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30 posts from October 2006

The Evolution of YouTube

Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but ever since Google announced their purchase of YouTube it seems that copyright owners are coming out of the woodwork, forcing YouTube to remove content. Mark Glaser is a good example of one YouTube user who isn’t too happy about the situation. He makes some excellent points about how YouTube has been a great platform for Stephen Colbert, but at the end of the day, if Comedy Central doesn’t enforce their ownership rights it only makes it harder to enforce them in the future.

I’ve said all along that I disagree with Mark Cuban and I think YouTube can be a sustainable business. But, part of achieving sustained success is working with the content owners, not against them. Heck, even if YouTube disappears tomorrow Google can sleep comfortably, knowing (a) they prevented a competitor from making the purchase and (b) it only cost them some pocket change.

Comedy Central (and other) content will undoubtedly disappear for a bit from YouTube. Look for it to reappear with advertisements rolled in. That’s all the content owners really want, a piece of a revenue pie. They can’t be too greedy though; as I’ve also noted before, the online revenue base is going to be much, much smaller than the one they’re used to capturing via cable. Those who opt for greed will disappear from YouTube and never come back. Good luck to those folks as they try to build their own traffic; better to have a small slice of something than to have 100% of nothing.

Timing is critical as well. YouTube can ill afford to lose all the copyrighted content that’s driving so much traffic to their site. It will be interesting to see how quickly YouTube can integrate a pre-roll, post-roll, AdSense or some other advertising model. It will also be fascinating to see how YouTube users react to something more obtrusive than the banner advertising currently in place.

Cuban’s “Long Tail Ghetto”

Mark Cuban makes some interesting points about the nature of the long tail of content in this post, but…

To me it seems like the flow is almost always left to right, from the “vert ramp”, as he refers to it, down the long tail. He talks about progressing from right to left, breaking through the “content ceiling.” There’s no doubt this happens from time to time, but there’s so much content moving the other direction that it’s got to be like salmon swimming upstream.

I absolutely love the fact that the long tail of content means there’s loads and loads of niche material out there, generally written by experts who are passionate about the topic. I’m delighted that most of these people aren’t in it for the money; if they were, they would have quit long ago. It’s the same for me and my blog. I’ve made next to nothing for my efforts thus far, but I have met quite a few new and interesting people along the way. That, along with the fun of providing my opinion for anyone who will listen is what makes the long tail of content so attractive to me.

If everyone currently contributing content to the long tail, including myself on this blog, was doing it for fame and fortune they would soon give up in despair. I’m quite happy living in this content “ghetto”, as Cuban describes it, because I feel like I’m helping contribute to the community. Maybe it’s not always about the money.

Adobe Digital Editions

There’s been a fair amount of buzz about the release of Adobe Digital Editions, their lightweight eBook reader and document manager; see other blog posts here, here and here. I’ve played around with it for a few days now and I don’t see what the big deal is. Sure, it’s a nice little application that lets you organize and read your e-docs, but what’s new and exciting here? I’ve been able to read PDFs on my laptop and PDAs for years now.

I still say that as long as there is no killer reader device, eBooks will remain a very, very tiny piece of the overall book market. The world doesn’t need another reader app for their computer; the only way this sector is going to catch fire is if an iPod-like device comes along and has all sorts of exciting features. What’s an “exciting feature?” How about full color, priced at less than $200 and the ability to pick up news feeds via WiFi? I’d buy that.

Barnes & Noble Gets More Competitive

It costs $25 a year but I feel it’s worth every penny. I’m talking about the Member Program at Barnes & Noble. I’ve been a member for a couple of years now and they recently made the deal even better. Your membership now gets you 40% off all hardcover bestsellers. That’s in addition to a 20% discount on all other adult hardcovers and 10% off pretty much everything else, including café items.

As far as I’m concerned, Amazon just lost some of their advantage, at least on the hardcover bestsellers. Scanning down Amazon’s bestseller list today, it looks like most hardcover titles are 40% to 43% or 44% off, with a couple coming in a bit higher than that. If most are going to be 40-43% off though, I’d prefer to go to my local B&N and get the book now versus saving a couple of percentage points and having to wait for Amazon to deliver.

This is a smart move on B&N’s part, and well-timed for the upcoming holiday season.

Newspaper Business Development 101

You see it in just about every hotel. Free copies of USA Today or a local paper are left outside your door or stacked up in the lobby. Each one usually has a nice sticker on the front page, reminding you that “This paper is complements of such-and-such hotel.”

Today I was waiting in the local Honda service lounge and I saw a stack of copies of USA Today in a corrugated display. They aren’t for sale; they’re free for customers who are stuck waiting on their over-priced car repairs.

