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5 posts from April 2009

Amazon vs. Google

Boxing glove The Kindle 2 Review blog posted an article today comparing Amazon and Google.  It focuses on how the companies are going head-to-head, primarily in the book space.  I can't say I agree with 100% of the article but I'll admit there were pieces of it that made me think a bit further about the rivalry.

I'm still scratching my head over this comment about Google though:

The crucial thing here is that most people have no idea what the free services are costing them.

Come on.  I'm no Eric Schmidt fanboy (is there such a thing?!), but I get a chuckle out of conspiracy theories like this.  What exactly are these free Google services costing me?  It this is a hint that Google is to blame for the rapid decline of the newspaper industry, well, cry me a river!  I'm in the technology how-to book publishing industry and as I've often said, my biggest competitor isn't another's Google.  But I'm not going to sit around and whine about how big, bad Google is forcing our industry to innovate.

I'm also not convinced that the book industry is a high priority for Google.  Would they like to participate in it more?  Absolutely, but it's not likely to become an enormous revenue generator for them, particularly compared to the money Google rakes in from search.  Then again, wouldn't it be interesting if Google were to come out with their own ebook reader?  Think about an open platform that encourages third-party app development and gives Amazon more than a run for its money.  Now that's something I could get excited about!

Why Aren't Magazine Publishers Thinking About This Stuff?!

Question Mark I let my Sports Illustrated subscription lapse awhile back but my wife was kind enough to renew it last year for my birthday.  While catching up on my SI reading tonight, I happened to notice all the references inside to

Have you seen that site?  If not, take a look.  It's a full archive of SI and it's freely accessible to everyone, even if you're not a subscriber.  I've been doing searches on it for the past hour or so and I'm rediscovering all sorts of great SI content from when I was a kid.  I could probably waste away the rest of the night searching for things like "70's Pirates", "Roberto Clemente", etc.

OK, it's not that uncommon for magazines to open their archives like this, so what's the big deal?  I don't have all night to search and read this stuff.  Why doesn't SI marry this content to an e-strategy that they could further monetize?  How about letting me search for "Roberto Clemente" and offering to create a PDF, an EPUB or a mobi file I can pull down to my computer, Kindle, Sony Reader, etc.?  Go ahead and include the ads -- I'm fine seeing them in here.  Or, sell it to me ad-free for $4.99.  I'm not going to sit and read this on my computer for hours but I'd love to have it on my Kindle where I'll read every last word.

SI publishes a variety of books built off content that was published in their magazine long ago.  They have "best of" books on all the major sports.  Why not let me create my own based on the writers or topics I'm most interested in?  Steve Rushin was my favorite sportswriter, but he "retired" a few years ago.  I'd love to gather all his articles into a Kindle book.  I'd even be willing to break my $9.99 Kindle price ceiling for something like that!

Then there's the gift angle.  Wouldn't it be cool to create a custom e-book of SI content for the sports-lover in your family?  Think about the Father's Day promotions they could do around this.

So again, I'll ask the question, why aren't magazine publishers thinking about this stuff?  They seem to be heading down the same rat hole the newspapers have gone down.  Quit whining and start leveraging your content archives!!!

Guest Post from Anthony Policastro

Ghostdog Anthony Policastro has been regular reader and frequent commenter on my Publishing 2020 blog.  He recently launched a blog of his own called "The Dog is Chasing Ghosts."  The blog's subtitle is, "What Every Author Needs to Know about Online Marketing and then some."  He explains the meaning behind the interesting title in this guest post:

Every so often, our labradoodle, Nickie, will confidently stare into a corner of a room with no windows and bark repeatedly for several minutes.

"What is the dog barking at?" my wife would ask.

"Ghosts. I think the dog is chasing ghosts." I say.

She raises her eyebrows and her face says, "maybe," and the dog stops barking and we go about doing whatever it was we were doing.

Whether my dog is barking at ghosts or not, something is there, something triggered the keen senses of the my pet whether it was a sound, a smell or a noise.

The Internet is similar in that of all the millions of users out there, you can't see them or touch them, but you know they are there. And if you are involved with the Internet with a website, a blog or paid advertising, everyone wants to attract as many users as possible to visit our websites, read our blogs or buy our products.

So like my dog, Nickie, we too are chasing ghosts whether you want to call them that or not, but we don't want to chase them away - we want to invite them in.

And that is the hard part and that is what this blog is all about.

Anthony is one of the more insightful publishing industry people I've come across over the past few years.  I just grabbed his blog's RSS feed for my KindleFeeder service and I would encourage you to subscribe as well.

P.S. -- He's on Twitter too.  Follow him here.

Revenge of the Independents?

Indie I initially read this blog post by David Leach a couple of nights ago but I've been thinking about it ever since.  In his post, Leach speculates that the era of the big box book retailer is ending and the independents will rise again.

His argument makes a lot of sense.  Everyone's (supposedly) up in arms about big companies and corporate greed.  Additionally, we'd all love to go to a store that's the equivalent of "Cheers", where everybody knows your name.  You don't get that feeling at a big brick-and-mortar store today, so could the indies make a come-back?

Maybe, but I don't see it happening the way Leach describes it.  First of all, I have a hard time envisioning a bunch of new independents investing in and building up storefronts around the globe.  The momentum here still seems to be tilting more towards online than in-person, and that's where I believe the opportunities await.

What if there were a hundred mini-Amazons, each with their own area of specialization?  When I go to Amazon now I stumble across reviews from customers with similar interests but I don't really run into the customers themselves.  The experience is also completely void of any personal interaction.  Everything needs to scale, so it's totally automated.  But what if these micro-indies approached things differently?  What if there was more of a personal experience even though the browsing and buying is conducted online?

