I'm not heading to BEA but if you are be sure to stop by the Firebrand Technologies booth (#4077) to meet some of the industry bloggers they've lined up for the event. A full schedule of which bloggers will be there throughout the Expo is available here. I think you'll agree it's a very impressive lineup. And if that's not enough to get you to stop by, Firebrand is also raffling off a Sony Reader, so be sure to hit their booth and tell Fran Toolan I sent you! ;-)
5 posts from May 2009
I'm a big fan of earlier books by Jim Collins, particularly Good to Great. When I saw the latest issue of BusinessWeek featured an excerpt of Collins' new book, How the Mighty Fall, I couldn't wait to dig into it. What I discovered was not only another great work but also confirmation of a point I made in this earlier post about how/when we'll evolve past the "book".
How the Mighty Fall doesn't release till tomorrow, so if you want to get the scoop today you're pretty much limited to this excellent excerpt (more on that in a moment). And although I was interested in grabbing the Kindle sample as a preview, well, the publisher apparently isn't planning to release the book on the Kindle. Doh!
If you read through that BusinessWeek excerpt you'll find it's written in the same great storytelling style that made Good to Great so successful. You'll also see that Collins has determined there are 5 stages of decline and that "companies can be well into stage 3 and still look and feel great." You'll read a summary of each of the stages and you'll probably stop and think every so often about how each of these stages apply to your company.
In short, it's a terrific excerpt from what looks to be a great book. But now that I've read the BusinessWeek excerpt, I have zero interest in buying the book. I feel like the 20 minutes or so I spent reading that BusinessWeek piece has provided me with all the insight I need on the subject. IOW, Collins did too good of a job on this excerpt, and that brings me back to that earlier post...
In a few short pages the author managed to convey all the key information that's spread across this 240-page book. OK, I'm sure there are other stories and interesting tidbits that appear in the book but didn't make the excerpt, but so what? I now know the details of the 5 stages of decline and, since I'm already way behind in all my other reading there's no way I'm going to bother buying this one.
I don't know what kind of payment author/publisher got for this BusinessWeek excerpt but I'm sure the visibility will help sell more copies of the book. That said, I also think this particular excerpt is an excellent example of how a "book" could be repackaged and sold in a smaller, shorter, more efficient format.
Had it not already been made available via BusinessWeek, I would have gladly paid $9.99 for this excerpt. How many other business books out there could be shortened and sold in e-format like this? Yes, I'm aware of getAbstract and Business Book Summaries. The former is good, the latter, not so much, but neither can compete with a high-quality excerpt like this that's written by the author himself.
Have you stumbled across any of those Kindle owners who get angry anytime they see an ebook price over $9.99? How about publishers who insist on maintaining their print list price for the e-version? Btw, for the record, where I work we typically fall somewhere in between; our "digital list price" is generally less than the print list price and, of course, Amazon is free to discount to an even lower price. As a consumer, when I see a Kindle price over $9.99 I'm highly likely to skip it.
Whether we want to admit it or not, Amazon is carefully training us to think of $9.99 as the "right price" for a Kindle book. We can jump up and down and scream at the top of our lungs that "the intellectual property is worth far more than $9.99" but that doesn't change the perception that $9.99 is a ceiling for a lot of people. So should we all just hunker down and figure out how to make money in a $9.99 (or less) ebook world? No!
Here's the problem: In 2009 Kindle editions are nothing more than quick ports from the print edition. As a consumer, I see no value added and I rarely (if ever!) see how the publisher is taking advantage of the medium to offer me something that's better than the print edition. In fact, the DRM that's wrapped around most Kindle editions means I can't pass the book along to someone else, so that makes the product worth even less to me. (Also for the record, at O'Reilly we're proud to say that we sell all our ebooks DRM-free.)
So what's the solution? Figure out how you can add value to the ebook. Leverage the medium! As long as you keep looking at ebooks as incremental to the print business you're much less likely to make the investments there that are required. Quick p- to e- ports will cast off revenue that's nothing more than a rounding error to your print business. If you're OK with that, well, that's your problem!
