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4 posts from November 2009

The Evolution of Content Consumption

Basset reading Eric Shanfelt's article in the latest issue of Publishing Executive magazine is called Publishing in a Fragmented Online World.  Here's the excerpt that got me thinking:

How can we get our content to our readers however they want to get it?  Does a reader want to get our latest content by visiting our web site?

These questions are intertwined and I'd argue the answer to the second one is "no."  Are you familiar with that saying that, "the best camera is the one that's with you"?  The same logic applies to reading.  A book is great, my Kindle is nice but my iPhone is always with me so the bulk of my content consumption happens via that small screen.

Here are some of the more noteworthy ways my reading habits have changed over the last few years:

iPhone, not the Kindle.  OK, I prefer to read a lengthy book on my Kindle, but that's about it.  A year ago I liked the Kindle for newspapers.  But then the NY Times offered the same content via a free app, so I dumped the Kindle subscription.  I've been paying for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on my Kindle but I'm about to cancel that one too now that I can get it for free via another app.  So the Kindle has quickly become a long form content-only option for me now.

Apps, not browser access.  And since I'm consuming more and more content on my iPhone, this has become a critical distinction.  It's also why I say "no" is the answer to Shanfelt's second question.  To me, the iPhone Safari browser is for emergency use only.  I don't want to access your website that way even if you've "optimized it for mobile access."  A well-designed app is always going to offer UI touches you just won't find in a mobile UI view of your website.  I'm much more likely to access your content if it's available as an ap than I am if I have to use my browser.  There's a reason the phrase, "there's an app for that," is so darned popular!

Far less RSS.  My RSS reader used to be my first and last stop of the day.  Now I rarely use it.

Short form, not long form.  I'm an info-snacking addict.  The Kindle enables it but the iPhone perfects the experience.

More Twitter, less blogs.  18 months ago I was a non-believer in the Twitter revolution.  Now I use it throughout the day.  It has its flaws and one day something will replace it, but it's a nice solution for now.  The time I used to spend reading (and writing) blogs has shifted to Twitter.  I find myself less attracted to the long form writing in blogs and more to the short bursts of Twitter.  FWIW, I used to write 4-6 posts for this blog every week and now I typically only write one, but I also write anywhere from 3-10 or more tweets per day.  Despite that, traffic continues to grow modestly and nobody has complained so it seems like the right approach.

Have you seen similar trends with your reading habits?  Different trends?  No change whatsoever? :-)

A Bold Prediction

CrystalI'm not convinced Amazon has a long-term commitment to the Kindle hardware business. In fact, I'll go so out on a limb and predict that Amazon will completely exit the Kindle hardware space within the next 3 years.  Here are a few reasons why:

Zero evolution in 2 years. Compare today's Kindle 2 and DX models to the original Kindle.  The current versions have pretty much the same functionality as the original.  And don't tell me native PDF support was a big change...that should have been there from the start!  I had totally different expectations when I opened my Kindle v1 and saw the "experimental" features.  Two years later, nothing is new there and the original experimental features never changed.  Here's a great example of how there's been no feature evolution: We're all waiting anxiously to see if Amazon will actually add folder functionality.  Are you kidding me?!  That's another feature that should have been there all along.

Amazon isn't a hardware vendor.  Hardware isn't Amazon's specialty.  Far from it.  Just look at the Kindle's design, UI and how it operates and you quickly realize if this is as good as it gets Amazon has no business in the hardware space.  (Btw, how many outstanding software/content companies are also rock stars when it comes to hardware?  I can only think of one: Apple.)

Competitors are passing them by.  B&N's Nook is what the Kindle should have been.  See details here.  I'm not saying the Nook is the answer, but Amazon's lack of innovation is making it easier for new devices to leapfrog the Kindle.

Closed platforms are dead.  Even Apple opens the iPhone platform for extensibility.  Amazon should have not only allowed but encouraged third-party extensions and apps for the device.  What sort of new and exciting functionality would exist for the Kindle today if Amazon would have created a Kindle app store 2 years ago?

Dedicated readers won't be the answer, not for mass.  Content is still critical, but as my O'Reilly colleague Andrew Savikas recently stated so eloquently, "convenience is king."  Mobile, multi-function devices will rule the day.