When I buy online I tend to look for the same primary benefit I do at a brick-and-mortar: who's got the best price?  I see myself evolving a bit on this front though as personal service is starting to mean more to me, even when purchasing low-priced products.  I enjoy reading sports books.  Could I be lured away from Amazon's low prices to a micro-indie site that has more of a personal feel, treats me like a human and not a credit card number, enables me to chat with fellow customers, chat about last night's game, razz the other teams fans, etc.?  Yeah, that formula could easily change my buying habits.

There's another key point in Leach's post that you may have missed when you read it.  He asks a couple of incredibly important questions:

What if there were no more bookstores and no more book-only websites?  How would we market and sell our books?

Wow.  Now that's an interesting scenario to ponder.

The obvious answer is for the publisher to establish a direct relationship with their customers.  That's always been a trick proposition though as most publishers are worried about alienating their retailing partners.  Even though I fully expect bookstores to outlive me, I also believe that publishers who expect to thrive in the coming years must figure out this direct-to-customer model.

Thoughts on eContent, Free Content and Pricing Model Options

Money2 I've been meaning to link to this Read-it-First article from Book Business but it didn't appear on their website till recently.  Now that's it's up I would encourage everyone in the publishing world to read it.  It's an interview Matt Steinmetz did with Matthew Baldacci of St. Martin's Press and it talks about an initiative to let readers "try before they buy."  The program reminds me a bit of DailyLit and it's interesting to see that they've quickly gone from zero subscribers to about 15,000 with a goal of reaching 100,000 soon.

This program stands out to me because St. Martin's is doing something every publisher should be involved with: finding new ways to reach their audience.  We're living in a rapidly changing marketplace and content sampling will only grown in importance as more and more devices take hold.  I'm not just talking about the Kindle and Sony Reader, btw.  Thanks to the iPhone's success, every cell phone maker is waking up to the App Store model opportunities.

If you're a publisher, what are you doing to build on-ramps to these new devices?  And are you thinking about more sampling options?  If you're an author, you should ask your publisher what their plans are for e-content, sampling, etc.  I'm proud of O'Reilly's efforts on this front.  You can follow the developments on our website as well as the O'Reilly Radar and TOC blogs.

One of the toughest issues to resolve hinges on pricing.  What's an eBook worth?  That's the question posed in this SF Signal blog post.  Even though the blog and the question are framed around SF, many of the comments apply to numerous genres.  Here are a few comment excerpts and my thoughts on each:

I will not pay hardcover prices for an eBook. It isn't the same. I buy books for the shelves, and will pay more for collectibles. I buy eBooks to read; they are not the same.

I'm amazed at how many publishers still think they need to charge the same for an eBook as they do for the print version.  The typical agrument goes something like this: "We don't want to cheapen our IP just because it's presented in a different format."  While this might, and I emphasize might, apply to a very small number of products, you've really got to think about the usability issues involved.  For example, a lot of complaints are made about how a customer can't pass an eBook along to a friend after they read it.  (Watch for that limitation to change at some point, btw.)  But I feel that as long as we're talking mostly about quickie ports from print to e-format, with no added value, you're probably looking at a lower price for the e-version.  The key here is to start thinking about how to add value to your content and take advantage of the e-platform.  That's where the new riches will be found.

And no stinking DRM, either, please!


Take the cost of a paperback, subtract out the cost for printing and distribution and you are left with royalties for the author and some markup for the publisher.

Regardless of whether you agree with the previous statement, and I admit that I don't, you still have to acknowledge that this point of view is pretty common out there.  Perception is reality and this statement must be carefully considered.  I'd like to think that my team and I represent something more than "some markup" though.  There's a lot of work that goes into crafting most books.  A short list of important steps would include the development of the outline with the author, the massaging of the manuscript by a development editor, the copy edit and clean-up that makes it much more readable or the page design and layout efforts that also improve readability.  That's a lot to cover in a "markup for the publisher."  But again, until you can add more value to the e-version you'll probably be stuck fighting this uphill value proposition battle with your customers.

If printed books were to disappear outright, well, then some other method of covering the hidden costs of acquisition from authors, editing, promotion, etc., must be covered and unit prices for audio and e-books would naturally rise as a result.

Very insightful.  For the time being, most publishers treat eBook sales as a bit of an afterthought, mostly because they typically represent such a tiny percentage of the publisher's overall sales.  This allows the publisher to absorb many of the expensive editorial and production steps on the print side of the P&L.  But if print revenues decline, those expenses have to be recouped somewhere else.

If Amazon really wanted to get people onto the Kindle, they would offer backwards compatibility/customer incentive. By that I mean that the registered buyer of a book on would also get a Kindle copy that they could read on their Kindle device, iPhone, or desktop app. Books aren't like CDs where you can put all of your existing music on your iPod.

I've been lobbying for this since the dawn of the Kindle.  The problem is, I'm not sure many publishers or authors would buy into the idea.  But it sure would help drive more interest in the Kindle!  How about a compromise solution?  What if Amazon were to offer you the Kindle version of the book for $5, or about half the going rate, when you buy the print version first?  There have got to be some interesting bundling models here that have yet to be tested.

Btw, I'm a consumer who's also frustrated with this issue.  As I mentioned in a tweet the other day, it seems like most of the books I'm looking for on the Kindle aren't converted (yet?), and many of the ones that are now have prices over $9.99.  I've never bought a Kindle book for more than $9.99 and unless there are some interesting bells and whistles that come with it, I'm not sure I ever will.