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22 posts from May 2008

Jeff Bezos Interview at D6

All things digital Walt Mossberg did a fine job interviewing Jeff Bezos at this week's D6 conference.  I've embedded the videos below (parts 1 and 2) but here are a few notes I made while I watched the interview:

Sticking with tradition, Bezos declined to provide any sales specifics on the Kindle but he did offer one moderately interesting tidbit.  If you take the 125K titles that are currently offered for the Kindle and look at the total sales (print and Kindle) for just those 125K titles, Kindle sales represent about 6% of the total.  Good luck using that figure to come up with an estimate of the number of Kindles sold to date!

The recent $40 price reduction on the Kindle is the result of improved production efficiencies.  When I first saw the price drop I yawned.  Was anyone really sitting on the fence waiting for the price to go from $399 to $359?  It's more likely that some fence-sitters will just look at it and say, "See? I told you it would come down...I'm jumping on the bandwagon now!"; they'll feel good about "not paying as much as the early adopters did" and the psychology of any price cut will mean more to them than the actual number of dollars saved.  But you gotta love Amazon and the way they've approached this.  Amazon is rich with data.  Have you ever noticed how the discount on some titles goes from 34% one day to 37% the next day and then back down to 34% a few days later?  You can bet someone at Amazon is studying the trends and learning from the adjustments, and that's exactly what they'll do with this tiny price reduction as well.

Bezos mentioned a for-pay video streaming service that Amazon is going to announce in the next few weeks.  Sounds interesting...

Seth Godin on How to Read Business Books

Books2Seth Godin recently offered his thoughts on how to read a business book.  I wanted to wait a bit and think about what he had to say before posting my own thoughts.  Overall, I feel he makes some good points, but I can't say I totally agree with him.

Midway through the post he notes that "bullet points are not the point."  Excellent observation, although perhaps I was the only one who felt it ironic that he closed the post with a numbered list on how to read a business book.

I've read dozens and dozens of business books over the years and here's my dirty little secret: I doubt I've ever precisely followed a bulleted list of prescriptive advice from any of them.  In fact, I'm hard-pressed to say that I ever made "this decision" or came to "that conclusion" because of something I read in a business book.  It just doesn't work that way in the real world, or at least it shouldn't.

My favorite books (business and non-business) aren't the ones that tell me what to do in a hand-holding format; I prefer the ones that force me to think, not just perform steps 1, 2 and 3.  Most business books are either too abstract or too vertically oriented for direct application to every scenario, so why try to force it?

Btw, Godin refers to the mixed reviews of his own book, The Dip, as evidence of people who are just out there looking for quick-fix solutions.  On the surface it would appear that I was guilty of this approach when I wrote this review.  In reality, I just felt the book's premise was hollow and it wasn't an argument that made me think.  Towards the end of that review I mentioned a book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb called The Black Swan.  Now there's a book that I truly enjoyed and I don't recall it being filled with a bunch of bulleted lists.

The Black Swan forced me to think about what Taleb was suggesting and how it applies to my world.  As a result, I got a lot out of it and still think about the impact of black swans from time to time.  The Black Swan was therefore quite memorable for me, which is yet another key attribute of an outstanding publication.

Somewhere, Chris Anderson is Smiling

Cash register Kevin Maney wrote an article called Free for All which has plenty of relevance to the book publishing world and appears in the June issue of Portfolio magazine.  Maney talks about how the music industry needs to stop fooling itself and start giving songs away for free.  Sponsorships, concerts and sales of other related items will drive revenues, so drop the song price to zero and dramatically broaden your audience.

The thinking is consistent with what Chris Anderson spoke of in his Wired article earlier this year.  And while I think it's an extremely viable option, it's not the only one...and it may not even turn out to be the most popular one in the long run.  My gut tells me we should all be experimenting with free content models to see what we can learn and what our audience prefers, but it should only be one approach out of many that any good book publisher should explore.

Speaking of which, our group here at Wiley realizes we need to experiment with non-traditional content delivery models.  We've been hard at work on a number of e-content initiatives over the past couple of years and several of them are now out of beta and available for general use.  I've added this page to my blog where you can see the complete list.  I'll add to that page as we launch new products, so stay tuned for even more new ventures on this front.