What’s the significance of this? I don’t know the financials that are involved, but I see a model more newspapers should explore. It’s highly likely that the Honda dealership is paying something for this; I doubt USA Today is leaving stacks of their papers in waiting rooms out of the kindness of their heart. If it makes sense for a service shop at a local Honda dealer to offer a perk like this, why shouldn’t every other car dealer offer it as well? In fact, if it makes sense for USA Today to do it, where the heck were the free copies of the Indianapolis Star? (Obviously the biz dev folks at the Star aren’t as creative and aggressive as the ones at USA Today.)

Let’s not limit ourselves to service waiting rooms though. What about all the other waiting room opportunities? Your doctor’s or dentist’s offices are a couple of great examples. Wouldn’t you love to have a fresh copy of USA Today or your local paper waiting for you there? I would.

Maybe the Honda dealer has more discretionary funding available to pay for a perk like this or at least they have more to spend than your doctor or dentist. Perhaps that’s right, but who cares? How about opening this up further and looking at it more from a business development point of view? If you’re in a sales position with your local paper, why not call one of the large pharmaceutical companies and see if they’d be interested in sponsoring free papers in car dealers and doctor/dentist offices? These companies are spending millions every day on TV/print ads for their newest drugs – maybe they’d be interested in having an adhesive ad placed on the front page of free newspapers in every waiting room in your city.

I still feel the newspaper industry needs to embrace a model where they’re giving away more copies than they do today. Far too many people, especially those under the age of 30, have never bothered reading a paper and won’t unless you give it to them for free. Why not experiment more with this, while also looking for large corporate sponsors to help make it an even more attractive proposition?

Books24x7 Podcasts

The folks at Books24x7 recently launched a monthly podcast series called Publisher 1-on-1 Interviews where they talk with some of their publisher partners to discuss current trends and future products. The latest addition to the series is an interview with yours truly where Pam Boiros of Books24x7 asks me about digital publishing and what’s currently on my radar. Give it a listen and let me know whether you think I’m right or wrong. Also be sure to check out their other podcast series ExecBlueprints Excerpts and Soundview Author Interviews.

Five Challenges for Online Publishing

Carolyn McCall CEO of The Guardian Media Group recently described the five challenges she sees ahead for online publishing. Kevin Anderson, also of The Guardian, provided the details in this post. While all five are valid, I have some additional observations about the first one:

Our brands and our staff are the foundation of our future.

Brands are clearly as important online as they are anywhere else. Google might officially say they don’t like it when their name is used as a verb, but they’re also undoubtedly proud of having built such a well-known brand.

My concern here is that while brands are critical to success, brand loyalty for online properties, especially for free services, is often quite weak. Sure, I use Google regularly throughout the day, but if a better solution comes along I’m switching to it immediately. That’s precisely why a company like Google needs to aggressively keep testing new services and acquiring promising businesses.

Consider this comparison: The corporate world has stuck with (and often complained about) Microsoft Office despite the fact that viable, cheaper alternatives have been available for years. Google would love to see that level of commitment from their user base; it might appear that they’ve already achieved that status today, but that’s mostly because nobody has built a better search mousetrap…yet.

Words of Wisdom from Kathy Sierra

Regardless of what business you’re in, read this “Dilbert and the zone of mediocrity” post on Kathy Sierra’s blog. After you read it once, be sure to read it again, then either print it out for handy reference later or bookmark it so you don’t forget about it.

I have to admit that I sometimes cringe when I read what Kathy has to say on her blog. No, it’s not because I disagree with her; it’s because she often strikes a nerve. I see myself in some of her examples and it’s really quite uncomfortable.

Here’s a key point from her post and what I would refer to as Exhibit A in my struggle:

Today, the more you try to prevent failure, the more likely you are to fail.

Ouch. In sporting events they call it “playing not to lose.” In fact, I think the Arizona Cardinals did that this past Monday night...

Netflix for Books…Sort of…

I was once asked, “Why isn’t there a service out there like Netflix, but for books?” One obvious answer is, “because it’s a heck of a lot more expensive to ship books than it is to ship a DVD.” It got me to thinking though…

Why not create some sort of a regional, Netflix-like program? What if you could pay your local bookstore $x/month for the ability to borrow books from them, read them at your leisure and then return them for more down the road? Part of this depends on how much “x” is, of course.

I know, you’re thinking, “we already have something like this and it’s called ‘the library’.” Not quite. The local library typically has only one copy of any given book and quite often, it’s checked out.

B&N and Borders aren’t likely to do this anytime soon, but why wouldn’t an organization like Half Price Books? After all, they’re sitting on a load of inventory at every store, waiting for someone to come in and buy a copy then return to sell it for a fraction of the original price later. They’ve typically got multiple copies of a given book, so you don’t face the checked-out problem you find at the library.

Rather than let all that inventory sit while waiting for a buyer, why not loan it out for a monthly fee and generate more in-store traffic? I’d certainly consider the service for $10 or $20/month.