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25 posts from July 2008

Does Online Reading Count?

Books2 I love my NY Times Kindle subscription but Amazon really needs to add a feature that lets you quickly forward links to articles via e-mail.  I frequently e-mail links to myself so that I won't forget to blog about them.  I meant to write a post about this article earlier in the week and it completely slipped through the cracks on me...

The article is called "Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?" and it adds to the discussion of how to properly define "reading" in a mostly online age.  My favorite excerpt is:

Web proponents believe that strong readers on the Web may eventually surpass those who rely on books. Reading five Web sites, an op-ed article and a blog post or two, experts say, can be more enriching than reading one book.

I'm finding this to be particularly true with my Kindle.  Ever since I got it I know I've been spending more time reading, but it's not just books.  My NY Times subscription is outstanding and it often leads me to check out other websites via the Kindle's browser.  During those side trips I often end up reading more content on these other sites (e.g., articles, blog posts, etc.).  Before I know it, I've lost an hour or two and still have much of the day's paper to go.

For some reason I feel like I've accomplished and learned much, much more after an evening of this than in one where I've spent a couple of hours reading portions of one or two books.  It's part of that whole "info snacking" problem Jeff Bezos says we all have; the Kindle is supposed to help us focus more on serious reading and not info snacking, but I'm finding it contributes to both.

P.S. -- This is a very interesting issue for us book publishers to think about, especially when plotting our e-content strategies.  I believe the key is to embrace this behavior and build it into your e-content models rather than trying to fight it.

Cuil: Apparently "Bigger" Isn't What We Crave

Cuil I was anxious to try out this new Cuil search engine everyone's buzzing about.  The management team is loaded with former Google-ites and they've promised to deliver "the world's biggest search engine," meaning all those sites Google ignores will now be included in Cuil search results.  Further, content and relevance are king, which should provide a much more satisfying search experience.

To be honest, I don't have any beefs with Google.  I use it throughout the day and I generally find what I'm looking for in the top half of the first page of results.  Then again, I was happy with Lycos many years ago before shifting to Yahoo.  Then I abandoned Yahoo to jump on the Google bandwagon.  Although I've pretty much stuck with Google for the past several years you can see I have no search engine loyalty.  I'll use whatever suits my needs.

Btw, I've seen lots of people ask the question, "do we need another search engine?"  My answer is, "it depends", but I'm not convinced the solution involves focus groups or building a business/tool around user feedback.  That's how New Coke's are born.  After all, was anyone really screaming for a better search engine in 1997-1998 when Google hit the scene?  I'm pretty sure we were all happy with Yahoo, AltaVista, Excite and the others back then.  It reminds me of that great quote from Henry Ford who said, "If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse."

Well, Cuil may indeed be a faster (or at least bigger) horse than Google, but I'm not all that impressed with it.  The searches I experimented with produced results that were different from Google's but I still found Google's to be more useful and relevant.  Although it doesn't take much to change search engines I'd need a compelling reason to switch from Google; I'm not finding that with Cuil.

P.S. -- Searchme is probably the only search engine I've seen recently that's worthy of abandoning Google over.  No, it's not just the nifty user interface...I like the whole stacks metaphor they use and how stacks can be saved and sent to others.  Now that's something I never would have suggested as a search engine improvement but it really lends itself to some very interesting applications.

Always Be Testing: The Complete Guide to Google Website Optimizer

Alwaysbetesting Today was one of those days where a new fun title crossed my desk and I felt compelled to blog about it.  The book I'm referring to is a new one from Sybex called Always Be Testing: The Complete Guide to Google Website Optimizer, by Bryan Eisenberg, John Quarto-vonTivadar and Lisa T. Davis.  Btw, if Bryan Eisenberg's name rings a bell it's probably because he co-authored a couple of earlier blockbuster titles, Call to Action and Waiting for Your Cat to Bark?.

The first two parts make up the bulk of the book as they focus on a marketer's view of testing and what you should test.  The authors worked with us to apply the spirit of the A/B testing model to the book's cover itself: One version of the book's cover appears on the front and a slightly different one appears on the back.  It's an attention-getter that illustrates one of the concepts that's discussed inside.  Finally, as an added bonus, the product includes a $25 Google AdWords gift card; not bad for a $29.99 book!

Congrats to Willem Knibbe and the rest of the group for what's sure to be another hit from our Sybex team!

High Gas Prices will Lead to More Digital Content Consumption...

Old gas pump That's what Steve Rubel says in this recent blog post.  I don't necessarily disagree with him but I think high gas prices will lead to more scrutiny of all purchases, not just print content.

