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28 posts from November 2007

Who Needs a Pricey iPod? Not Me!

Mw3337I'm a big fan of the Creative Labs family of MP3 players.  My 40-gig Creative player is now 3 or 4 years old and works as well as the day I bought it.  My son has one too and my daughters both have Flash RAM models that they absolutely love.

I found myself in the local Apple store recently and was enamored with the iPod touch product.  Very cool, but I couldn't see myself taking that $300+ device out with me while I mow the lawn, for example.  (On a related note, I asked a co-worker this week if he is an Apple fan.  He said he must be, because his family owns 4 iPods, but then he also noted that 3 of the 4 are broken...)

I've been thinking about getting a smaller player that fits in my shirt pocket but I hate it that all the Flash-based ones have such limited capacity.  I keep wishing someone would include an SD card slot to address this issue.  Yeah, I know...the manufacturers want us to feel the need to upgrade from 2 gigs to 4, 4 gigs to 8, etc.

My wish came true this week.  Fry's is selling a 1-gig player with an SD slot from GPX for $19.99.  Yes, that's right.  $19.99.  This thing is as ugly as the iPod is beautiful, but I don't care.  I'm not going to sit around staring at it all day.  I just want it to produce great sound.  And boy, does it ever!

I loaded it up last night and then stopped back by Fry's this morning to pick up the first of 2 or 3 2-gig SD cards (on sale for $14.99).  I plan to load them up with different genres of music so I can just pop one in to fit my mood, press "random" and enjoy my wonderfully inexpensive solution.

If I buy 2 more cards I will have invested $65 plus tax and probably won't need to buy another device for another 3 or 4 years, depending on how long this one lasts.  Heck, even if it only lasts a year, for $20, how could I possibly complain?!

A Self-Publishing Cautionary Tale Indeed

Books2Despite the fact that I work for a large publishing house I'd like to think that I've always been fair and balanced, as Fox would say, about my assessment of the self-publishing world.  Given the right circumstances, elf-publishing, print-on-demand and other related services are viable options.

This article in The Wall Street Journal is a nice reminder that an option only becomes viable once you do all your homework on it though.  Yikes, what was this fellow thinking?  Ordering 15K copies of a book, having them stored in his garage, not lining up endorsements, distribution, etc., in advance...  What's even more amazing is that he's going back for more with an audiobook edition and a commitment to stay "in it for the long haul."  Here's to hoping he does all the necessary research for the audio side before another truck backs up to his garage with 15K clamshells full of CDs.

Thanks to reader Jeff Lash for sending this one my way.  Btw, as I mentioned to Jeff via e-mail, I have a subscription to the WSJ's online service and I didn't catch this article till he sent it to me.  Call me crazy but I'm finding that the blogs and other non-mainstream RSS feeds I follow closely are providing me with so much information that I'm starting to ignore the commercial sites/feeds.  No wonder Rupert Murdoch wants to attract a wider audience and make the WSJ online a free service...

"Print is Dead" Interview with Author Jeff Gomez

Print_is_deadJeff Gomez writes the "Print Is Dead" blog and is the author of a book by the same name.  I just received a galley copy of the book and started reading it last night; stay tuned for a full review here in the not too distant future.

Jeff was kind enough to participate in an interview with me about the book and the future of publishing.  Here's what he had to say:

JW: The subtitle of your book is "Books In Our Digital Age."  Up to now, the e-book platform hasn't really taken off. What do you feel will be required before e-books become a more significant segment of our business?

JG: While you’re correct in stating that eBooks --- as we know them --- have not really taken off, in the meantime what has indeed taken off is electronic content. So while people may not be buying novels in PDF format, they’re buying music online, streaming TV shows from the websites of networks, and integrating their daily lives with a number of different interactive websites (such as Myspace and Facebook). So consumers are certainly ready to consume content digitally (witness the rise in online news, and the demise of the newspaper), so now it's just up to publishers to come up with a great digital reading experience, and I don't think that's yet happened.

JW: What are your thoughts on digital rights management (DRM)?

JG: Well, being an author and working in publishing, I see both sides of this issue. And it's not something that's just being fought for by the publishers; many authors and agents are wary to have their works out there, complete and unprotected. And while I think it would encourage literacy instead of piracy, I think we're years away from seeing a lessening in DRM, and I don't know if we'll ever have a completely DRM-less society when it comes to media. Instead, I'd rather content providers got together on standards so that we didn't have so many competing formats. One answer to the problem of DRM, in terms of eBooks, would be to get rid of competing formats. If there were a universal but protected file format --- say, the digital equivalent of vinyl forty years ago --- then that would go a long way towards putting to rest a lot of these arguments.

