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41 posts from June 2007

Even on "iPod Day", Microsoft Muscles In...

MuscleThere I was, just sitting there minding my own business, watching the Today Show, wondering how much coverage the iPhone was going to get...  All of a sudden, bam!, there's a piece about Microsoft and how we can't forget about how innovative and creative they are.  Huh?!  (Btw, I tried but I couldn't find a direct link to this video segment.  The Today Show's video archive system is awful!  The best I can tell you is to go to their site and look for the link entitled "Microsoft's answer to the iPhone?".  It will probably scroll off their home page soon, so check quick!)

Kudos to Microsoft's PR team.  I never would have thought they could break through the iPhone clutter with a message of their own today!

Am I the only one who was underwhelmed with this inside look at what's new and exciting at Microsoft though?...

Why Google Remains on Top...For Now

GoogleHere's a great article summarizing Marissa Mayer's recent keynote at the Searchonomics 2007 conference.  Marissa is a VP at Google and has been featured in cover stories in a variety of magazines.

Two things came to mind as I read this summary.  First, this is why Google remains the leader in search and threatens so many other industries.  They're always out there thinking about new products and services, aggressively building upon the empire that currently exists.  Sure, lots of other companies say they're doing all this, but can they prove it with a list that's impressive as the 8 items she presented in her keynote?  Btw, keep in mind that this is just a small portion of the innovations that are undoubtedly happening behind the scenes at Google; this is just the stuff they were willing to share with the public at this time!

The other thing that came to mind while reading this is, "gee, I wonder how long Google can continue to pull this off?"  I don't own any Google stock and have no plans to buy it.  (I figure I've already missed out on the huge run-up it's had from below 200 in 2005 to north of 500 today and it would be just my luck to buy it at the top!)  But it's not the irrational stock market that has me concerned; it's really the ease of customers switching from Google to just about anything else that makes me wonder.

I use Google as my primary search tool and have no plans to change...until something better comes along, which is how I wound up using Google in the first place.  That's why it's so important for Google to get their tentacles into so many other business.

Online advertising?  You can see I use their AdSense service right here on my blog.  It was easy to implement and it's paid for my Typepad hosting fees as well as a new lawn mower, but I'd switch to something else in a heartbeat if I thought it was a better solution.

As you look at all of Google's various sites and services, doesn't it seem ridiculously easy to abandon them for the proverbial "better mousetrap"?  Google is building up a nice brand name, although it probably still means nothing more than "search" in the minds of most people.  Nevertheless, this whole operation seems like a giant house of cards that could easily collapse because it's so easy to switch from Google to another vendor.

Harry Potter: Winning the Battle But Losing the War?

Wizard_hat_2This BusinessWeek article does a fine job revealing the uglier side of a big product release like the upcoming Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  You'd think a mega-hit like this would cast off profits for everyone involved, but that's simply not the case. 

Why?  Perhaps the best way to state it is that it's an insane feeding frenzy where everyone's focused on out-discounting everyone else.  Even Jeff Bezos notes that Amazon will not make a profit from the new Potter book.  Wow.

But look at what the article says about the publishers involved in the project.  One is reported to do better in off-Potter years because "they extend so much energy on one title and not enough on fixing things like the company's flailing direct-to-home book business" while Bloomsbury, the original publisher, has seen its stock price drop 40% in the last year!  Geez, with results like that they might look forward to just getting through this summer and putting this blockbuster behind them...

I also thought one of the readers who posted a comment to the article made an interesting point about the book world vs. the movie one and how the latter would never consider slashing prices.  When that next major movie comes out you don't find yourself looking for the best admission price.  Right.  Different model entirely, I know, but it's still a great observation about how the whole book/bookstore model really shoots itself in the foot at times.

Book Groups Ruining Reading?...

BooksThat's what this article in The Herald claims.  I disagree.

First of all, anything that gets people to read more is a good thing, IMHO.  As much as I roll my eyes at the latest Oprah recommendation, it gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling knowing that some segment of her audience is actually taking the time to walk away from the television and (possibly) crack open a book.  And before any Oprah fans complain about that comment, please see Exhibit A in the what-a-pile-of-crap-book-recommendation trial.

The real gist of the article is whether the big-time, mass appeal book groups are causing publishers to make stupid decisions for very limited PR opportunities.  I think the answer is "possibly", but not if publishers consider the long tail effects of this area as well.  For example, while getting Oprah or some other celebrity to hype your book will always drive more sales, how many thousands (millions?) of much smaller book groups have an overall impact on the business as well?

For example, I'm participating in my first book group.  (It sounds funny just saying that...)  It's a small group of people at Wiley, primarily in our San Francisco office, and we're reading Everything Is Miscellaneous, by David Weinberger.  We communicate via a private blog and although it's still early in the process, I think it's going to be a fun experience.

My point?  I think most publishers (and bookstores, for that matter) are better served by helping enable and facilitate book groups than they are trying to win the Oprah lottery.  Rather than forcing these groups to set up their own Blogger site (or whatever tool they prefer), why not offer a book group hosting service for free as a way of building more community and drawing traffic to an uber book group portal, something that's very much affiliated with your existing site?  Again, it doesn't just have to be limited to the publishers...I think a similar program by any of the bookstores would be viable as well.

Think of the benefits.  First of all, your site offers to sell the entire group copies of the book, maybe at a "special" discount rate for group members.  Second, because you're hosting the discussion, there are aspects that you could monetize further.  Think Google AdSense, for example.  You're also creating a wealth of great customer insight to the book.  What you do with that would only be limited by the terms of your membership agreement.

I'd love to do something like this with my own business, but I'm not sure very many programmers would want to curl up with the latest WROX offering and read it together as a group!