What can publishers learn from Pokemon Go?

Pokemon-go-logoLong considered nothing more than a gimmicky fad, it turns out that augmented reality (AR) is actually alive and well. At least that’s the case when it’s associated with a brand as large as Pokemon.

By now you’ve undoubtedly heard all the Pokemon Go stories and maybe you’ve even dodged a player or two, overly-focused on their phone while embarking on a virtual hunting expedition. On the surface it’s nothing more than another time-wasting game but I believe it offers some very important lessons for publishers.

Let’s start with the hybrid, print-plus-digital opportunity. Recent reports indicate ebook sales have plateaued and growth has shifted back to the print format. There are a number of underlying reasons for these trends including higher ebook prices as well as the adult coloring book phenomenon. But as I’ve said before, publishers need to stop thinking about print and digital as an either/or proposition. Some customers prefer print while others lean towards digital. Many readers are in both camps, switching between print and digital based on genre, pricing, convenience, etc.

Most publishers overlook the fact that digital can be used to complement and enhance print. Skeptical? Have a look at a few of the demos Layar offers on this page.

Stop and think about how something like Layar could be used to bring your static pages to life. Maybe you publish how-to guides, print is your dominant format and you’ve always wondered how you could integrate videos with the text. You’ve tried inserting urls but very few readers bother typing them in. QR codes are an option but they’re clunky and take up precious space on the page. Why not use AR to virtually overlay those videos on the page without having to dump in a bunch of cryptic-looking urls or QR codes?

Are you looking to engage your readers in the book’s/author’s social stream? Here’s your chance to integrate them virtually using a platform like Layar.

Better yet…have you always wanted to know who all those nameless, faceless consumers are who bought your print book from third-party retailers like Amazon or Barnes & Noble? Here’s an opportunity as a publisher or author to initiate a conversation directly with your readers. Add an Easter egg to the print edition where readers can receive a reward via an AR-powered offer; you will, of course, ask for each reader’s name and email address before handing out those rewards.

This approach to marrying digital to print is totally unobtrusive. Print readers who don’t want to bother with their phones can continue reading the book without interruption. Those customers interested in learning more, interacting with authors or uncovering special publisher offers will likely see the value of connecting their phones with the printed page.

The possibilities are endless. So the next time you see a Pokemon Go player wandering aimlessly be sure to thank them for helping identify new ways of distributing, promoting and enriching content.

Maximizing mobile micro-moments

Girl-925284_1920Google recently published a document entitled Micro-Moments: Your Guide to Winning the Shift to Mobile. You can download the PDF here. It’s a quick read and worth a close look.

I’ve long felt the publishing industry is too focused on simply delivering the print experience on digital devices, something often referred to as “print under glass.” That strategy has created new revenue streams over the past 10 years but it’s not the end game. Mobile represents opportunities for new methods of engagement and discovery; that’s precisely what Google’s document outlines with plenty of interesting stats.

For example, the document notes that “we check our phones 150 times a day” and then reminds us that each session is barely a minute long. That might be an average length but I’ll bet the mean is even shorter. How often do you pull your phone out for only a quick, 10-20 second peek at your email inbox or news? That’s probably my typical session length and based on what I see around me I’m confident it’s the case for plenty of others as well.

So what about that oft-used scenario of pulling the phone out to read an ebook while standing in line at the grocery store? That’s clearly something publishers fantasize about but consumers rarely, if ever, do. It’s more info snacking and short, bite-sized pieces of content that are consumed in most of these mobile sessions.

That trend isn’t changing anytime soon. As the Google doc states, in the past year mobile sessions have increased 20% while session time has decreased 18%. We’re shifting from longer desktop sessions to shorter mobile sessions.

Google asks this very important question: How does your brand perform on keywords searches that are vital to your business? Don’t just focus on search results ranking, btw. You may appear at the top but does the resulting link take a visitor to a terrific mobile experience? Responsive design is part of that but the more important point is that the destination page is constructed with content or a call-to-action perfectly designed for those 10-20 second mobile session bursts.

What does a great, mobile-optimized destination page look like? For one thing, it’s probably a single screen requiring no scrolling on even the smallest of phones. If you can’t deliver on that promise you need to focus on giving the visitor a reason to provide their email address for more details. Again, everything should be designed for an extremely short user session.

On page 8 Google says that that video how-to searches are still on an extremely steep growth trajectory. They’re up 70% year-over-year and far from plateauing. Your business is probably built around written content, but if you’re in the how-to space you’ve got to think about how to remain relevant as more solutions are discovered via mobile searches and delivered in video, not written, format.

Take a few minutes to read and highlight elements of Google’s report. There’s a lot of terrific information here and I guarantee it will both inspire you as well as force you to think about the importance of reframing your brand around mobile. There’s so much here, in fact, that I want to revisit the document in next week’s article. So stay tuned for part two where I’ll highlight several other important points as well as share a use-case for how mobile can complement, not replace, print.

Savas Beatie offers a sneak peek at SmartLayers premium editions

Savas Beatie is an innovative publisher of military history books. In fact, they have the distinction of being the first publisher to release an ebook featuring the SmartLayers technology we've developed here at Olive Software.

