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31 posts from October 2007

Maghound: Interesting, but Not "Netflix for Magazines"

Maghound_3Great logo, interesting idea but not the silver bullet for the magazine industry...and certainly not "Netflix for magazines", as they're touting it.  That's how I'd assess Maghound, Time's forthcoming subscription program described in this article.

The idea is to offer monthly subscriptions to 3 magazines ($4.95/month), 5 magazines ($7.95/month) or 7 magazines ($9.95/month) with a twist: You can change from one magazine to another at any time.  The example given is that you tire of reading Time and decide to switch to Newsweek for a bit.  Does that really happen?  Am I the only person who really appreciates (and generally looks forward to receiving) every issue in my subscription?  When I lose interest I'm gone and am never coming back, period.

My magazine subscription stack is less than half the height it used to be.  I've abandoned at least a dozen different subscriptions over the years, not because I couldn't switch from one to another, but because I'm now able to find much of what I'm looking for online.  Maghound has a cute logo but I'm not sure it's going to solve the real issues that plague the magazine industry.

P.S. -- The article also mentions the irritating "Please allow 4-6 weeks for delivery" nonsense that's famous in the magazine industry.  I recently canceled my Sports Illustrated subscription and am returning to ESPN The Magazine.  I subscribed online and paid with my credit card.  ESPN comes out every couple of weeks, so why can't they take my subscription info and get the next issue to me in a couple of weeks?!


BedbooksI stumbled upon BedBooks earlier today and got a chuckle.  Take a look at the picture of the product in use on their homepage.  On the surface, it (kind of) makes sense: Rotate the text 90 degrees and print the book that way so that you can read it lying down...sort of...

What happens when I want to sit up in bed and read or sit in a chair and read?  Looks like I need to have another book that's printed the old-fashioned way.  In all fairness, you could read one of these books sitting up and it wouldn't be any more awkward than reading a regular book lying down.

Holding the book open always seemed to be the toughest part to reading while lying down.  Based on the homepage picture I'm not sure that's any less challenging with a BedBooks product than a regular book.

I wonder if they also sell some sort of eating/drinking device that will provide nourishment for me while I'm lying in bed.  Are we really this lazy that we can't just sit up in bed and read?

Guest Review of "The IT Girl's Guide to Blogging with Moxie"

It_girl_bloggingEarlier this month I offered my copy of our recently-published IT Girl's Guide to Blogging with Moxie (by Joelle Reeder and Katherine Scoleri) to the first female blogger who e-mailed me that morning.  The only catch was that the winner needed to read and write a review of the book; I figured I'm not in the target audience but wanted to post a review on my blog.

Our winner, Carolyn Jewel, sent me this review of the book:

Chick Lit has come to Technology and it's kicking some serious butt.  The IT Girl’s Guide to Blogging with Moxie is a reference guide aimed at women who aren't necessarily technology adepts. Now, I'm a woman whose reference shelf at work is crammed with titles like T-SQL Programming and Expert SQL Server 2005 Integration Services. I've also been blogging since 2001. I know a thing or two about being a geek.

How, I wondered, could a book with a pink cover and sentences like "the key to a killer frappe is double-strength coffee" be anything but long on hipster-chic and short on practical, workable blogging advice?  Blogging with Moxie easily succeeds in providing both. It's a fun, interesting read packed with useful details well explained. Authors Reeder and Scoleri cover topics of unavoidable geekishness (ftp, podcasting, RSS, just to throw around a few) and never misrepresent or omit crucial details. Their witty presentation covers the history of blogging, surveys blogging tools, sets out available platforms and provides the devilish details behind such things as web hosting and widgets.

Blogging with Moxie will help anyone new to blogging successfully navigate the technology behind the scenes. As for me, I can't wait to try the cleansing cucumber masque.

About Carolyn
Carolyn Jewel is a SQL Server DBA by day and a Romance Novelist by night. She is definitely a geek (but with an MA in English). Her 2008 releases are Magellan's Witch from Grand Central Publishing (formerly Warner Books) and Scandal, from Berkley Books. Visit Carolyn's website for more information about her writing or visit her writing blog to catch her latest thoughts on the world of writing.

