally-managed and hosted sites and services that handle everything from reviews to downloads, this peer-to-peer model means we’re doing all that for each other using Bluetooth or some other simple networking protocols. For example, your phone or computer can easily be turned into a wifi server, allowing you to connect multiple devices to it; that's a capability that exists today and I'm suggesting it could be extended for new uses in the future.

The Kindle introduced a whole new level of reading privacy. Once upon a time on a crowded bus you could see the cover of the book being read by the person across the aisle. Now we’re all masking our reading habits with tablets and phones. No, I’m not suggesting we embrace an overly intrusive model that has privacy advocates screaming in the streets. Rather, I believe a peer-to-peer model could be used to improve discovery and consumption at the hyperlocal level.

Think of the hundreds of riders on a commuter train each morning. Maybe they’re traveling from the northern suburbs into Manhattan. Some of them are neighbors. Many of them are businesspeople. All of them probably follow and read some type of news. Instead of just knowing the top global trends on Google, wouldn’t it be interesting to know what news stories your fellow commuters are reading?

The same concept can be applied to passengers on a plane or even homeowners in a neighborhood. Just as has disrupted Angie’s List and brought communication and recommendations to the local level, I suggest a peer-to-peer model could do the same for content.

The peer-to-peer aspect really shines when you consider how the content gets from my device to yours. That news story I just read on still lives in my browser’s cache. If enough of my fellow commuters read the same article, it floats to the top of the popular news list for our little commuter community. You click the link to it in our peer-to-peer content app and the article is pulled from my cache to your device.

In short, we’re distributing content to each other, without having to go up and down, to and from a central server. Wouldn’t this be terrific on a 4-hour flight with no wifi? Each of our devices acts as a mini-server, hosting content for everyone else.

Publishers would freak out over this model, at least initially. They’ll no longer control distribution and it will create holes in their analytics. I’m sure most, if not all, publishers have something buried in their terms and conditions preventing this sort of thing, but those who want to embrace broader distribution and consumption will eventually warm up to it.

Btw, the model isn’t limited to web pages. Think about the benefits this offers the book publishing sector. What if you could see a list of the popular ebooks in your neighborhood or among your fellow commuters? And what if you could pull a sample of one of those popular titles from someone else’s device, again, a particularly useful solution when you’re outside wifi and cellular range? If you decide you like that sample and you end up buying the ebook your peer-to-peer commuter friend gets credit for the sale with an affiliate cut of the resulting transaction.

We place way too much emphasis on the ability to measure global trends. You see it every day on Google, Twitter, etc. While we all care about these global trends, we’re also keenly interested in local and hyper-local trends. This peer-to-peer model addresses that point while also providing some relief for data plan limits and spotty wifi coverage.

Blinkist and the “read less, learn more” movement

Remember the “info snacking” phrase that was somewhat buzzworthy several years ago? The thinking was that everyone was too focused on reading short bursts of content and soon no one would have the attention span to read an entire book. In fact, info snacking was one of the terms Jeff Bezos mentioned when the Kindle launched; he suggested that the Kindle would encourage more deeply engaging, long-form reading.

And now we have Blinkist. Think of Blinkist as info snacking for books. Blinkist summaries are so short they make Cliffs Notes seem like long and boring tomes.

Let’s leave fiction off the table for a moment and talk about books on business strategy, investing, management, marketing, etc. How may of those 300-page books have you finished and immediately realized the author could have conveyed the critical points in about 5 pages?

You can almost see the editor telling the author, “this is great stuff, but we need you to double/triple/quadruple the length.” That (sort of) made sense in the brick-and-mortar days when a shelf presence drove discovery but now these books feel like they’re artificially inflated.

I’ve only read a few book summaries on Blinkist but I think they’re onto something. Yes, I remember (and once subscribed to) other summary services including getAbstract and Executive Book Summaries. I always found those to be nothing more than glorified tipsheets. If you really wanted to learn the key elements of the book you still had to read the whole thing. Blinkist’s summaries are definitely superior to others that I’ve read before.

10-15 minutes is all it takes to read one of the many well-written Blinkist summaries. Have you always wanted to read The Lean Startup? Why spend hours reading 300+ pages when you can get the gist in about 10 minutes? How about Business Adventures, that classic book Bill Gates recommends every business leader read? You can knock out that summary in less than 15 minutes.

I think we can all agree that every book doesn’t lend itself to a good summary format experience. Some authors, even non-fiction authors, are wonderful storytellers. Bill Bryson is a great example. I read his A Short History of Nearly Everything several years ago and found it to be an amazing journey from start to finish. When I saw Blinkist offers a summary of that one I have to admit I cringed. That’s a book you should read in its entirety and there are, of course, countless others that should never be read only in summary format. So while there are exceptions to the summaries formula I tend to believe most non-fiction books are excellent candidates for an abbreviated alternative.

The big question I have is why aren’t publishers taking control of this model? Why rely on a third-party to write and distribute these summaries? Who is better qualified to do the job than the original author or editor? I could see publishers selling these summaries, standalone or as a subscription, direct on their websites.

