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).

Observations from BEA 2015

The Javits Center must have some sort of time warp technology. I recently attended the BEA event there and I kept asking myself the same question: Is this 2015 or 2005? The digital vibe was almost nowhere to be found in the expo hall. For example, publishers are still handing out stacks of print galleys and samples. Is that really more effective than digital copies? Wouldn’t it be better to distribute e-versions and gather customer info along the way? All this talk of establishing direct relationships with readers and having access to the resulting data still seems to be the stuff of fiction.

There’s also still a big gap between the core industry and the startup community. The Startup Alley, an expo aisle featuring 15 or so up-and-comers, is a nice concept but doesn’t seem very effective for anyone. It also highlights a bigger problem in the publishing industry: there’s no platform or service that continuously evaluates new startups and helps match them with publishers who could benefit from their capabilities. Startups are generally relegated to an area off the beaten path with virtually no buzz to draw attention to them. That’s sad because, as Richard Nash pointed out during the IDPF conference, it’s clear the real innovation is going to come from the startup community.

The most painfully accurate statement I heard all week was from Michael Bhaskar of Canelo Publishing during his opening session at the IDPF event: “Publishers treat ebooks as a secondary priority.” This is partially understandable given the fact that print is still the largest revenue stream but I believe this mindset also prevents digital content from achieving its full potential. 

Bhaskar made another terrific point when he noted that the music industry is leveraging consumer curation in ways the book publishing industry hasn’t even dreamed of. I believe tomorrow’s e-content leaders will fully understand and encourage consumer curation. Whether you call it remixes, custom editions or something else, this is a concept that will help the industry achieve escape velocity from today’s print-under-glass model.

The IDPF conference highlight for me was Jane McGonigal’s session. I haven’t played a video game since PacMan in the early ‘80’s so I went into this one highly skeptical but she opened my eyes to the possibilities. It’s not that every book has to become a game. That’s not it at all. Rather, she challenged the audience to find ways of creating content that takes readers to a whole new level of enthusiasm. The images she showed of gamers completely engaged and immersed in the experience were inspiring.

Another valuable IDPF session was one where Jim Hanas of HarperCollins interviewed David Arabov of Elite Daily. Arabov described how Elite Daily organically builds audience and community and turns that into their finished product. Compare that to book publishing where a totally non-agile approach is used to build products behind closed doors with the hope that yesterday’s marketing models will generate buzz (e.g., buying promotions, shelf space on physical shelves, etc.). Wouldn’t it be cool if publishers engaged with readers during the idea conception and development process rather than waiting till the end after all the time and money have been invested? That sounds like Wattpad to me, which might explain why Allen Lau and his team always report such amazingly high traffic levels. Now they just need to figure out how that translates into revenue, of course…

I had the pleasure of serving as moderator on a couple of IDPF panel sessions. The Amazon panel included Molly Barton and she made an excellent point about the problems with today’s closed ebook ecosystem. As Molly described it, readers often want to socialize their reading experience and today’s model forces them to have those conversations away from the book. Why not integrate this functionality in the reading app? It can be completely unobtrusive, where the service only appears when the reader wants to access it rather than forcing readers off to other apps and platforms.

All-you-can-read subscriptions were, of course, a topic that came up many times throughout the week. Scribd’s Andrew Weinstein shared some observations including how this model affects the long tail. As Weinstein put it, with unlimited reading platforms consumers are more willing to abandon a book and move on to the next one if they lose interest, figuring there’s no additional cost to taste-test a lot of books every month. First of all, let’s hope that’s doesn’t turn out to be the most important benefit subscription platform have to offer. Second, what does that say about the industry’s inability to create a sampling model that actually works?

Finally, I wanted to mention an interesting quote from Sherisse Hawkins of Beneath the Ink. Sherisse has been a pioneer in pushing ebooks beyond the print-under-glass experience and she said that one of their readers recently sent a message saying, “thank you for helping me avoid getting lost in the ‘wiki holes’”. That reminded me of the new Wright Brothers book by David McCullough that I recently finished. It was a fantastic read but I can’t tell you how many times my curiosity led me away from the book to Google where I searched for locations, images and related content. Unlike Sherrise’s customer, I did get lost in a variety of “wiki holes”, but it once again proved to me that this industry needs to figure out how to provide consumers with something more than dumb content on smart devices.