Dzanc Books Interview with Steve Gillis

Dzanc_2Dzanc Books first caught my eye in a recent Wired article entitled From Old to New Media: Blog Begets Publishing House.  It's great to see a new independent publisher like Dzanc do so well out the gate, but what's particularly interesting is that they got their start in the blogopshere.  Dzanc Founder and Publisher Steve Gillis was kind enough to take the time out of his schedule to answer the following questions:

JW: There hasn't been a lot of interest in starting new publishing outfits and yet your Dzanc Books operation shows there's plenty of upside available.  What do you attribute Dzanc's success to?

SG: Well, thanks for the complement.  I truly believe that our success is predicated on our desire and determination to make Dzanc work.  What do I mean by that?  Well, irrespective of our love of books, Dan (Wickett) and I didn't enter into Dzanc with any false notions.  We knew if we were going to succeed we had to have a plan and stick to it.  I was able to line up a considerable sum of money so we didn't start Dzanc until we knew we had the funds to be viable for no less than 10 years even if we didn't bring in another penny.  (And, of course, we fully intend to bring in additional funds through our books and, as a 501(c)3 to obtain grants and contributions to sustain the charitable programs Dzanc sponsors.)  Second, we refused to worry about the market and making a profit.  Our focus is solely on the writing and the author.  If that sounds inconsistent with my first statement, let me explain.  We believe, if we publish what we feel is great and worthy writing that the books will find readers.  And if the book finds an audience then Dzanc will get a return on its investment.  We also understand to make a buck you have to spend a buck so we aren't afraid to put our backing behind a book in order to expose it to the public.  We are currently sending Roy Kesey out on a 12-city tour for his book "All Over."  We flew Roy in from China, and are flying him around the country to read because we believe in Roy and his work.  Our success at Dzanc, to date, is based on keeping true to our vision which is to support and publish great writing, while at the same time being savvy about business.  We are a non-profit, with our full commitment to community and our writers.  This doesn't mean we are naive.  Both Dan and I have been involved in the witting community for a long time, and we have learned a thing or three about what is needed to make a publishing house a success and this starts with finding great writing and making our writers happy.  The profit margin and bottom line is of no interest to us.  We know what we need to survive.  Good books.  Everything else falls into place.

JW: Dzanc is a virtual operation.  What are the pros and cons of not having a physical office?

SG: There really are no cons now.  Dan's house and my house are Dzanc.  We can do all that has to be done, receiving and reviewing manuscripts, conducting daily business, literally everything from our home offices.  Plus we save on the cost of renting office space.  We have many interns working for us, other employees, a Board of Directors, a PR person, a design person, and all is easily coordinated without having to come into a specific set office.  So for now, I truly see no need to rent space.  To be candid, as someone who practiced law many moons ago, I know something about ego and such.  Dzanc doesn't need to put on a show, to rent office space and impress clients or authors.  Dzanc stands for the integrity of publishing, something if I can be candid, which has been lost these last 20 years.  Sure, we can afford a nice office but why do it?  What do we need it for if that money can be better spent on our community programs, our Dzanc Prize and Dzanc workshops and Dzanc Writers in Residency Programs, and on our Dzanc authors and our books.  We are not only perfectly happy to work as we do, but with email and such, entirely more efficient and productive.

JW: How does The Emerging Writers Network tie into all this?

SG: Part of what let Dan and I know we could make Dzanc work was our combined connections in the writing community.  EWN is clearly a great blog and has enabled Dan to connect with many fantastic writers.  We also use EWN to get out news about Dzanc to EWN members.

JW: How important has the blogosphere been in Dzanc's success?