If you'd like to get a sense of what SmartLayers looks like, watch the video embedded below. If you'd like to see how easy it is for a publisher to leverage SmartLayers, as well as learn why Savas Beatie chose SmartLayers for their premium ebook solution, be sure to join us for a free webinar tomorrow, September 30, at 1ET -- click here to register now.

P.S. -- This initial SmartLayers premium ebook, Richmond Redeemed, is available exclusively on the Savas Beatie website (cllick here for the book's catalog page).

What can we learn from Getty’s new free, embed model?

Getty Images made an interesting content-usage model announcement last week. After years of playing whack-a-mole with everyone who’s ever stolen one of their images, Getty decided to embrace the free model for a portion of their library. You’ll find additional details on this here and here.

As a wise man once said, you can significantly reduce piracy if you make your content available at a reasonable price and in a convenient format.

OK, free is a pretty radical price and of course piracy evaporates when content becomes free. But it’s important to note that Getty isn’t just giving up and letting pirates have their way. They’ve introduced a model that I think could become a viable template for other types of content.

Note that Getty isn’t saying everyone can now just copy and paste the images into their sites. Getty is instead providing a snippet of HTML code you’ll use to legally embed the images on your site. This approach offers a number of benefits for Getty including tracking and, more importantly, a new potential revenue stream.

By embedding the code in your site Getty will be able to gather data about where their images are being viewed and who is viewing them. This data could eventually be valuable to Getty as they’ll suddenly have access to plenty of metrics they knew nothing about before. Unless you’ve been hibernating the past few years you know that big data can be quite valuable and it’s easy to see how Getty’s data will become big rather quickly.

What’s even more intriguing to me is how Getty will be able to control how those images are rendered on your site. The images live on Getty’s servers, much like YouTube videos live on Google’s servers.

Do you remember when YouTube videos didn’t have pre-roll ads? These days it’s rare to watch any YouTube video without first having to sit through a short ad. 

Will embedded Getty images soon have ads in them? Maybe. It makes sense for Getty to at least experiment with ads. They’ll have plenty of opportunities to study all that data they’re gathering to determine the viability of ads with images.

What about other types of content? Magazine and newspaper articles come to mind. How often is that content illegally copied and pasted onto someone’s website? How often is the same content scraped off the publisher’s website and dropped into an app? The app might give credit to the publisher, and even offer a link to where the content originally appears on the publisher’s site, but how many times do readers get what they need from the ad-free scraped version and never click through to the publisher’s site? How many ad impressions are lost as a result?

What if publishers offered a model like Getty’s, so someone could grab a snippet of code to embed the article in their own site? That version would provide data and a possible advertising opportunity, just like Getty’s.

OK, I think I know what would happen… Most publishers would resist, saying they want the traffic coming to their own site and threatening legal action against anyone who copies and pastes illegally. The smart publisher, on the other hand, would instead embrace this for the data and new, alternative revenue opportunities it represents.

I can’t wait to see how Getty’s model evolves and whether it will expand into other types of content.

Chromecast needs a killer app

Judging by the ongoing out-of-stock situations it's safe to say demand for Google's Chromecast device remains strong. One of my local Best Buy stores finally had them in stock so I grabbed one. My one-word review: Meh. I don't regret buying Chromecast but I can't find a killer app for it.

If you're not familiar with Chromecast all you need to know is that it allows you to wirelessly stream content from your computer or mobile device to your TV. It's an indirect method, as the content on your tablet/laptop gets sent to your router and then over to the Chromecast device in your TV. On the surface, that's nice. After all, projecting video from your computer to your living room screen without a bunch of cables is handy. On the other hand, the apps that support Chromecast are limited. Anything in the Chrome browser works but few mobile apps are supported. That means I can stream games from my NHL Gamecenter subscription but I have to do so within the browser, not through the Gamecenter app on my iPad.

I'd love to see Chromecast work with PowerPoint. Most conference rooms have HD TVs but sometimes the right connection dongle isn't handy. It would be great if I could just plug Chromecast into the TV and project the deck wirelessly but that's not an option yet.

YouTube, Hulu and NetFlix all work fine as well, but what's the point? My Samsung LED TV has apps built in to let me watch streaming movies anyway. All I have to do is plug a USB WiFi stick into the TV and I have full web access. Granted, managing it with my TV's remote is a hassle, so Chromecast has that advantage since you control it with your tablet or laptop.

The only use-case I can think of that really lends itself to Chromecast is video-based training. Even though you can obviously do this on one screen or a computer with a second monitor, I see the benefit of having the instructor on a much larger TV, especially if there's a whiteboard or other region to focus on besides the talking head. Learning to code, for example, would really lend itself to the instructor, their source code and whiteboard on your TV and the programming environment on your computer.

I'm also surprised there aren't any great Chromecast hacks yet. If you search for hacks or novel applications you'll be disappointed. Chromecast seems like the type of device that hackers would love to enhance, and you'd think Google would fully support their efforts.