Steve's blog post specifically mentions newspapers and magazines.  My sense is that when subscribers abandon these products they're switching to free digital alternatives, not paid ones.  I say that partially because it's the model I've personally been following; I used to subscribe to at least a dozen different magazines and now I'm down to about 3 or 4, for example.  On the other hand, I've picked up a paid subscription to The New York Times on my Kindle, so I'm not totally going the free route, but that's the lone exception.

The simple truth is that all household expenditures are under more of a microscope with gas prices at or above $4/gallon.  The pessimists will predict declines in all the various print/publishing industries.  Opportunistic publishers, on the other hand, will seize the moment, realizing there's never been a better time to introduce prospective customers to digital content offerings.

Think free samples, full access time trials, etc., or whatever it takes to get your product in front of a potential reader.  Hey, I never thought I'd be willing to pay $13.99/month for The New York Times on my Kindle; I tried their sample though and quickly became a convert!

The Shack, by William P. Young

The shack Wow.  What a truly amazing book.  As the saying goes, if you're only going to read one book this year, The Shack should be the one.  I just finished reading it on my Kindle and I can't tell you the last time I was this inspired by a book.

What's so special?  It's the only book I've ever read that personalizes God.  More specifically, this riveting story paints a fascinating picture of each element of The Trinity, all in human form.  As a parent it was tough to read at times...I won't go into the reason why'll just have to read it for yourself.

The mental images from The Shack will probably be the lens through which I will read every other book on Christianity in the future.  That's saying a lot but it still doesn't do this book justice.  Buy it and read it.  You won't regret it.

The First iPhone 3G Book on a Kindle

Iphone 3g portable genius I'm pretty sure the picture on the left (click to enlarge) is a first.  Correct me if I'm wrong but I believe I'm the only person on the planet with an iPhone 3G book on their Kindle.  That's one of the many benefits of working for the publisher that produced it though, right?

Actually, this one didn't come from my group.  The book is called iPhone 3G Portable Genius and it was produced by Barry Pruett's team here at Wiley, in record time, I might add.  The print edition should appear in stores shortly and the Kindle edition will likely be available sometime this week.

Congrats to Barry, his editorial team as well as the marketing and sales teams for making this exciting project happen in such a short period of time.

One Very Happy iPhone 3G eReader

Iphone 3G The new iPhone's eReader has been referred to as a potential killer app, not that the iPhone really needs one.  Having seen one in action I'm not sure this app will kill other cell phone sales as much as it will simply give iPhone owners a very good reason to pass on the Kindle.  I can't picture many prospective customers saying, "wow, that eReader app is the reason I'm going with the iPhone 3G and not the xyz phone."  On the other hand, I can definitely see iPhone 3G owners saying, "why should I spend another $350 on a Kindle when I get a reading experience that's 'good enough' with eReader on my iPhone?"

Here's an excellent review of the app from Joe Hutsko over on Salon.  He notes that the lack of a backlit display is one of his biggest gripes against the Kindle.  Another reader of Hutsko's post beat me to the punch by stating why the Kindle is backlit-free.  To be blunt, backlit displays are harder on your eyes and the eInk technology is all about reading comfort.  That's why my eyes go nuts after a couple of hours of working on my laptop but I can read all day on my Kindle with no discomfort whatsoever.  Sure, you need a separate light source for the Kindle but I rarely find myself needing to read in the dark.

Given the choice between a Kindle and an iPhone 3G I'd still go for the Kindle.  I'll read a Mobi book from my Blackberry in a pinch but I wouldn't want that to be my primary reading device.  It's too darned small and so is the iPhone screen.  Heck, there are times when I think the Kindle screen is a tad bit too small, but it's still a far better reading experience than any other e-reading device I've seen so far.  I'm also starting to realize that multi-purpose devices aren't always the best solution; I'd prefer the larger screen of the Kindle even though it means I have yet another gadget to lug around.

P.S. -- On a related note, here's a formal announcement of Sony's decision to embrace the EPub format.  The net result is that Sony Reader owners will have more content alternatives than just the Sony store.  It's a good idea for Sony but I don't think it's a compelling reason for customers to pick their Reader over the Kindle.

Lessons Learned from myebook and LinkedIn

Lightbulb myebook and LinkedIn...  What could these two operations have in common?  Actually, although you're probably already familiar with LinkedIn, you ought to pay a quick visit to myebook.  It's a service I recently discovered and it's currently in a beta stage.

Recent announcements by both companies got me thinking more about implications for the book publishing world.  Both of them have to do with applying new social networking tricks to old businesses like content.  First up, LinkedIn...