SG: Here, too, is something Dan and I understood out the gate.  We saw the world was changing insofar as the print media was abandoning literature while the electronic online world was growing exponentially.  We used our connections through blogs and availed ourselves to the online editors etc we knew and have certainly relied on the electronic media to get the word out about Dzanc.  To date, the blogosheres are Dzanc's best ally and we don't expect this to change.  Moreover, we fully intend to expand our relationship.  Dzanc will be publishing annually a Best of the Web anthology so our commitment to the online literary world is certainly reciprocal.  We are truly indebted and immersed in the literary blogs and online community which is clearly the wave of not only the future but the present.

JW: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

SG: Ahh, the proverbial question.  I will answer as I tell my students when I teach at Eastern Michigan University - Read and Write.  Work hard and commit yourself to writing, do not delude yourself into believing you are a writer simply because you can compose something that has a beginning, middle and end.  If you want to be a writer, don't even think about publishing, worry about becoming the best writer you can be and the publishing side will follow.  Work hard.  I can't stress this enough.  Write and read everyday.  As a writer myself who has been lucky enough to publish two novels - with a third being published by Black Lawrence Press in 2008 - and 2 story collections, I write everyday without fail and never let anything interfere with my writing day.  A writer needs this selfish undivided mind-set.  Work at your craft.  Love and honor your craft by your commitment.  If this sounds corny, sorry.  It is the truth.  There isn't a writer worth a damn who hasn't put in the time and sacrifice to become what he/she is as an artist.  There are no shortcuts.  If you aren't ready to give yourself over to the time that is needed, then go sell cosmetics.  The perfume will cover your stink.

Online Merchandising Lessons

Books2I admire many of the merchandising techniques the online retailers have come up with over the years.  You can't browse a book online like you can in a physical store?  Problem (sort of) solved by introducing the online "look inside" feature.  It seems like there's no problem too challenging for the online retailers to at least attempt to solve.  So why does it seem that the brick-and-mortar stores don't bother implementing some of the more interesting features from the online world?

For example, I love Amazon's "Customers Who Bought Items Like This Also Bought" feature.  It's obviously an important element and drives incremental revenue or it wouldn't have the prominent placement on Amazon's product pages.  You may have set out to buy title X but now that you've also seen title Y you're buying both.  That's music to any retailer's ears, so why do you rarely, if ever, see this implemented in a brick-and-mortar store?

Most retailers would probably say they don't do this sort of thing because it's a stock management nightmare.  Amazon has it easy because everything is virtual, so they can mix and match related titles on the screen as much as they want; try doing that in the physical world and you've got a mess on your hands.

Maybe not though.  After all, I'm not suggesting they do this with every single book in the store!  How about simply focusing on the best seller displays at the front?  Your local bookstore typically has a section with the top 10 or 20 fiction and non-fiction titles.  That list doesn't change dramatically from day to day, so why not start there?  They could use their extensive sales history to determine which related titles customers frequently bought along with each of those best sellers.  Start simple and just place the #1 companion title alongside each of the best sellers and see where it leads.

Yes, it would force a bit of restructuring on the shelf but why not try it out for a few months and measure the results?  (Added bonus: As I publisher, I can't believe I'm suggesting this, but...why not also consider making it yet another placement fee slot in the store?  IOW, if publisher A's title happens to be the right match, ask them if they'd like to participate in the program for the tidy fee of $X.  Given the right circumstances (e.g., a low enough fee and the chance to sit next to a current best seller at the front of the store), you'll probably get a few takers.)

Still can't get past the in-store inventory management challenge?  OK, consider this alternative: At the bottom of each customer's receipt, print out a coupon for a limited time discount on a related title or two.  One of the major chains has experimented with printing what seem to be totally random store coupons like this, but why not step it up and use that database again to create something that's much more relevant?  This is another model that publishers would likely be interested in through a shared discount or some other fee structure.

The key here is to introduce ways of making more relevant products easily discoverable to customers who are already in the store.  It all leads to incremental sales, so you'd think the brick-and-mortar stores would be willing to experiment a bit on this front.