Debunking the discovery problem

Ever since ebooks gained traction the publishing industry has obsessed with what’s typically referred to as “the discovery problem.” The common wisdom is that discovery of the content will lead to fame and fortune.

What's next, now that ebook sales are flattening? Join me at a free webinar on April 28 to see how to drive revenue growth. Click here to register.

I believe digital content’s main challenge is more about efficiency, less about discovery, and my inspiration for this point of view comes from a totally unrelated business: the coffee industry.

A recent Businessweek article noted that single-serve pods (e.g., Keurig) have eliminated coffee’s biggest consumer: the kitchen sink. (Btw, Businessweek apparently doesn’t worry about content discovery as that article can’t be found on their website; it’s only in the print edition but I found a related version of it here.)

It turns out that with Mr. Coffee and other drip systems a great deal of product ends up going to waste. The net result is that as the single-serve devices gain momentum we’re creating a climate where total consumption is lower and excess inventories are leading to lower prices for coffee beans.

In short, the article notes that while Americans still drink a lot of coffee, they do it more efficiently. Each cup in the single-serve model is more expensive but in total we’re consuming and wasting far less coffee now.

What in the world does this have to do with digital content?

I don’t think anyone would argue with the fact that we have an excessive amount digital content today. A great deal of it is being produced but in many cases nobody is reading it. This has led to an overabundance of free and cheap content which is being both professionally published as well as self-published.

Wasted coffee goes down the drain but wasted content simply goes unread. In some cases, hoarders like myself have moved the content from online to local devices, but much of that content is never actually consumed.

Here’s a parallel from yet another completely unrelated industry: service provider recommendations. My wife and I recently cancelled our Angie’s List subscription because we discovered the Nextdoor social network. As you may already know, Angie’s List is battling allegations of fraudulent and deceptive practices and its reviews are typically posted by complete strangers. Meanwhile, Nextdoor offers reviews and advice from people you know or could easily introduce yourself to: your next-door neighbors. I’ve found these local reviews on Nextdoor to be much more reliable. In fact, I’ve hired two service providers in the past week based on Nextdoor recommendations. Best of all, Nextdoor is totally free.

Compared to Angie’s List, Nextdoor feels like a more highly curated and relevant service. Discussions and recommendations come from people you might already know and everyone lives right there in your neighborhood. In fact, many of Nextdoor’s members are going through the same situations you are (e.g., hail storm, wind damage, down trees, etc.)

Nextdoor offers what I refer to as a better “content efficiency” experience than Angie’s List. It’s what I’m looking for and the content is presented when I need it.

Just as nobody walks into a bookstore asking for the latest book from Macmillan, nobody is sitting around saying, “gee, I wish I could discover more content.” What we really need is more efficient delivery of content that’s highly relevant to our specific needs and interests. 

We’ve mostly given up on RSS feeds and let’s face it…Twitter is yet another fire hose that’s next to impossible to effectively manage.

At some point content efficiency will improve. I’ve referred to this before as the need for a “content concierge”, resulting in much better recommendations, tailored content streams and, yes, it will come at a higher price, just like the single-serving coffee pods.

We may end up spending just as much time reading efficiently delivered content but it will be highly targeted and we’ll pay more for the privilege of others (human curators and well-tuned, automated algorithms) helping us find the precious needles in the overwhelming haystacks.

The future of content recommendation services

If you’re overly concerned about data privacy you’ll want to stop reading right now because I’m about to give you a glimpse of the future that will make you bristle.

For the rest of you, I’d like to describe a vision I have of how content services will dramatically improve, become widely used, and even paid for, in the not too distant future.

You’re probably familiar with services like Taboola and Outbrain. They’re the technologies behind all the “You may also like” or “Sponsored content” blocks of links that have become ubiquitous on websites. They use sophisticated algorithms to suggest related content you might be interested in reading. 

Then there’s Google. My Android phone’s Google app does a terrific job presenting nuggets of information I might find useful. It’s equally awful at it too though. On a recent trip through Atlanta it suggested the CDC as one of the nearby attractions I might want to check out. I realize Ebola is a hot topic right now but is there really anything in my Google-accessible content stream that would suggest the CDC as an interesting destination for me? 

