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11 posts from November 2008

Business Book Breakdown


I've reached my breaking point. It happened while I was trying to read a recently-published business book (title and author shall remain nameless, but I will say this particular book is currently ranked quite high on Amazon). I got about halfway through it and realized it was awful...just terrible.  Then I realized it's been a long, long time since I've read a truly inspiring business book.

So much of what's out there seems to be either a simple restating of the completely obvious or 4 pages of insight buried in 300 pages of filler.  Why is it so much easier (and significantly more rewarding) to find greater value in a 2- or 3-screen online article than a business book?  Part of it has to do with how much you're invested in the process, and I'm not just talking about money.  It's easy to go to the next article online if you lose interest in the current one; there's something about a book that makes me feel more guilty if I don't try to fight through the pain and read it completely.

I wound up putting this latest book aside.  It now sits atop my if-I-ever-get-stranded-on-a-desert-island-maybe-just-maybe-I'll-try-to-finish-reading-it stack.  I doubt I'll ever pick it up again though.  This latest experience has caused me to abandon all business books for the foreseeable future.  Life's simply too short to waste on reading bad books.

I used to block off time on the weekends to read from my stack of unread business books.  I'll now use that time to expand my horizons on new blogs, online articles and other websites I look forward to discovering in the weeks ahead.  If you know of any great ones that talk about business issues, innovation, marketing, sales, etc., please send them my way.

"Trading Analog Dollars for Digital Pennies"

Atlantic record That headline quote is from NBC Universal's Jeff Zucker and appears in an article about Atlantic Records in today's NY Times.  The article talks about how Atlantic is apparently the first record label to report that more than half their revenue comes from digital products.  Unfortunately though, as Zucker's quote alludes to, even if a player or two manage to get a larger slice of the pie, the pie itself is shrinking.

That phenomenon isn't unique to the music business.  I believe the same trend will appear (and in many respects already has) in other industries.  Think newspapers, magazines, and...dare I publishing.  Experimenting with a variety of digital distribution services is vital, but not enough.  It's equally important to think about driving new revenue streams that may not be directly tied to the original content itself (e.g., sponsorships, partnerships, etc.)

Zucker's right that the pie will be smaller, but only if we limit ourselves to applying yesterday's solutions to tomorrow's challenges.

Microsoft's Billion (Users)

Crowd Just a quick post to point out one of the more fascinating articles I've read lately.  It's from the current issue of Fast Company and it's all about Gary Flake, head of Microsoft's Live Labs.  My favorite excerpt:

In Microsoft's unparalleled reach--more than a billion computer users worldwide--Flake sees an unparalleled collective power; the more people contribute data to a site, he says, the richer it becomes for each user.

After reading this article I couldn't help feel he's yet another genius who found his way to Redmond and is now trying to do something that's both breathtaking and game-changing.  I hope he succeeds...we could use something new and exciting from Microsoft.

Enhancing Print Content

Barcode Does anyone remember the ill-fated CueCat barcode scanners that supposedly were going to change how we interact with print content?  You'd see a code in a magazine, scan it with the CueCat connected to your computer and your browser would automatically go to related content.  The idea didn't work, mostly (I believe) because we rarely read magazines, newspapers, books, etc., when we're right next to our computer.  It wasn't a portable solution.

The iPhone, on the other hand, is a portable solution and the built-in camera offers the ability to read least in theory.  I played around a bit this morning with an iPhone barcode reader app called NeoReader and got mixed results at best.  Even if the technology is currently far from perfect, the concept is interesting and the capabilities will improve over time.

Wouldn't it be cool to embed small barcodes throughout magazines, newspapers and books so that when a reader snaps a picture of them with their iPhone it loads a video showing more information about that topic?  You're making a recipe from a cookbook and you're not quite sure which ingredients get mixed together first.  Grab your iPhone, take a picture of the barcode next to the recipe and watch a short video of how the dish is made.

Better yet, how many times have you pulled your hair out trying to assemble a child's toy, a piece of furniture or any one of a zillion other products with lousy documentation?  What if all these vendors were to create short videos of each step and make them accessible via barcode scans right in the doc?  If you're not a visual learner you can continue using the awful written instructions; the rest of us will gladly reach for our iPhones to see how it's done!

You've undoubtedly noticed that I'm biased towards one particular platform, mostly because in less than two weeks I too have become one of those annoying iPhone snobs.  In reality though, what I'm describing could work for any phone with a camera and video playback capabilities.

The difference between this and the CueCat is that I almost always have my iPhone handy and I can easily make sure it's next to whatever project I'm currently working on.  It's an interesting model because it doesn't cost any more from a printing perspective.  And while there's a cost associated with creating and hosting the videos, this opens the door for new sponsorships and/or advertising revenue streams, not to mention a much richer reader/user experience.  (I'm not sure how it's paying off for them but the Pandora iPhone app interface is a nice model for sponsorship income, at least from a user point of view.)

An Interesting New Publishing Model

Concord free press Have you heard of Concord Free Press?  Their motto is "free their books and their minds will follow."  They're pretty serious about that "free" part too, btw, at least in the sense that they don't ask their readers to pay them for their books.

Instead of selling books they give them away and ask customers to make a donation to a charity or someone in need.  They also encourage that person to pass the book along to someone else so that the next person will also make a donation, leading to a chain of giving that can go on and on.

How cool is that?  Scroll down on their website to see a list of customers who have already made donations for their first book.  Very inspiring, particularly in this time of economic unrest.