I'll still use my Chromecast, probably a few times a week. I also plan to take it on the road since at some point I'd like to think PowerPoint access will be supported. And since most hotels have complementary WiFi I should be able to watch NHL games at night via my Gamecast subscription on the TV rather than on my smaller computer/tablet screen.

So for $35 Chromecast is a fairly small investment but its limited functionality holds it back from being worth so much more.

Newspapers as disruptors

That seems like a contradiction, doesn't it? After all, newspapers are the ones that have been disrupted the past several years. True, but Matt Sokoloff recently wrote a very interesting article suggesting that newspapers are about to disrupt local TV. Yeah, I laughed too when I first considered it. But do yourself a favor and read Sokoloff's piece. It's one of the insightful pieces on the newspaper that I've read.

He paints a picture of local TV being fat and happy while the newspapers are desperate for survival. And, true to The Innovator's Dilemma, which Sokoloff references in the article, the TV industry is likely to be caught completely off-guard by an unexpected competitor.

The disrupted becomes the disruptor. How cool is that?

Taking a page out of ESPN's playbook

If you missed this recent BusinessWeek article about ESPN you owe it to yourself to go back and read it. ESPN is so much more than just a sports network and their brilliant strategy offers plenty of lessons for publishers. Here's just one important indicator of their success: While the average network earns about 20 cents per subscriber each month ESPN is paid $5.13. That's more than 25 times the average!


Another Missed Opportunity for Rich Content

I recently finished reading a terrific ebook. It's about the 1975 World Series between the Reds and the Red Sox and the title is Game Six. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed reading Game Six there was something missing. I remember watching that series, just like I watched every postseason baseball game growing up. The image of Carlton Fisk willing his game winning drive to stay fair is iconic. I can almost see Luis Tiant's herky-jerky windup and Bernie Carbo hitting that earlier homerun to tie the game up.

I say "almost" though, because 1975 was a long time ago and my memory is far from perfect. Game Six was fun to read but the author and publisher missed a huge opportunity to make it a much richer experience for their customers.

Why doesn't this book have a ton of links built in that point to related video clips and interviews? They're all over YouTube and many other sites but they're not curated in any manner. Search for "1975 world series game six" or "bernie carbo 1975 homerun" and you get all sorts of interesting results but there's no one guiding you to be sure and watch this one but don't bother with that one or watch this one before you watch that one. I would have gladly paid more for a richer edition of this book with all those links curated by the author included.

I should note that I read Game Six on my Kindle Touch. It's the last one I'll be reading on that device as I've moved on to the new Nook with GlowLight. The video links I'm talking about would have been useless on either device, but if they were integrated with the ebook I would have gladly read it with the Kindle app on my tablet. And just to repeat: The publisher could charge me more for this web-enabled version.

Notice I didn't say anything about selling or embedding these videos with the ebook. All I'm talking about is adding links to the videos that are all over the web, so there are no rights issues to worry about. This enhancement doesn't work for every book either, btw. Game Six is just begging for this enhancement though.

Publishers often complain about the prohibitive cost of creating apps out of books. Rather than going that far and spending a fortune, why not start with the inexpensive option of simply enhancing the ebook by curating everything related to it that already exists on the web?

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.

I Want QR Code Videos, Not Assembly Manuals

Powerspin290 My wife's doctor suggested she use an exercise bike to recover from recent knee surgery.  The one we wound up buying had a QR code on the box which takes you to a promotional video (the link is embedded in the QR code shown on the left).

I didn't watch the promo video before buying the bike and I'll bet most other prospective customers don't bother with it either.  It's nice to see manufacturers using QR code technology, but I can think of a much better application than on-box advertising: enhancing or replacing the assembly manual.

When I opened the box I found it contained the typical assortment of screws, nuts, washers, all the various parts of the bike and, of course, an assembly manual.  I hate assembly manuals.  They're often too vague and sometimes even include the wrong information.

A video, on the other hand, is generally worth a thousand assembly manual words.  Rather than providing me with poorly-written assembly instructions, why not show me how each part fits together?  Manufacturers could either simply add QR codes to the written instructions or dump the print instructions completely and just have a code on the box.  For viewing purposes, my iPhone is always handy and something like this would be far more useful than most of the hundreds of thousands of App Store products.

OK, I know everyone doesn't have a smartphone and some people would prefer to read the steps, not watch them; for those people, provide a url where written (and up-to-date!) instructions can be downloaded and printed.

When I replaced the cracked screen on my daughter's iPhone awhile back I followed video instructions, not written ones.  I simply watched a step, pressed pause, did that step on my own, pressed play again, etc.  That's exactly what I'd prefer doing for any sort of assembly project.

There's another benefit to manufacturer's with this option: they could ask every customer to register on their website.  I would have gladly given my email address for access to assembly videos for that bike, enabling the manufacturer to follow-up with me later with cross-sell and up-sell messages.

This idea isn't just for assembly manuals though, of course.  QR codes could be used in owner's manuals (how do I replace a broken tailight bulb on my car?) or any sort of how-to guide (how do I fix a leaky faucet?).  Yes, there's a cost associated with creating all these videos, but it's a terrific opportunity to (a) provide more help to customers and (b) establish a direct relationship with those customers.