Google’s app, as well as its News service, are both casting an extremely wide net in the hopes that something in their recommendation stream will cause me to click. Every year I find Google’s stream suggesting fewer and fewer truly relevant articles for me. This, despite the fact that they have access to so much of what I’m doing, where I’m going and what I’m interested in.

What’s wrong with this picture? These services should be improving, not simply providing an even wider pipeline of content, most of which doesn’t interest me at all.

What’s missing is a service that pays much closer attention to who I am and what’s likely to engage me. That’s one of the things I always liked about Zite, the content service that recommends more content based on what you’ve previously read in the app. I used to spend a great deal of time in Zite every day. Then they got acquired and for some reason their stream just isn’t as engaging for me as it used to be.

What’s needed is a service that is much more closely aligned with everything I do, or as much of my life as I’m willing to let it access. I’m talking about my email in-box as well as the websites I visit and even my work and personal calendars. Here are a few use cases for the service I’d like to see: 

  • Prepare for trips – It’s nice that Google shows a card for this afternoon’s flight status, but they could do so much more. How about tracking my personal interests and serving up recommendations for downtime activities? Knowledge of my interests would hopefully prevent an app from suggesting I visit the CDC, for example. This service could also interact with my TripIt account, notice that I made a car rental reservation and suggest a better alternative (e.g., a better rate with another carrier, one that earns me miles on my preferred airline, or a better option like Uber or Lyft, etc.) How about a few facts and figures about where I’m heading? This destination info is available on Wikipedia, so it would be easy to tap into that content source as well as many others.
  • Provide news and research for upcoming meetings – The assumption here is that I’ll allow this service to access my daily calendar. When it sees I have a 2-hour meeting with XYZ Corp next week it begins early by creating and sending me a snapshot of the organization as well as noteworthy news about XYZ Corp. The detailed version arrives a week before the meeting, giving me plenty of time to become an expert on the company. The day before or the morning of the meeting I then get a shorter follow-up with any updates that weren’t available earlier.
  • Stay on top of the competition – The key here is to know the company I work for and the industry we’re part of. Better yet, if it’s a large, multi-sector company, it knows exactly which area I focus on and tailors everything around that space. The service then uses all the publicly available data sources to feed me updates and insights about the competition.
  • Tap into streams from leaders and celebrities – How would you like to gain access to the news and content streams being delivered to people like Warren Buffet or Jeff Bezos? Obviously they’ll want to filter their public version to avoid accidentally leaking confidential information, but there would still be enough content to make for some very interesting reading. Rather than waiting for Bill Gates to tell us what books he read and recommended from last year, let’s see what’s on his inbound content stream today.
  • All this, with no manual configuration required – Some elements of what I’ve described above are available today, if you’re willing to spend a lot of time configuring your keywords and splicing together multiple services. Don’t forget that your interests change over time…and so does your calendar, of course. I want a service that is always up-to-date based on what it sees me doing throughout the day and week. It needs to be fully automated and change as my interests and focus change.

I can see multiple flavors of this service. The simplest one is free and is funded by ads and sponsorships, just like many of Google’s existing services. A paid version eliminates the ads and comes with more bells and whistles. And remember that leaders/celebrities idea? Those could be structured as subscriptions to that individual’s feed. Plenty of people would pay a monthly fee for access to these streams. And although Warren Buffett doesn’t need this additional income, he could always have it flow to his favorite charity.

We’ve got a long way to go before we’ll see a service like this, but I’ll be among the first in line to sign up for it when one arrives.

Is your content strategy optimized for Millennials?

Unless your organization is a startup it’s highly likely you’re using a strategy and business model that’s worked for many years. That same strategy and business model might span multiple generations. Even though you’ve embraced the latest technologies and devices, are you also meeting the needs and expectations of the younger generation?

Here are four key points you need to consider:

Ownership – Remember the days when Steve Jobs suggested that consumers want to own their music, not rent it? That’s probably still largely true for anyone over 30 but Millennials have grown up with Spotify and Pandora. And if they’re willing to rent songs, which get consumed repeatedly, why do we think they’ll insist on owning a book they’ll only read once? The content streaming/rental segment will continue to grow like crazy, largely driven by Millennials.