LinkedIn recently announced an intriguing partnership with The New York Times.  If you're like me you use a networking service like LinkedIn from time to time but don't find it to be all that sticky of a site.  I'm either accepting a contact link-up request or I'm searching for someone in my existing contacts list.  Either way, I'm in and out in a matter of seconds.  The New York Times deal is interesting because it should help improve LinkedIn's stickiness factor.  I'm more likely to stay on their site if I'm reading and exchanging relevant headlines with colleagues and friends.  Newspapers are fighting for their very existence these days, so it makes sense for the Times to test this model.  If it's a valid experiment for a newspaper, why not a magazine, or...books?  Hold that thought.

Let's shift gears to myebook for a moment.  Their service is pretty cut and dry.  Anyone can create their own e-book for others to read.  The reader interface is both amusing and annoying; yes, it's fun to replicate the page-flipping experience on-screen but is that really such a critical component of the print book that we should feel compelled to preserve in the e-book experience?  myebook offers many of the same features you'll find with a few other e-book platforms but, just like with the LinkedIn example earlier, it's the social networking feature set that captures my attention.  Two of the buttons at the bottom of the myebook interface are "view comments" and "send to a friend".

Where are the "view comments" and "send to a friend" buttons on my Kindle?  They don't exist, at least not with Kindle 1.0.  But why shouldn't I be able to take pieces of the book I'm reading and send them along to my friends with Kindles for their review?  And all those notes and comments I've already embedded in some of my Kindle books/newspapers/magazines...why can't I share those with my Kindle friends as well?

Think of the new monetization models and reading models that could come from this.  What if you could gain access to a well-known person's thoughts when reading a book they already read?  For example, I love listening to Jim Rome do his spiel about the sporting scene.  I'll bet he reads a lot of sports-releated articles and books throughout the year.  Would I pay a bit more to have access to the comments he had about those same articles/books as I'm reading them?  Yes.  It would be an extension of his show and brand and plenty of fans would pay for access.  That's just one example though.  You could come up with countless ones in the world of sports, movie/TV stars, politicians and other celebrities.  Mark Cuban is another great example.  I don't always agree with him but the guy is brilliant.  I'd love to get into his head and hear what he says about some of the things we've both read.

I'm using the Kindle as the device example but this applies to any sort of e-book model.  Layered content will be part of the evolution from print to better e-content, but social networking functionality will be equally important.  Without taking these sorts of giant leaps forward isn't an e-book nothing more than a print book without the dead tree?

10 Free Passes to Publishing Teleseminar on 7/30


Larry Genkin of Larstan Publishing recently brought an offer to me that I wanted to pass along to readers of my Publishing 2020 blog.  Larry is doing a teleseminar called Surviving the Inescapable Print Publishing Ad Decline: What Print Publisher's Must Do To Stay Relevant & Thrive in Tomorrow's New Media Publishing World. Although the standard price is $195 for the 90-minute session he's offering 10 free passes to readers of Publishing 2020.  The session is scheduled for 4-5:30 PM EST on Wednesday, 7/30/08.

If you're interested, send me a quick e-mail with your contact information and I'll pass it along to Larry.  This is limited to the first 10 people who reply to this post.  (For the record, I'm not receiving any sort of fee or other compensation for this...I'm just trying to pass along a free opportunity to what appears to be an interesting teleseminar.)

Jonathan Karp on Publishing's Problem

Books2 Johnathan Karp is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Twelve, an imprint of Hachette Book Group.  Karp recently wrote this OpEd piece that I came across in today's Dallas Morning News.  In it, Karp shares some of his highlights from almost 20 years in book publishing and also talks about the problems currently facing the industry.  He also shares a list of 5 ways he believes publishers can grow their business.  Since we're talking about an industry where publishing the book is often a better financial alternative to conducting formal market research, it's obvious why there are so many books produced every year.  In short, the barriers to entry have gotten smaller and smaller and ever-improving print-on-demand technologies will only help reduce them further.

Karp also notes that, "For publishers, R&D means giving authors the resources to write the best books – works that will last, because the lasting books will, ultimately, be where the money is."  The average shelf life for books in my specialty area (IT pros) is far shorter than many other areas in the bookstore, but I'm all in favor of creating more books with longer lifecycles.  R&D isn't just about what publishers can do for authors though.  In my business R&D investments are critical for us to figure out the best way to deliver content to our customers, many of which feel free online content is "good enough."  We need to continue challenging ourselves to build products that are better than "good enough" and worth the price we ask customers to pay.  That's why we've invested so much time and energy in online experiments like Chapters on Demand, WROX Blox and Sybex's TestSuccess.