JW: Most e-book efforts up to now have been simple ports of print books into PDF, for example.  Will this model ever work or do publishers and authors need to find new ways of leveraging the technology and offering more value than what readers can get in a print-only product?

JG: You're absolutely right; what's held back eBook adoption isn't that they're not enough like regular books, but rather it's that they're TOO much like them. We need electronic books to do things that regular books can't do, and that includes thinks like search, hyperlinks and multimedia. Because the idea of reading through a PDF file "page by page" will always pale next to the real thing. eBooks (or rather, digital content) needs to come up with its own user-experience, the same way that CDs didn't try to replicate the two-sided experience of vinyl.

JW: How much of a role will price sensitivity play in the future of e-books?  Is it likely that mainstream customers will pay the print book price for an e-book?

JG: This is one of the most interesting issues surrounding this entire debate, and I certainly don't have a concrete answer to the question. What I think needs to happen is across-the-board experimentation; we need to see what consumers are willing to pay, and of course with what frequency they're willing to pay that amount. And while there's a great temptation to price eBooks incredibly low right now, in order to get people to read them, this makes no sense since there aren't enough eBook readers in order to get the publishers to lower their prices. Once the "network effect" takes place, in terms of eBooks, then I could see having lower prices across the board. But until they grow in popularity, lower prices will face resistance with publishers as well as with authors and agents. (And yet, of course, this sets up a Catch-22, because perhaps lower prices would be the thing that leads to widespread adoption.)

JW: Which of the various monetization models do you feel will work best with e-content in the future (advertising, subscription, price per unit, etc.)?

JG: All of the above. I also love that you called it "electronic content," since that's what it really is. And that content will vary widely, from things that we would consider today to be either a magazine or a newspaper or a book, but in the future that will all come under the heading of "content"; it will consist of words on a screen. And some material will be better suited to advertising than others, while some material will work on a subscription basis. There won’t be just one monetary model; there will be lots of them.

JW: What should authors be doing to prepare themselves for the "Print is Dead" scenario?

JG: It's very difficult, but they need to try and break the crush they have on print. I know it's great to see your name on a dust jacket, or your book in a store window, but that has nothing to do with reaching people or exchanging ideas or information (or even telling stories). And yet the notion of what it means to be "published" is so ingrained in the minds and marrow of writers; to them it means physical things like books and bookstores, not to mention tours and book parties. All of that is going to change --- indeed, it's already changing --- and writers need to prepare themselves for the idea that much of their various relationships (not just with their readers, but also with their publisher) are going to happen electronically. More importantly, they need to realize that this is a very good thing, and not a bad thing. Simply put, the Internet is the best thing that has ever happened to the midlist author, and the Internet will save more careers than it ruins.

JW: How about publishers?  What should they (we!) be doing?

JG: First and foremost, publishers need to rid themselves of the notion that they're in the "book" business. (The only ones who are in the book business are printers.) Instead, publishers need to realize that they're in the idea business. And once they start to get this reality into their heads, they'll start to see that a digital world will offer them many more opportunities than limitations, and that an electronic world isn't the end of Gutenberg's invention, but is instead its latest improvement.

BlogTalkRadio Interview with Alan Levy

BlogtalkradioBlogTalkRadio is a service that hit my radar earlier this year and I keep hearing more and more about them.  I got curious and decided to explore it a bit further to see what BlogTalkRadio (BTR) might have to offer authors and publishers.  Fortunately for me, Alan Levy, CEO and co-founder of BlogTalkRadio agreed to an interview for my blog.  Here's what Alan had to say:

JW: What's the market need that BTR aims to serve?

AL: It terms of function we're focused on the audio market, but our sweet spot is in allowing people to interact in real time with technology that allows people listening to a live audio stream to call in via their phone and chat with hosts/guests.  Since hosts can use text chat to communicate as well, and mix in pre-recorded mp3's to a live stream, the experience for listeners is the same as when they listen via terrestrial radio.

However, our chief value in terms of market need is in building community. In just over one year, our thousands of hosts/publishers have produced more than 35,000 segments. Notable guests on the network have included Presidential candidates, Academy Award winners, top selling authors and many more. A complete list can be found here.

JW: What sort of equipment does someone need to create their own talk show on BTR?

AL: A computer to program their shows (takes about two minutes to put in a title, pull down a menu to pick a time, etc.) and any type of phone to host their shows.  Listeners can listen online or via their phone to the live shows or listen in demand via a flash player which resides on the hosts blog or RSS into Itunes, Google Reader, etc. There is no download required for the host, listener or guest.