P.S. -- On a related note, in this post I wrote earlier this summer I suggested Amazon should consider introducing a horizontal scroll capability for better search results.  One reader commented that horizontal scrolling would be a nightmare but I'm happy to see Amazon has implemented it in their "Customers Who Bought Items Like This Also Bought" section of the product page; I think it works well and I hope they consider using this UI approach elsewhere (e.g., search!).

OK, I Took the Twitter Challenge...Where's the Beef?

TwitterChris Webb told me to try it out and so I did.  I took his advice, created a Twitter account and gave IM tracking a shot.  I decided to  track two different phrases to start: Leopard and Twitter itself.  I figure Apple's Leopard release is probably the biggest thing happening in the tech world right now so there ought to be a lot of chatter.  Tracking Twitter itself simply enabled me to do some comparisons on buzz levels.

If I were to Twitter my initial reaction it would be the following: "Signal-to-noise ratio is awful...calibration options required!"  (Fortunately I managed to keep the message below the 140-character ceiling.)  Here, for your reading pleasure, are the first 5 IMs that came through for my "Leopard" and "Twitter" tracks:

TwitterIM (3:41:36 PM): (missusP): Freakin' grouchy today. Going tpo order a new Mac w/ Leopard - maybe that will cheer me up.

TwitterIM (3:41:52 PM): (xxdesmus): goes nothing, formatting, and installing Leopard (attempt #2)...

TwitterIM (3:42:06 PM): (cyeary): Pre-Leopard backing up. The excitement builds.

TwitterIM (3:42:13 PM): (sixfoot6): Greetings from leopard! Powerbook G4 handled upgrade well. The big winner is Quicklook, but insane photomosaic screensaver a close second.

TwitterIM (3:42:25 PM): (thericketandoo): sitting on the couch with Michele. my twitter is so awesome.

See what I mean about the poor signal-to-noise ratio?  I'd say maybe two out of five were (sort of) worthwhile bits of information; xxdesmus is apparently having trouble installing Leopard while sixfoot6 made it through with flying colors.  But do I really have to skip over three other messages just to find two that have some value?  After scanning through the last 10 minutes worth of recent track messages I'd say the 3-for-2 rate is pretty accurate, at least for these two phrases.

Despite all that, I see promise for a service like this.  They need to start by adding more filtering and other calibration features.  For example, I could easily live without seeing any further messages from thericketandoo, so is there any way for me to filter those message from my future feeds?  To be fair, filtering individual users would require more work than I'm likely to invest in this, so how about another option?...

Is there any way to rate other users?  What if I determine I really like what sixfoot6 has to say and I'd like to let others know they're likely to find value from his/her messages?  Why not offer a feature where when I say "track xyz" I can also say I only want to see messages from users who average a 4-star rating out of 5?  If that doesn't result in enough tweets to suit my needs, let me ratchet that setting down to 3-star ratings, but please, oh please, don't make me sift through all these other random, content-free messages!

Do customization features like this already exist in Twitter?  I couldn't find them, but if I missed them, please let me know because I'd like to test it further.

30-Day Job Promotion, by Susan Britton Whitcomb

30_day_job_promoHow much time did you invest strategizing for your last job promotion?  If you're like most people, you probably figure (a) your work speaks for itself and (b) you're the best candidate for the job.  That's not much of a strategy, and while it still might lead to a promotion, a better approach would be to use Susan Britton Whitcomb's 30-Day Job Promotion as a planning tool.

Be forewarned that you'll need to do a good deal of work to get the most out of this book.  Then again, if you want to get that promotion, isn't it worth the effort to use a tool like this to lay out your plans?  If nothing else it shows the promoting manager just how enthusiastic and committed you are to the new role.

One of my favorite elements in this book is a section called "The 10 Characteristics of Promotable People."  Are you convinced you're truly promotable?  If so, check yourself against this list and see how well you score.  More importantly, learn your weaknesses and invest the time and energy required to become stronger across all 10 areas.