Consumption – When Amazon launched the Kindle in 2007 Jeff Bezos talked about the concept of “information snacking”, where more short-form content is consumed, potentially at the expense of long-form reading. I’d argue that the iPad has done more to promote info snacking than the original Kindle but there’s no doubt that short-form content consumption is extremely popular. Whether it’s quick Facebook updates or 140-character tweets, Millennials have grown up in an era where communication brevity rules. Storytelling will never die but publishers of longer-form content need to make sure they have a model and products to remain relevant as Millennials become an even larger portion of the target market.

Value – What’s the value of digital content? The answer to that question largely depends on the age of the person being asked. Results of a recent survey note that the younger generation expects digital content to be free. That’s not terribly surprising given the lax file-sharing environments most of them have grown up in. Regardless of whether you believe we just need to better educate Millennials on copyright law the simple truth is they place a lower value on digital content than older generations tend to. Btw, part of the blame for this lower valuation belongs to publishers – when their digital offerings are just the print product on a device, oftentimes with even less functionality than the print version (e.g., inability to share, resell or simply give to someone else), why wouldn’t consumers place a lower value on the digital version? 

Privacy – Despite all the times Facebook has been criticized for their official privacy settings, policies and monetization techniques, I’ve never heard anyone under 20 years old complain. Parental guidance is frequently required to prevent Millennials from posting things today they’ll regret tomorrow. Millennials have grown up with social tools and they generally love sharing. Just compare an 18 year-old’s Facebook page with that of a 40 year-old and you’ll see the difference. Most of the privacy advocates have gray and thinning hair while Millennials will probably always be more liberal when it comes to sharing updates and content.

How does your strategy stack up in these four areas? You may have ignored them up to now because your current customers are older. Have you stopped to consider that those current customers will continue to age and there will be fewer of them in the future?

The birth of the Social Media Serial

Jade_Maitre_750pxA few weeks ago, Joe discussed the importance of placing content "where the eyes already are", and creating an experience for readers that is "fully integrated" – or at least, as close to that as possible.

His article struck a chord with me, because I am about to embark upon a reading experiment that is, to my knowledge, the first of its kind. On April 1st 2014, I am releasing my prize-listed novel, A Short Death, for free on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr. Called a “Social Media Serial”, the book will be serialized into chronological social-media-friendly chunks, allowing readers to receive the latest installments simultaneously, in the convenience of their newsfeeds.

In this experiment I am teasing out the extent to which social media can enthrall us across a more sustained narrative. More importantly, I am seeking to discover new ways that writers can connect with readers in a shared experience.

Where did my inspiration come from?

I’m a photographer as well as a writer. In the world before social media, when I used to send photos to my friends by email, few people opened the attachments. But when I put my photos on Facebook, my images suddenly had a more engaged audience.

I looked at Farmville. And poking. And all those other useless things that people were doing and telling me about in regular newsfeed updates. The more I mused on these quaintly absurd and wasteful uses of our time, the more I realized why people were looking at my photos. When you are in the Facebook universe, you look for reasons to stay there. The inexorable pull of social media makes you want to be there in case something happens, even if nothing does. You form relationships with your news feed. On one level, you begin to live there.

Then I wrote a book

A Short Death was an experimental fiction. It told the story of Se, a sweet and hapless nineteen year old teenage boy who was killed on the beach in broad daylight in Rio de Janeiro. Inspired by a real murder that I witnessed in Brazil in 2005, the fictional account that I later created sought to unnerve the reader; to invoke the same kind of confusion and emptiness I felt the day it happened. The story I wrote was set in an absurd universe that emulated Brazil in its places, its language and symbols, but remained removed from the country Brazilians would recognize as their own. Its use of the second person heightened the sense of discomfort; of being a foreigner in Brazil, or indeed anywhere, regardless of literal home.

It was short-listed for Australia’s largest prize for an unpublished manuscript. It went through a few cycles of feedback and editing with a commercial publishing house. In the end this process stopped because the commercial and artistic concerns of the project failed to align. To be specific, the reader’s report requested that Se be rewritten like Holden Caulfield. I felt that was at odds with its genre as absurd fiction. I put the book away in the proverbial bottom drawer and decided to think before I decided what to do with it.