Presentation Zen, by Garr Reynolds

Presentation zenWhen it comes to PowerPoint presentations I've always been guilty of simply grabbing a standard template and pouring in my bullets.  I never gave much thought to aesthetics, which is why most of my slides look awful compared to the ones in Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds.

I can see why this book sells so extremely well.  It's a beautiful work and features all sorts of great, visual examples to help drive home the author's points.  Here are just a few of the great lessons I learned from reading this book:
Don't jump right into the slideware tool...lay out your thoughts using pencil and paper first.  Better yet, do it with pencil and PostIt Notes.  This seemed so backwards to me at first.  After all, I've got the computer so why not use it from the start?  After reading what the author had to say about this though I can see I'd greatly benefit from this initial step.
How many times have you been asked, "how many slides will you have in your deck?"  I get hit with that every time I make a presentation.  I love this excerpt from the book: The number of slides is not the point.  If your presentation is successful, the audience will have no idea how many slides you used, nor will they care.  Obviously you can take this to both extremes, but the point is we should be less focused on the number of slides.
How about these two questions that probably don't get enough serious consideration early on: What's your point?  Why does it matter?  Again, I frequently get too hung up on what I want to say and not so much on what I think the audience wants to hear about.  I'm scheduled to make a presentation to a group of grad students in a few weeks and I'm starting to realize I don't know enough about their interests, goals from the session, etc., to properly frame my talk.
Don't force your logo onto every slide.  Wow, that one won't go over well with our corporate communication team, but, it makes a ton of sense.  As I think back about all the presentations I've sat through, there seemed to be a direct correlation between the degree of boredom and the number of times the speaker's corporate logo appeared.  Seriously, if you look through this book you'll see templates are for losers.  The most effective slides have few words/numbers and use an attractive graphic to help reinforce the point.
Look at each slide as a 3x3 grid and focus graphical elements more in the outer portions of the grid or on the intersection points of the vertical/horizontal lines.  This one really becomes clear when you see it in action.  The book features several wonderful examples that show how this sort of off-center balance is highly effective (and similar to the effect used in photography).
Speaking of images, the book features a list of some of the better stock photo sites.  The author's favorite is iStockphoto but I prefer a free alternative called Stock.xchng (also included in the author's list).

The Game, by Ken Dryden

The game As a hockey fan growing up in the late '60's and early '70's, Ken Dryden was one of my heroes.  The Canadiens seemed to always win the Stanley Cup in those years and Dryden was the goalie to watch in the '70's.  The Game chronicles the latter stage of his career and provides a great deal of insight into the NHL, the Canadiens and, of course, Dryden himself.

My favorite part of this book is when he takes the time to drill down deeper into the quirky personalities of certain teammates.  When you think of the Canadiens of the '70's, players like Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, Bob Gainey, Guy Lapointe, Steve Shutt, and of course, coach Scotty Bowman come to mind.  Dryden devotes much of The Game to coverage of teammates, coaches and even trainers, all written in the cerebral style he was known for throughout his career.

Any true hockey fan will want to read this book, regardless of how much or little you know about Dryden and Canadiens history.  Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the NHL today is where it stands after the 2004-05 lockout.  Although Dryden didn't touch on this in The Game, he offered these prescient thoughts towards the end of the book (and his NHL career):
Expansion and the WHA behind it, it will be a time to turn inward, to put its (the NHL's) unwieldy house in order.  Like an aging adolescent having grown too fast, it will get reacquainted with its parts, get them in hand, and do something with them.  It will be a time for realism, and stability, for chastened hopes and dreams deferred--except one.  Off ice, the whispered word will be "cable."  But it will represent a more modest dream this time, and more realizable, if the promised bonanza is only for some.  It is time for a deep breath, a pause, a time to return the game to the ice.  For that is the real tragedy of the 1970s, and the real opportunity for the 1980s.  It is on the ice that its next great challenge lies.
Gee, he could have written much of that in the last 3 years and it would have been just as applicable.  The league is on the rebound but the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals, the ultimate hockey championship, are relegated to the Versus network.  Ugh.  I even had to bite the bullet and sign up for Versus network service yesterday so that I could watch games 1 and 2, featuring my beloved Pittsburgh Penguins against the evil Detroit Red Wings.

How sad is that?  The Stanley Cup Finals start out on some third-tier cable network.  Maybe it's time to toss Gary Bettman out as NHL commissioner and replace him with someone like Ken Dryden...