Here are some of the other headings and sections in this book that make it worth every penny: Mistakes to Avoid, How to Respond to a Posted Opening, 15 Common Roadblocks (to a promotion) and an entire chapter on Salary Negotiations.  The last 30 pages of the book consist of real life success stories.  Even though your situation is probably quite different from all the ones discussed, you'll find plenty of great lessons to be learned in this section.

Can you really get promoted in 30 days?  Your mileage will vary, of course, but no matter what time frame you're working with, 30-Day Job Promotion is like having a career counselor right there by your side.

Memo to Daniel Lyons: It's the Facebook Apps, Stupid!

Facebook_2 I really enjoy Daniel Lyons.  His Forbes articles are interesting and entertaining, but it's his alter ego, Fake Steve Jobs, that I appreciate the most.  In fact, his Fake Steve book, oPtion$, just came out and I picked up a copy at B&N over the weekend...can't wait to read it.

So with all the respect I have for the guy, imagine my disappointment when I read his latest Forbes article, Party Crashers, where he pokes fun at Facebook, pretty much writes it off and scoffs at all of us oldsters who are flocking to it.

Daniel, please realize Facebook is a platform in transition.  The decision to open it up to third-party apps will help it evolve into a more useful resource for all ages.  Yes, most (all?) of the applications that exist today are silly time-wasters but that doesn't mean this will always be the case.  Have some patience, realize that a younger generation already spends loads of time there and have faith that many, many useful applications will rise above the rest.

Btw, although I think Lyons is dead wrong about Facebook, I totally agree with his Twitter observations.  I don't want to read a blow-by-blow description of anyone's day, so I'm sure as heck not going to bother Twittering my own!  It reminds me of that wonderful book, No One Cares What You Had for Lunch.

What Can Be Learned from Guitar Hero?

Guitar_hero_iiiWell that's certainly an odd question, isn't it?  After all, what does the wildly popular video game Guitar Hero have to do with book publishing world?  I asked myself that question after I read this article in the latest issue of BusinessWeek.

Five years ago, would anyone in the music industry have thought that this game would help create a new revenue stream?  Sure, it's a tiny revenue stream, but (a) it's a start and, more importantly, (b) as the article notes, it's an excellent promotional tool for other revenue streams.  Games also represent the sort of sticky experience advertisers and media types love.  People tend to spend hours and hours playing these darned things and the opportunities to expose customers to new products, services, etc., are endless.

Am I suggesting that we can somehow weave the content of a programming book into a video game?  Of course not.  But what about content that's more relevant and can become part of the product experience?  For example, maybe there are some great tips in Guitars For Dummies that could find their way into this product.  I'm not talking about random content placement; perhaps the game could evolve to where knowledge of this information is required to advance to the next level, earn points, etc.  That exposure raises brand awareness and probably results in additional book sales.  Simple, but effective.

Yeah, I know that's a bit of a stretch, but this model is worth keeping an eye on.  You can bet the music industry is paying attention.

The OUPblog on Publishing's "Upper Hand"

Oupblog_2Evan Schnittman of the Oxford University Press blog recently featured this post about the current state and future of book publishing.  He talks about three important reasons why the book publishing industry finds itself in a very favorable position with some of the world's largest technology companies: discoverability, print on demand (POD) and deep repositories of content.

On the discoverability front, Schnittman talks about the ongoing battle for search supremacy between Google and Microsoft.  It doesn't seem like a fair fight given Google's dominance, but at least that hasn't stopped Microsoft from trying (e.g., Live Search Books).  Improving the book search and discovery experience probably isn't anywhere near the top on either company's priority list but it's been fun watching each one try to leapfrog the other with new features.  New features likely lead to more exposure and discoverability, both of which are important in the content world...assuming this all leads to new revenue streams in the form of book sales or advertising income.

Schnittman's comments about POD are valid, but I still think the dramatic change to this playing field won't happen till POD equipment is cheap enough to sit in the back room of your local bookstore.  The value of POD isn't that significant if you still have to wait a day or two for your book; instant gratification could be POD's "killer application" and help level the scales between online and brick-and-mortar stores.