What are books?

Books are of course products: mysterious products that may or may not resonate with readers, subject to the whimsies of timing and trends. The way in which all these soap bubbles seek to rise to the top is via exclusion: more than music or art, the worth of a book rides upon its authority. Authors and publishers define themselves by referring, specifically or implicitly, to a supposed objective quality that makes the book worth reading. This is our idea of a good book. There is a sense that it is something objectively inherent in the work.

Yet inspiring a reader in this way can ignore the nature of a book as a two-way process. It mistakes publishing for a presentation rather than a relationship. In truth, it’s a communication. And while we often think of solitary writers plunking away at their keyboard, and lone readers thumbing a paperback on a hammock in the sun, in doing so we can mistake the form for the substance. A story is a shared experience; never private. The writer and readers share the world of the book.

Accordingly, I felt that offering A Short Death to its readers should invoke something more than objective qualities. Better understood as a shared moment between reader and author, I turned my mind to how the reader could feel the story of Se’s death on a beach in Brazil in their private lives, viscerally, as they read.

How is the Social Media Serial different from an e-book?

I decided that a Social Media Serial could accentuate the shared experience of a book. To communicate with readers where they were, merging the world of the book with their own private worlds, and in a forum where they might easily communicate their synchronized momentary experiences with others sharing the journey.

A Short Death will therefore take place where readers are already congregating, and create an integrated experience that will allow them to enjoy the content without having to go elsewhere to find it. In seeing the book appear on their news feeds, it has the opportunity to become integrated with their usual daily activities; to merge with their real social lives.

I also sought out other artists to see if we could collectively invoke sensations that would stimulate this idea of an experience more intensely while reading the book. In this fashion, A Short Death is also an artistic collective that offers extra-sensory stimulation complementary to the story.

Aurally, from April 1, musician Oliver Grimball’s album Anodyne Holiday will set the soundtrack for the ten week journey into the life of Se. It is complementary to the style of the story, and very much sets the scene for reading. As an independent album, Anodyne Holiday is a turntablist, music and lyric driven project where Oliver blends classic hip hop with spoken word. As a compliment to the novel, it similarly explores new territories. Described in the press as "…visionary in a way that hip hop nowadays seldom dares to be,” the album was said to have wordplay that is “origami like - microcosmic with hyperlinks throughout; smooth from the heart to hit the cardiac dead center."

For people seeking physical and visual overlaps between the story and life, readers will also be able to purchase fashion inspired by the plot, designed by the talented Paris-based underground street artist, Spizz.

In terms of temporality, there is a sense that the main character, Se, will be 'born' at the launch of the book on the 1st of April. When the book finishes on the 12th of June, the book will be removed from all social media channels, emulating his death once more.

Following the story as it unfolds on social media will ask readers to enter into the experience of the book with a spirit of openness; preparing them to feel provoked and unsettled, and offering them a participatory role in a shared momentary experience.

These are the aspirations of the Social Media Serial.

What do I hope to gain from releasing a book like this?

That you experience a new way of reading. You can read A Short Death by following on FacebookTwitter, Pinterest or Tumblr.

This article was written by contributor Jade Maitre. Jade is a writer and photographer who is passionate about creativity and media. She has worked as an editor for human rights publications at UNESCO, a communications consultant for NGOs, was the director of two artistic projects in Brazil, and wrote online news, interviews and gossip for MTV Australia. She has also been published as a travel writer and a journalist. She currently photographs for Getty Images and is the co-founder of the premium site for European vacation photographers, TripShooter. Jade is currently based in France.

Towards a better book recommendation service

The ideal content discovery service has yet to be invented. Plenty have tried but none have truly succeeded. The latest is venture is BookScout from Random House. It’s a nifty Facebook app that uses your social graph to help you discover relevant content. As Laura Hazard Owen recently discovered though, it’s far from perfect.

Reading Laura’s post reminded me of something a wise person told me last year: Just because I’m Facebook friends with you doesn’t mean we have the same reading interests. In fact, I’d be willing to bet my reading interests don’t map very well to any of my friends, real or virtual.


Social Reading is Coming. Deal with It.

