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26 posts from March 2005

MGM vs. Grokster

The case of the content owners vs. the file-sharing software companies is all over the news. Given that I make my livelihood as a publisher, you might be surprised to hear that I’m pulling for Grokster on this one…

I’m a big believer in technology and innovations resulting from new technologies. I think it would be a huge mistake to create unnecessary barriers that might prevent the next giant leap forward in content distribution. By the way, it’s interesting to see Sony on the content side of the table, fighting against innovative distribution technologies – weren’t they on the opposite side in the ‘80’s, claiming that their VCR’s didn’t infringe on copyrights?

Although I’m not a gun advocate, I agree with the old saying that “guns don’t kill …people kill.” The same logic applies to this debate: Software companies don’t steal intellectual property…people steal intellectual property.

It’s one thing to install a file-sharing program on your computer. It’s another thing when you elect to use that software to cross the line and illegally share copyrighted material. Yes, I realize that most of the download and file exchange activity going on these days involves copyrighted material. If you’re downloading or exchanging copyrighted material without permission you’re breaking the law, period. Don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for you. Anyone doing this is as guilty as the guy that robs the local liquor store.

So how do we fix the current problem? To start off with, let the software companies create their programs. They’re not the problem. Secondly, the content companies need to continue prosecuting anyone they find illegally redistributing their content. They need to be more visible with their efforts, though. People aren’t going to stop doing this until they feel there’s a high likelihood they’ll get caught and fined.

How about reversing the power of the peer-to-peer networks? When one person gets busted for illegal downloads, offer them reduced fines for ratting out other thieves, anonymously, of course. Publicize this program so that the cheaters don’t know whether they’ll get caught by the authorities or turned in by their friends.

Where do you stand on this issue?

What’s the Future of Amazon’s A9?

I’m apparently not the only one who’s not using Amazon’s A9 search tool. A recent AP article said that “A9 ranked 41st in popularity among search engines in February, according to Nielsen/Net Ratings, attracting only a fraction of visitors to Google or Yahoo.” I realize A9 has some cool bells and whistles in it, but I rarely stray from good old, plain vanilla Google for my searching.

The article goes on to ask whether 41st place is anything to get investors excited about, especially in such a crowded space where the leaders are constantly innovating. I would tend to agree… But Jeff Bezos is wicked smart and I’m sure he’s got plans to make it more impactful and widely used than it is today.

Is it possible that A9 could evolve into a fee-based search utility? What if you could use it to search the entire list of titles available on Amazon? I’m not talking about the limited way you can access snippets of a book from A9 through Amazon’s “Search Inside the Book” program. I’m talking about complete access to every page of every book that Amazon sells. Totally unlimited.

What’s the financial model? Maybe it would be a monthly rate that allows you to do “x” maximum searches per day/month.  A per search fee might apply if you exceed that maximum. There could be several tiers offered, the same way you can pick from several cell phone calling plans. A9 would then divvy up the monthly proceeds based on which pieces of content were viewed.

Yes, all sorts of DRM and security measures would have to be in place to prevent unauthorized duplication and distribution of the content. I’ll bet the harder part would be getting all the publishers to agree to the terms and fees. What do you think?

The Wall Street Journal on Author Platforms

Jeffrey Trachtenberg wrote an interesting article on author platforms in today’s Wall Street Journal. Unfortunately, the article is only available to online WSJ subscribers. That’s OK though because much of what is said in the WSJ was covered in an earlier post here entitled “What Makes a Bestseller?”

The article cites a couple of good recent examples of how authors use their own connections, e-mail address databases, etc., to maximize sales. He goes on to say that “the focus on platforms is a byproduct of strained publicity budgets.” I’m not sure that’s totally true. After all, wouldn’t an author want to leverage their platform even if the publisher is spending a lot of money on other PR efforts?

Building a Direct Relationship Between Publisher and Reader

Like just about anything in life, a “direct relationship” can produce good results or bad results. On the good side, it can cut out a middleman who seems to do nothing more than increase the overall cost (and therefore, the final price) of the product. On the bad side, that “middleman” might be adding more value to the formula than the producer or the consumer would like to admit.

Most publishers don’t seem to have a very good direct relationship with their true customers, the people reading their books. Why is that? It’s mostly due to the fact that the publisher views their job as one of developing and producing the best content available, not providing the outlet for customers to buy those products. That made more sense when it seemed very few people would buy a book without being able to flip through it first. Amazon (and others) have proven that’s not a requirement though – there are plenty of ways to use a website and entice a customer to make a purchase without ever touching the product.

When I buy online I’m often doing it to take advantage of the deeper discount. Just about every book is 30% or more off online, so why pay full price at a brick-and-mortar store? (The answer for most people is “convenience”, of course.) What if you could get an even better deal buying direct from the publisher?

Consider this hypothetical situation: A publisher decides to launch their own “frequent buyer club” where you’ll get a better discount (X%) on each book if you promise to purchase some minimum number of books (Y) over the course of a year. Each transaction is conducted via the web, directly between the customer and publisher.

There’s at least one other critical factor in this decision: the size and diversity of the publisher’s list. My interest in a program like this is directly proportional to the breadth and depth of the publisher’s program. The broader the title list is from that publisher, the greater the likelihood I’d give it a try.

How about you? Would you consider signing up for a program like this? If so, what would the values have to be for “X%” and “Y”?

Why I Won’t Buy Another HP iPAQ PocketPC

I started using a PDA in 1996. The original Palm Pilot was a great device and virtually reinvented the category. I was a loyal Palm user for 8 years. I upgraded a couple of times and was generally quite happy.

Last year I decided the Palm platform was fading and the PocketPC was the future. I went out and bought an HP iPAQ 4355. This is a great little device and one that’s worked flawlessly for me from the start; I’m able to connect via WiFi even if I don’t have my laptop handy. I also put all my meeting notes, business plans, etc., on it, along with audio books, MP3 files and more. So why am I such an unhappy customer? It all has to do with Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 2003, Second Edition and HP’s decision to not support it on this device.

Windows Mobile 2003, Second Edition was released last year. It includes a number of useful features that I wanted to take advantage of on my iPAQ. For example, the ability to toggle between landscape and portrait display mode is built into Windows Mobile 2003, Second Edition. (I’m aware of at least one third-party add-on that does the same thing, but I tried it and it was clunky at best.) Despite the fact that the iPAQ 4355 model was only a few months old and was an “Editor’s Choice” in most of the handheld magazines, HP decided to not support Windows Mobile 2003, Second Edition on it. I’ve been told by Microsoft that they can’t really control the hardware vendors. (That seems hard to believe, don’t you think?!) HP officially told me I should consider upgrading to a newer model in their iPAQ line. WRONG! I’m not giving HP another nickel.

Think about it: When was the last time you bought a brand new, state-of-the-art computer and within 3 months it was made obsolete by a new version of the operating system? I’ve never had that problem with a computer and I never had that problem with the Palm platform. Why do Microsoft and their hardware partners think they can be so arrogant about this? OK, no need to reply to that…I already know the answer.

As the saying goes, I’m voting with my wallet next time and it won’t be for an HP product. It’s also unlikely I’ll stick with the PocketPC/Windows Mobile platform. I might pry open my wallet later this year…any suggestions on a good alternative?