I was reading my Kindle during a recent cross-country flight.  The passenger next to me said his wife is a big reader and he's thinking about getting her an e-device.  He asked me if I recommend he get her a Kindle.  Sadly, I said, "no."  I told him he's better off checking out the upcoming B&N Nook as well as waiting to see if the rumored Apple device ever materializes.  That's the first time I've ever recommended someone not get a Kindle when they ask me about mine.

I'm not down on Amazon, btw.  I'm forever grateful for the job they've done to spark interest in the e-reader space.  With all due respect to Sony, If it weren't for the Kindle we'd still be waiting for the first commercial success in this space.

I had high hopes back in November of 2007 but Amazon is clearly hedging their hardware bet by offering the Kindle iPhone app as well as the Kindle for PC (beta) and Kindle for Mac (forthcoming) apps.  That's a smart move by Amazon.  If my prediction comes true and they abandon the hardware space in the next three years they'll still be a major e-content player.

Free Content, Registration Required

Picture 3Author David Meerman Scott recently wrote a terrific blog post about free ebooks and how distribution is affected when registration is required.  It's easy to think that "free is free" and requiring registration shouldn't have much of an impact, but check out the stats in David's post.

OK, the numbers presented there aren't exactly ironclad or statistically irrefutable but still, it's an interesting study.  I tend to agree with David that there's a valuable trade-off in getting your content into more people's hands for possible Twittering, blogging, etc.  In many cases these benefits can greatly outweigh the value of capturing email addresses for future use.

Is the eReader Financial Model Upside Down?

UDQuestion MarkI finally started listening to the free audio version of Chris Anderson's latest book, Free.  I'm only a couple of chapters in and it's interesting so far but since I downloaded it months ago it (once again) shows just how much I tend to ignore all the free stuff I'm hoarding, especially iPhone apps.

That's probably a worthwhile subject for a future post...  For this post, I'd rather think out loud about altering the pricing models for e-reading devices and e-content.

I won't buy a Kindle edition of a book that's more than $9.99.  Why?  Besides the fact that I'm a cheapskate, I guess I'm still bitter about paying almost $300 for an original Kindle, so I expect to "make it up" with cheaper content.  I wonder how many others like me are out there.

I'd say quite a few.  Look at the Kindle book bestseller list.  Even though there are plenty of Kindle editions priced above $9.99 they rarely make the bestseller list.  In fact, as I type these words 14 of the top 25 have a price of $0.00, one is $0.01 and the rest are at or below $9.99.  I only found three books in the top 100 priced above $9.99.  Three.

Why can't a device vendor go with more of a cell phone model, where the low price of the device is subsidized by the longer-term commitment to buying content?  How many Kindles do you suppose Amazon could sell if they priced it at $99, or $49?  The device costs more than that to make, not to mention the cellular charges they pay Sprint, so why would Amazon price device so low?  Hoping that they "make it up in volume" won't help...they'll just lose that much more money in total.

But what if all the ebook editions Amazon sells for the Kindle weren't $9.99 but something much closer to the print book's price on Amazon?  So a $30 book at 33% off would be $20 for the Kindle edition (as opposed to $9.99 currently), pretty much the same as what you'd pay for the print version.  Now there's a bigger margin left over for Amazon to keep part of (to cover the loss on the sale of the device), share some with the publisher/author and even pay Sprint.  And oh, btw, we'd put an end to the model where some publishers are delaying the e-version so as not to cannibalize the print version's sales.  Publishers would be indifferent, if not prefer the e-version since there's no cost for manufacturing, inventory or returns.  Hallelujah!

Additionally, in order to qualify for that low price on the device, the customer would have to commit to a minimum volume of econtent purchases over the next 2 years.  Opt out early and pay a penalty.  It's sounding more and more like a cell phone plan, isn't it?

What's not to like about this model?  The first vendor to adopt it would likely sell a boatload of devices, maybe more than they could manufacture.  It would also protect the value of the intellectual property.  Amazon's $9.99 price on Kindle editions is really cheapening the value of the content.  I used to think it was OK because you can't share an ebook with a friend, but B&N is about to address that problem with the Nook (sort of).  I still think we publishers need to figure out how to add value to ebooks and not just live by quickie p-to-e-conversions, but that was the subject of at least one earlier post.

What do you think?  Is this in the cards?  Will a hardware vendor go this route?  I sure hope so.