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37 posts from April 2007

The Holy Grail of Community

Bullseye_2When I first saw Dan Blank's post, "I Have Seen the Future, and It's Fluffy", in my RSS in-box I almost skipped right past it.  I'm glad I didn't.  In it, he describes the community experience kids enjoy when they play with Webkinz.

My favorite part of Dan's post is where he says:

How much more profitable is a customer who doesn't simply purchase a product - but one who logs onto a brand’s website everyday to interact with that product, and build relationships with other customers? Is the plush animal simply a gimmick to build an online community?

That model is something that would not only benefit any content publisher, but most companies in general.  When was the last time you bought something and then went online to enjoy the community platform that product offers?  Think about the sites and online services you tend to use the most.  Google comes to mind.  Have you bought anything from them?  I haven't.

How about a model that's closer to the publishing world?: Amazon.  I buy stuff there and I post reviews there, but that's still nowhere near the type of community interaction you'd find on Webkinz. It makes me wonder why Amazon doesn't do more on this front; why not offer a platform for local (and not-so-local) bookclub discussions, for example?  They could easily tie in a commerce component: "Free hosting for your neighborhood bookclub on Amazon, plus, get an additional xx% off orders for more than xx copies of each club book."

Regardless of whether Amazon ever tries something like that, Webkinz is an interesting study on how the benefits of online communities are being enjoyed at a very young age; as this customer base ages, it will no doubt raise the bar even further for community expectations.

Booksquare on Phantom Markets

Books2The Booksquare blog comes through again with this great post on why some "can't-miss-hits" become big flops.  Blogger Kassia Krozser's example is a book for moms that she feels is better delivered as a blog than a book (more on that point in a moment).  Kassia goes on to distinguish niches from trends by saying "By way of example: moms arguably comprise a massive portion of the reading audience, while so-called “Mommy books” comprise a small portion of the book-buying audience."

Great point, and any publisher who tells you they've never fallen into this trap is lying!  I'll give you an example from the technology publishing world: Books on antivirus solutions.  Everyone knows they should be running antivirus software on their computer.  In fact, most do, but who really wants to go out and spend even $10 on a book telling you why/how to do it?  The unfortunate reality is that nobody cares about the subject of antivirus until their computer gets infected -- at that point, they're much more likely to look for immediate online/neighbor solutions than run out to a bookstore.

To Kassia's point, the audience of potential customers is huge but what percentage of those people are really going to buy a book on it?  (Full disclosure: My group recently co-published Simple Computer Security with CA.  The product includes a special version of the CA Internet Security Suite, all for $24.99; we figured we'd try a new angle with this market by basically distributing the software itself and wrapping a small book around it.  Only time will tell whether we really found a new approach or are still kidding ourselves.)

The question I've sometimes asked when new titles are pitched at an ed board meeting is, "do customers really want a book on this topic or would a nice magazine article suffice?"  As Kassia accurately alludes to, I need to get more in the habit of asking whether a blog, wiki or other online resource is the better delivery mechanism for this book's content, not just a magazine...

Crosley, by Rusty McClure, David Stern & Michael A. Banks

CrosleyI don't read very many biographies but I made an exception with Crosley and I'm glad I did. I just finished it last night and it was one of the most enjoyable reads I've had in quite awhile.  The book covers the lives of two brothers, Powel and Lewis Crosley, and their remarkable careers; Powel was the creative genius and Lewis was the hard-working, reliable partner who made everything happen.

So what exactly did these two do?  Not a whole lot, other than create radios "for the masses, not the classes", build one of the leading AM radio stations in the country, pioneer and build home refrigeration systems, manufacture explosive devices that helped win World War II, design and manufacture automobiles and own the Cincinnati Reds.  (I left a few of the smaller items out, btw.)

If you're from the Cincinnati area you're probably familiar with the Crosley name.  The Reds used to play at Crosley Field before Riverfront Stadium opened in 1970 -- that was the extent of my Crosley knowledge prior to reading this great book.  Now I feel like a bit of a Crosley expert, primarily because the authors did a fantastic job of assembling the facts and telling the story.  There's also a companion website for the book where you can find more information about the authors and loads of Crosley family pictures, including several that aren't in the book.

Even if you're like I was and aren't that familiar with the Crosley family, you owe it to yourself to grab a copy of this and read it cover to cover -- you won't be disappointed.

Our 8th Hit of 2007: Pro XNA Game Programming

Pro_xnaOur editorial team continues to produce bestsellers.  I mentioned in earlier posts here and here how we've had 7 new books hit Amazon's Top 25 Computers & Internet list in calendar 2007.  Our total has now reached 8 with the new WROX book, Professional XNA Game Programming.  The book is just hitting stores but it's currently #22 at Amazon and has been climbing fast all week.

Congratulations to executive editor Chris Webb and the rest of the editorial team on this latest hit!

Killing Community Support

DangerCountry Living magazine made a number of mistakes recently in the midst of a blogging competition.  Some would argue the biggest error was changing the rules of the contest.  I agree that was pretty bone-headed, but I think the biggest screw-up has to do with the magazine's expectations.

The editor pointed out that she chose the finalists, "who despite only posting a small number of times demonstrated 'quality over quantity' and 'showed real potential.'"  What's the problem with that?  The magazine is looking for a columnist in the midst of a blogging competition.  The best bloggers, as measured by things like frequency, brevity and popularity won't necessarily be the best columnists.  The editorial team should have decided early on whether they wanted a great blogger (as determined by the community) or a great columnist (as determined by the magazine's editor).  They weren't likely to stumble upon someone who happened to be both and they made things worse by changing the rules in mid-contest.

P.S. -- Intervening because "posters...did not have the time to read all the blogs and then vote" was also the wrong move.  Why not just extend the contest deadline?