JW: What are some of the common characteristics shared by the most popular talk shows that your service hosts?  What makes them successful?

AL: The characteristics match terrestrial radio or any other form of major media network, which is what we are.  (We call ourselves The Social Broadcast Network).  Our most successful hosts pick a specific niche to focus on, know their topic inside out, are personable/funny/edgy (or a combination of these) and deliver consistent, high-quality shows on a regular basis.  Take our political director, Ed Morrissey (here's his show). Ed's got an extremely popular blog and well respected for his views on Republican/Right issues.  He's gotten John McCain on his show (three times), John Kerry, Fred Thompson, and Rudy Guiliani.  These are top people (and potential Presidents) chatting in an environment where anyone can call in.  That's a powerful medium and our audience knows that (as Ed's numbers show).

JW: You mentioned in an e-mail message to me that BTR is doing a lot with book authors.  Can you share some of the specifics there, what's working and what techniques authors could use on BTR to expand their platform and communicate with their readers?

AL: First off, many authors can't afford a lengthy book tour.  We offer them a "virtual book tour" where they can interact with a live audience while sitting at their desk at home.  Plus (like all of our shows) the archive (mp3/audio file) of the show is available within half an hour after the show is recorded and they get a podcast feed.  This provides authors a series of shows that are available online, 24/7 for readers to get to know their work/voice in a way that instantly builds rapport you can't get from a rear book jacket.

The live element is also great for promotion and contests.  Authors can offer their books at a 10% discount if listeners enter in a pin code just while the show is live and so on.  Having both live and archived shows provides great incentive and opportunity for reader interaction.

Finally, publishers are always looking for innovative ways for their authors to promote their books.  By using our White Label product (our technology on their sites with their branding), they can promote their content, reintroduce successful books to the public and build a community around their authors. There are plenty of advertising and sponsorship opportunities for the publisher and their authors as well.

JW: Individual author talk shows are interesting, but what could we be doing from the publisher/marketer side to tap into the potential of BTR?

AL: Great question and thanks for asking!  We have created a co-branded "Stations" for publishers on the BTR website.  As our site generates millions of unique page views a month and an ever-growing demographic/user base, Stations allow publishers to create their own community on BlogTalkRadio.  This will operate like the rest of our site (live calls that are archived, etc.) but feature the Publisher's branding to increase our visitor's awareness of their books/authors.  We can also individualize sponsors/advertisers for their Station and insert customized audio, pre-roll ads in the archived shows. Authors can also be included in BTR's program guide under their unique category (i.e. sports, politics, etc) to provide additional exposure to the author and publisher. Finally, while publishers cannot post an Amazon book jacket on their website, there is no such restriction on BTR to post the book jacket on the author's profile page.

Publishers know that typical book buyers go to Amazon online or Barnes & Noble in person.  So any way to enhance the publisher brand and build reader interaction with their authors is essential.  By creating a co-branded Station (on our site or off), Publishers can create a unique community around their brand and generate book sales while enhancing the visitor/reader experience.

P.S. -- Here's a link to a PDF you can download called "The Digital Podium" which talks about BTR's Virtual Book Tour platform. Sign of the Times in Newspapers

Minnpost_2It's an understatement to say the newspaper business has been pummeled by the likes of Google, craigslist, etc.  Layoffs have been all to common as most newspapers continue searching for a viable model that works both online and in print.

Several displaced newspaper vets in Minnesota have decided to build a better mousetrap on their own.  This article explains how Joel Kramer, former Minneapolis Star Tribune publisher and editor, has launched a new venture called MinnPost.  Several other former newspaper employees have joined Kramer at MinnPost, an online service focusing on local news.  Visitors can read and post comments online or just download a PDF of the latest news to read offline.  MinnPost is a nonprofit with a revenue model built around advertising and donations.  In fact, the article compares it to the public radio/TV model where supporters make annual contributions.

I like the idea but I wonder if there's more strength in numbers...  Even though each one would focus on their local news, it seems like they could get a lot more visibility and traction if they were to create a federation of sites like this around the country.  The major newspapers are trying to become more local in their coverage, so it's a safe bet competition will be fierce.  I'd use a service like this to keep up with local happenings here in Indianapolis, but I'd also like to have a similar service for my hometown (Pittsburgh); I could see a customization feature that would let me designate the majority of my home page to Indianapolis news but save a column for the most popular Pittsburgh stories as well.  You could do this through RSS feeds today from each local newspaper but it would be much easier with a service where MinnPost is just one of many local feeds.