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44 posts from March 2007

Changing Revenue Model...#2: Risks

Money_2Here's the next follow-up to my earlier post about the 6 tactics that I recommend as a way of dealing with the changing revenue model in publishing.  This post provides more depth on item #2 in that earlier list: Risk.

This one is pretty simple.  Rather than putting all your chips on a small number of projects, I highly recommend that you place more bets, putting fewer chips on each.  Some of these will undoubtedly show more promise than others, so you start to fund those more than the others, letting the weaker ones die off.  Many organizations have a bad habit of identifying a small number of new initiatives and heavily investing in each.  What happens when any one of them fails?  More pressure falls on the even smaller number of remaining initiatives.  This model also tends to suffer more from the "too many cooks in the kitchen" problem, probably because everyone tends to get overly focused on the handful of high-profile, A+ initiatives in the organization.

I'm an advocate of launching more experiments rather than less, even if, no, especially if that means we don't have a lot of funding for any given one.  Critics will refer to this as a "let's throw everything against the wall and see what sticks" mentality.  Far from it.  I'm not saying you should mindlessly try every combination of new idea, topic, etc.; I'm just saying that more irons in the fire is better than fewer.

Isn't it interesting that many (most?) successful series in our business actually started life as single titles?   On the other hand, lots of big, new exciting series where several books are published at launch often turn out to be disappointments if not outright failures.  It's hard to manufacture a blockbuster series, at least right from the start; they tend to begin life as a great idea delivered as a "one-off" that eventually grows into a series.  This is exactly what I'm talking about: Experimenting with one-off's and making additional investments where you see traction.  It applies to the print world as well as the online one.

Let me revisit that funding issue I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago.  I like it when there's very little money to throw at a new idea because it forces me to think of creative ways to get it off the ground.  Why is that so important?  Because more often than not I have to look at the opportunity wearing something other than my "book publisher" hat, and that's a good thing.

Changing Revenue Model...#1: Customer Touch Points

MoneyI made this post last week about my belief that the publishing revenue model is in the midst of change and that there are (at least) six tactics that should be employed.  I promised follow-up with more detail on each, so here's the first of those, focusing on the need to go beyond your current customer touch points.

First off, a definition...  What do I mean by "customer touch points"?  This all has to do with the customer's buying (and usage) experience with your product.  In my case, most of my customers wind up buying indirectly through a retailer, either brick-and-mortar or online.  I don't actually "touch" most of those customers directly.  Every publisher has a website and many offer incentives to customers in the hope that they will stop by and begin some level of a direct relationship.  Most people just buy their book and don't ever bother with anything further.

There are two areas of opportunity with this: The initial transaction and everything after it.  Btw, before anyone starts saying that I'm trying to remove the retailers/resellers, that's not the goal!  I'm just trying to see how a publisher can enhance the overall customer experience.  For example, when someone buys one of my books today, they close the transaction feeling like they bought a physical product...nothing more, nothing less.  I'd like that person to walk out the door (or press "Check-out" online) and feel like they have just done something more than that.

What can I add to the product itself that causes the customer to say, "hey, that's an interesting feature and it's a great enhancement/addition to the print book itself."  This might be in the form of access to additional content, a free service, a third-party product, etc., but the key is to make sure that it's front and center in the buying decision.

Various attempts have already been made at this, of course.  One that comes to mind was the "Unlimited Edition" that I tested several years ago.  You buy the book today and we'll give you access to new chapters as we write them online.  Similar solutions using different names have also appeared.  By and large, they've all flopped.  Why?  In my case, we just didn't offer enough of a compelling reason for someone to come to the site.  Some would say this proves the idea has no merit and should be abandoned.

I think the idea is still valid and that it just wasn't the right solution.  Someone will figure out how to create the right Unlimited Edition-type enhancement and will be quite successful.  When they do, they'll establish a better long-term relationship with those customers, enhancing their touch point situation, and they'll do so without hurting the retailer.

Time Magazine's "10 Questions"

Time_magTime magazine recently made some changes to their print design.  Overall, I'd say the tweaks are a nice upgrade from the old look.

They also added a new feature called "10 Questions" that caught my eye.  It looks like their plan is to find a celebrity, politician or other noteworthy person, ask them 10 questions and publish their replies.  Nothing revolutionary with that, I know, but there are two subtle pieces to it that make it a bit more interesting than it might appear to be.

First, the questions aren't from Time reporters...they come from you and me, the community.  It's the same "you", of course, that Time named as Person of the Year.  I think it's great that they're using this column to gather questions like this.  The 3/26 issue featured Chris Rock.  I'm not much of a Chris Rock fan and I normally wouldn't bother reading anything about him, but I was more intrigued with what sort of questions people were asking him than the answers themselves!  I suspect this will be true for many of their future "10 Questions" personalities.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, I think Time has constructed this feature in a manner that could successfully turn print readers into online visitors.  I can't tell you the last time I bothered typing in a url for something that was listed as "for more information..." in a print article.  It rarely happens, I'm sure.  In this case, because they wound up having Chris Rock answer more than 10 questions, the rest of them are available on their site.  Again, not exactly rocket science, but I can tell you that I went to their page to see the other questions (and answers) and I'm disappointed to report that the folks at Time really blew it...

If you go to this link to see the Chris Rock questions, you'll see that it's only the ones in the magazine, nothing more.  I looked high and low and couldn't find any other links to additional questions for him.  Too bad.  They were so close to coming up with an online feature I'd like to visit again in the future, but now that they didn't deliver the goods I'm not sure I'll bother going back.

PW: "To Blog or Not to Blog?"

PwThis PW article poses the question, "To Blog or Not to Blog?"  Although the piece is aimed at authors of children's books it definitely applies to all authors.  I disagree with the author's middle of the road stance on this.  She answers the question, "is it worth it?", by saying, "the answer seems to be a qualified maybe--or maybe someday."

Wrong!!  If you're an author, or plan to become one down the road, you should absolutely, positively have a blog.  Can it become a significant time investment?  Sure, but you can invest as much or as little time as you feel it deserves.  Don't let that scare you away.  Just jump in and do it.  That's what I did over two years ago and I'm glad someone pushed me!  (Actually, two people pushed me: Robert Scoble and Shel Israel.)

Here's the most important quote from this article: Editor Julie Strauss-Gabel says, "Blogging is a long-term endeavor, one that builds and sustains a loyal fan base over a career."  Well said.