The skeptics tell me “reading is a solitary activity” and “my reading will never be social.” That’s fine. When social features are fully built into our e-reading devices and apps I’m sure they’ll include a disable option for unsocial readers. The rest of us, however, will enjoy a level of engagement and discoverability that was never possible in the print world.

Don’t confuse today’s lame highlights-sharing functionality with tomorrow’s fully social feature set. Our industry is only in the very early stages of implementing social features and the major players are also the biggest laggards. It's remarkable that Amazon and B&N don't see how powerful social functionality can be to enhancing the e-reading experience as well as selling more content.

My optimism here stems from looking closer at a couple of terrific startups: ReadSocial and BookShout. I've been fortunate to spend time with founders from both of these companies and I think they're on to something. They each take different approaches but their early products are compelling.

BookShout currently offers a religious vertical with plenty of great titles. It's a terrific way for a church small group to read an ebook together. Watch their short video and you'll undoubtedly see the opportunity for more topic verticals within the BookShout platform.

While BookShout leverages your social graph ReadSocial accepts the fact that your Facebook friends might not be your reading friends. They leverage the hashtag we're all familiar with from Twitter but they use it in a new way to create reading groups around common interests. The ReadSocial platform is also one giant API so it's extremely flexible. You'll find more ReadSocial details in this interview I recently did with BookShout co-founder Travis Alber:

P.S. -- I'm at BEA this week. Things kick off Monday with the IDPF's Digital Book 2012 event. I'll be there Monday and from Tuesday thru Thursday you'll likely find me at the TOC booth, DZ2309. If you're at BEA be sure to stop by and say hello.

BookAnd: A Social, Virtual Bookstore

BookAndI must be more of a visual person than I'd like to admit. After all, I use Goodreads to store and share my book reviews/recommendations but I don't use it much to discover what my friends recommend. My behavior is largely because Goodreads is a list-based service and it doesn't offer an immersive experience. Don't take that the wrong way though...I still like Goodreads!

I've also heard plenty of skeptics who say reading/books and social don't mix, reading is a solitary activity, etc. That's true at times, but when it comes to discoverability there's no substitute for recommendations from your friends. And I seem to be interacting more with my friends via Facebook than ever before. So it still seems to me there's a big opportunity to solve the discoverability problem through the social graph.

I recently discovered an interesting approach to book discoverability. It's a service that's still in the very early stages called BookAnd. BookAnd is a platform where you can build your own virtual bookstore (see the sign-up form here). The screen shot at the top of this post shows my bookstore under construction. It's not just about putting covers on shelves though. You can design your store so that it reflects your personality. If it sounds a bit like Second Life for books that's because it is. I can add tables, stands, chairs, plants, lamps, etc., to my virtual store. And while that's kind of fun, the best part of is that I can feature my favorite books, face out on the shelf, just like how you'd see them in a brick-and-mortar bookstore.

OK, this isn't exactly revolutionary. But think about the experience it could create if this virtual world were embedded in your favorite ereader app. So when you finish that next book on your nook and you want to go find something new to read why are you limited to whatever B&N wants to feature? What if you could easily visit your best friend's BookAnd store, right within the nook app?

That app integration is key. I don't even want to have to go to Facebook to discover what my friends are reading. I'm in the reader app so give me the option of seeing it all right there. That's especially important since we live in a world where even the most sophisticated tablets don't like the idea of displaying windows for more than one open app at a time. (Imagine having to work in Windows or on your Mac with only one window displayed at a time -- it's crazy!)

It's hard to say whether BookAnd or a competitor will catch fire but I definitely think it all hinges on that in-app integration. I hope the big players in this space will jump on that soon. It will only lead to better discoverability and therefore more sales, so why wouldn't they be all over this?

TOC Podcasts: Now in iTunes

600x600_toc_podcast A month or so ago we decided it was time to extend TOC's reach with industry news, interviews, etc., in the form of video podcasts. I've already featured many of those segments here on the 2020 Publishing blog but now you'll be able to retrieve them in a more convenient manner.

Head over to iTunes and subscribe to the TOC podcast series using this link. Four of the first sessions are currently available via iTunes and more will follow shortly. Going forward we plan to create 1-2 new segments every week.

We're always on the lookout for new and interesting people, products and platforms to cover via this podcast series. If you know of any be sure to send them my way and I'll make sure the TOC team follows-up on them.