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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.

What's This Blog Doing on the Kindle?

Pub2020kindleA reader of my Publishing 2020 blog recently e-mailed me this link to a new product for the Kindle.  This new product is my blog's feed, which Amazon is now selling for 99 cents per month.

I was never asked to participate in the program, so I'm assuming it's the result of a blogging syndication deal I signed a couple of years ago.  Thanks to the world of syndication you never know where your content might appear, and you really don't have much say in the matter.  I'm not complaining, and I certainly don't anticipate many (any?!) subscriptions to materialize via this service; even if they do, I'm getting a slice of a slice of a pretty tiny (99-cent) slice, so it's not changing my world.

The bigger question I have is "why?".  Why is Amazon bothering with adding these blog feeds?  The rankings I'm seeing for most of them is pretty low.  More importantly, I've found that once Kindle owners discover free blog feed services like Kindlefeeder, they feel the paid feeds are a ripoff.

I think Amazon would be better off redirecting their efforts to increase the number of available paid blog feeds.  For example, they still only have 18 magazines for sale on the Kindle and loads of technology and business titles are noticeably absent from the list.  Every minute spent adding another blog to the service is time that should have been spent building up the magazine base, IMHO.

Web 2.0 Summit Videos on YouTube

Web2.0 I flew to San Francisco last week to attend the Web 2.0 Summit but now you can watch many of the sessions from the comfort of your home/office via YouTube.  OK, you probably don't have the time to watch all the videos, so here's a quick list of some of my favorite sessions:

Elon Musk

Lawrence Lessig

John Doerr

Mark Zuckerberg

P.S. -- Here's to hoping that more conference providers will post session videos like this.  It's a great way to extend the conference's community reach.

The Apple Convert

Apple logo I never thought I'd say this, but I just bought an iPhone 3G.  This is my first Apple purchase since I bought an original Macintosh way back in 1984.  I can't wait to see what great stuff Steve Jobs & Co. have to offer when I'm ready for my next Apple buy in 2032.

A few weeks ago I bought a Blackberry Curve for my new job at O'Reilly.  I seemed to be the only Blackberry user there and I quickly developed iPhone envy.  That's when you see too many of your colleagues doing really cool iPhone things, the kind of stuff you simply can't do on a Blackberry.

Another factor also came into play last week.  While attending the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco I got to hear famed venture capitalist John Doerr talk about his passion for the iPhone.  At one point, he held his iPhone up and said he believes this platform will ultimately become more important and influential than the PC platform.

Read that last sentence again and let it sink in.  Doerr wasn't saying the PC platform is dying out and the iPhone will one day be more important than it.  He's saying that as revolutionary as the original PC marketplace was (and has been), the iPhone platform is poised to have even more of an impact.

The impact Doerr is referring to isn't just limited to the device being a good phone, of course.  It's about how the iPhone is (and will become even more of) a multifunction device, including serving as an enabler to all forms of content.

Do I want to read an entire book on this tiny screen?  Probably not, but I can honestly say I would have been less inclined to buy a Kindle if I already had an iPhone.  (Sorry Amazon.)

Stay tuned for more iPhone reports in future posts.  And my thanks to the local AT&T reps who pointed out that, within 30 days of my original purchase, if I was willing to pay a $20 restocking fee I could swap out my Blackberry.  Imagine how thrilled I was to find out I was on day 27 of the initial 30.  That may turn out to be the best $20 I've ever spent!

P.S. -- As I've said about the Kindle, if you're in the publishing business you owe it to yourself to personally experience new technologies like the iPhone.  You can't really gauge its impact if you're not using one yourself.  I think Doerr is right.  The iPhone will continue to be a disruptive factor for a lot of industries, including publishing.

Launching Projects on a Shoestring Budget

Pennies I'm attending the Web 2.0 Summit this week and one of the most inspiring sessions was earlier today when Guy Kawasaki rounded up a bunch of web startups who launched with very limited funding. We're talking $15K-$20K to start a business.

I keep thinking about some of the new models of content distribution we should be experimenting with and I often get discouraged when I think about the potential investment requirements.  The companies Kawasaki gathered prove you can do a lot with very little.  Highly thought-provoking.  (See my earlier tweets for a full list of the companies included in this session.)

The Gaming of Incentive Plans

Money Despite the fact that I now subscribe to fewer print magazines than ever I somehow recently managed to fall behind a bit in my reading. Over the weekend I came across another excellent article by Joel Spolsky in the October issue of Inc magazine.  It's all about incentive plans and how they're all too frequently manipulated "because the geniuses who design them don't anticipate how employees will respond."

Here's my favorite quote from the article:

Inevitably, people will figure out how to get the number you want at the expense of what you are not measuring, including things you can't measure, such as morale and customer goodwill.

Truer words have never been spoken.  It's an important message to consider, particularly if you're charged with developing and managing incentive plans.

On a completely unrelated topic, my blogging activity will probably be light this week as I head out to attend the Web 2.0 Summit.  The upside is that I fully expect to do quite a bit of Twittering while I'm there, so stay tuned to my tweets if you're interested in what's going on at this very important event.