We all know why publishers won’t do this though. Most publishers view this as cannibalization and replacing a higher-priced sale with a lower-priced one. That’s unfortunate but far from surprising. Smarter publishers will consider bundling the summary with the full ebook at a slightly higher price than the ebook alone. Others might find opportunities to actually charge more for the summary figuring it’s a time-saver and some readers will be willing to pay a premium for a faster read. Still others will use the summary as an upsell to the full ebook: When consumers buy the summary they also get a special, limited-time discounted offer for the full ebook.

Most will just sit and watch though. It’s a textbook example of The Innovator’s Dilemma, which, I might add, is also available as a summary on Blinkist. :-)

One day content will enrich itself

You’ve probably heard me say that we live in a print-under-glass world, one where we’re consuming dumb content on smart devices.­­ It’s true simply because, as Michael Bhaskar of Canelo Publishing stated it at BEA, “publishers treat ebooks as a secondary priority.”

It’s far too easy to quickly convert the print edition to a static e-edition and drive some incremental revenue. Meanwhile, more and more publishers are starting to report flattening ebook sales.

I believe part of the problem is due to the fact that many consumers who aren’t already buying ebooks are holding off because they’re satisfied with print and see no significant benefit of switching to e. The Bookseller recently reported that millennials are “least likely to buy ebooks.” We’re talking about a born-digital generation, one that has come to expect rich, immersive experiences in everything digital. It’s no wonder why they haven’t warmed up to today’s ebook experience.

Publishers and authors sometimes balk at the notion of creating anything beyond the static ebook. They question the ROI as well as the time and effort required. That’s a reasonable response, particularly given the various failed experiments with native apps and other digital platforms. Plus, some ebooks are perfect just the way they are; readers don’t want or need them to incorporate extra digital bells and whistles.

But there are plenty of other books and entire genres that would dramatically benefit from a deeper digital experience. Think reference and how-to content. Videos, photo galleries and any one of the various web widgets could add significant value.

So what’s a publisher to do when it’s hard enough just getting the manuscript from the author?

I think it’s reasonable to expect that in the next few years we’ll see content that self-enriches. The application or reading platform will handle the details and little, if any, human curator intervention will be required.

While it’s true that auto-enrichment might never match the quality of human enrichment, the former will be a huge step in the right direction, hopefully priming the pump for more of the latter to eventually take place.  

Here’s how reader analytics can help publishers

I recently asked what questions you’d like to see answered via reader analytics. I gathered feedback from a variety of publishers including trade, professional and educational.

The standard requests about reading sequence, how long it takes to finish a chapter, what devices are used, etc., were raised, of course. But there were a number of other suggestions I hadn’t anticipated, and reader data could definitely help answer these questions for authors, editors and publishers.

Here are a few of the more interesting questions publishers are hoping reader analytics will help answer:

What’s the conversion rate for samples/previews? This is another reason for publishers to develop and implement an ebook sampling program they totally own and promote aggressively. 

What time of day and what days of the week are most popular for reading? It would be interesting to compare titles across genres to see what patterns emerge.

What bonus features/links do readers click on? You’d finally be able to determine whether these additional elements make a difference.

How much time is spent on margin notes (e.g., sidebars and other elements outside the main text)? As one respondent asked, “do readers simply skip past everything in a box?” What a great question, although most of the boxes from the print edition probably disappear in the plain, generic reflow view. Still, it would be great to see if these are being read or skipped.

Related to the previous question, once someone clicks to an external link, how soon do they come back to the book? And, how often does the book reading session come to an end after clicking on those outbound links? It’s every online publisher’s biggest fear. They don’t want to lose the eyeballs for additional ad impressions. Does that same scenario matter in the ebook world?

How long is a single page left open? This one came from a cookbook publisher who is curious to see if they can determine what percentage of readers make the recipes with the ebook open.

Is the index being accessed? Terrific question but I think the cards are stacked against the index. First of all, most ebooks I read have no index. Second, the ones that do have an index typically don’t include links, so all you get is a bunch of page references with no meaning in reflow mode.

Is the table of contents being accessed? Similar to the previous question and largely dependent on whether that TOC includes links.

What content is copied-and-pasted most frequently? Maybe the answers to this terrific question, and the reader behavior it indicates, would help publishers become less squeamish about enabling copy-and-paste from their ebooks.

What are the sentences that are most frequently highlighted and commented on? Some ebook apps let readers see the most popular highlighted sentences but it would be better for publishers to have an aggregated view, including reader comments.

What’s being searched and, more importantly, what’s the conversion rate of readers clicking on a result vs. those who simply give up after the search? It seems like most of us are only asking the first part of that question but it would be wonderful to understand what happens after those search results are displayed. Also, are the most clicked-on results the ones at the top or do we need a better way of presenting and sorting the results?

I’m sure there are other interesting questions reader analytics can help answer but this list is a good start. Given that most publishers receive no reader data whatsoever, answering even a handful of these questions would represent a huge step in the right direction.