I'm convinced that one day we'll look back at this $9.99 ceiling and the limitations of the early e-reader devices (current generations of Kindles, Sony Readers, etc.) and chuckle. Rich products that fully leverage the platform they're delivered on could be priced much higher than $9.99 and potentially even higher than the current print pricing levels. The future belongs to the publishers who are willing to invest in products that aren't just quick-and-dirty p- to e- conversions.
P.S. -- Amazon hasn't exactly developed an "insanely great" platform for us to make excitingly rich Kindle editions for, have they? And although that platform has been around for about 18 months now I can't say I've seen much progress on this front. That's yet another reason why I wish they'd open things up like Apple has done with the iPhone. Sure, Apple still controls the platform but look at the awesome lineup of third-party apps that have resulted from their approach. And I'll bet the iPhone OS 3.0 update due later this summer will live up to all the advance hype. How come we never see sexy platform updates like that from Amazon?
As I browsed the latest Kindle bestsellers to decide if anything was worth purchasing I found myself asking this question over and over: Does the author really need 300 pages to explain this concept? I can't tell you how many times I finished a book and felt frustrated that the 3 or 4 key learnings I came away with could have easily been boiled down to a few pages.
Part of the problem is the physical presence a publisher (as well as author and bookseller) feels a book needs to have on the shelf. Imagine a book like Freakonomics as a 40-page work instead of a 336-page one. I read that one though, and despite the fact that's it's a terrific book, the authors easily could have condensed it down to about one-tenth its length.
You might say that a good book is all about storytelling and I don't completely disagree. Freakonomics is loaded with great stories, btw, but a 40-page version would have been just as effective at conveying the key points. And frankly, most lengthy business books don't have much of an engaging story to tell at all; the authors just go on and on, seemingly in an effort to puff things up to 300 pages or so.
A 40-page version of Freakonomics would be lost on the shelves. Couple that with the theory that no one is willing to spend $25 or $30 on a "business book" and you now know two of the key reasons why these things all have very similar form factors.
That's how the market has operated up to now, but how will it work in the future? The more we move from print to e-books the less important something like spine width becomes. There's no shelf to have a physical presence on, so why force every business book to be 300-400 pages?
How about the price? Would you pay $25 for something you could read in well under an hour? I would, especially if it delivers all the knowledge that's so diluted across the 300-400 pages we have to read through now.
I can see a model where the typical work is longer than a magazine article but much shorter than a book. In fact, I think that's the sweet spot for the future. A magazine article (2-3 pages) typically doesn't allow for enough space to adequately cover many of the topics you find in business books today, but I'll bet 30 or 40 pages would do the trick, and many authors might not need that much space.
So what will we call these products? A new name is required. They're not books and they're not articles. There's no elegant way to splice those two words together so I think we'll have to come up with something brand new. In the mean time, I very much look forward to the day when these new products dominate the market and we're no longer forced to read 300 pages to gain 30 pages of insight. I know I'll read much more in that world. How about you?
P.S. -- I realize this model doesn't work for all types of books. For example, fiction is definitely all about storytelling and doesn't apply. Then there's the world of how-to books. I'd argue this model isn't ideal there either. In fact, I believe a totally different e-model will evolve there over time, one without boundaries and something that takes us in a totally different direction...but that deserves its own separate blog post, so stay tuned for more...
One of the highlights from my first six months with O'Reilly Media was the opportunity to lead a CEO Roundtable panel discussion at our Tools of Change conference earlier this year. The panel consisted of the following CEOs:
Eileen Gittins, Blurb
Bob Young, Lulu
Clint Greenleaf, Greenleaf Book Group
Tim O'Reilly, O'Reilly Media, Inc.
If you were unable to attend the conference or this particular session, spend a few minutes listening to the vision of this great team of CEOs: