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5 posts from March 2010

Rethinking "Rich Content"

Lightbulb The inspiration for this post came from my most recent (and probably final) Kindle book edition purchase.  The book is called Kiss It Good-bye and it's the story of the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates.  How could a Kindle edition book about a baseball season 50 years ago have anything to do with rich content?

Let me start by saying what I mean by "rich content."  Many in the publishing industry are trying to figure out how to integrate video with text.  A book or article featuring step-by-step or how-to content might benefit from the addition of video, for example.  In fact, video tends to get most of the attention when anyone talks about rich content.  Most people either yawn or note that they'd prefer to not have to navigate around a bunch of video inserted into whatever book they're reading.  Good point.

When I bought Kiss It Good-bye I started thinking about ways it could offer rich content without being intrusive.  Although none of what I'm about to say could be supported on today's Kindle platform, it all started there...

If you own a Kindle you're familiar with the built-in dictionary.  You scroll to the line with the word you want to look up, click a couple of times and the definition appears.  Pretty simple.

Now apply a similar approach on the iPad.  You find a word you want to look up, touch it on the screen and a menu appears, hovering over the book page.  This menu not only has an option to look up the word you've selected, but other options as well.  For example, let's say I highlighted "Pittsburgh Pirates."  The menu options might include look-up's to the team's entry in the Wikipedia or the Pirates official website.  That's just the beginning though.

Now let's say you get to a chapter where the author discusses the events of "Game 7 from the 1960 World Series".  Selecting that string shows a menu with a variety of options including the game's box score.  That chapter will undoubtedly talk about the game's hero, Bill Mazeroski.  Touch his name and the resulting menu would include links to Mazeroski's career stats as well as a video of his exciting, series-winning home run.

In short, the book would be filled with all sorts of hooks to other content but none of it would interrupt the reading process.  No underlined words indicating links.  Nothing extra shows up till you touch a word or phrase on your screen, but it's all there waiting for you to discover it.

Up to now I've talked about integrating links to content from websites, but there's no reason you couldn't also build it out with related content from other books, magazines, newspapers, etc.  This builds upon the "network effect" Bob Pritchett talked about at our recent TOC conference (and I blogged about here).

Now the hard part: How do you build in all these connections?  If it's a manual process it simply won't scale.  I believe some level of automation is required for this to be successful.

One option is to put the book through something similar to the indexing process, but in this case, every word/phrase in it is run though a tool that pulls back all the top relevant links from the web, other books, etc. Handwork is required to ensure the best links make the final cut, but over time you're building a database of reusable links.  So every time you refer to the same team, player, etc., you wouldn't be starting from scratch.  Web links change over time though, of course, so verification would still be a required step.

The key is to make all this content accessible but not intrusive.  Maybe it requires a new authoring tool.  Or perhaps it's something that could be built into a publishing company's existing toolchain for editorial and production.  Either way, it's something I believe could turn static books into richer content products, without interrupting the natural flow of the original work.

With its full-color touch screen and 3G/wifi connectivity, the iPad is the perfect device for this, btw.  Do you see a opportunity for a product like this?

A Couple of Thought-Provoking Quotes

BB_0410cover The latest issue of Book Business magazine arrived this weekend and I was immediately drawn to an article by James Sturdivant called Author Royalties in the Hot Seat.  I wound up underlining two pieces of it, one that's an interesting point and the other that I think is totally wrong.  First, the interesting point:

"One thing remains clear: There are few successful e-books unless there is also a successful paper book [with it]," says Donald Maass, principal of the Donald Maass Literary Agency in New York.

IOW, today's best-selling, highest revenue-generating ebooks are nothing more than quick-and-dirty e-conversions of a print product.  OK, that's not exactly rocket science but it makes me wonder when that will no longer be a true statement.

So when will a best-selling ebook not have a print equivalent?  I believe it hasn't happened yet because the most popular devices don't encourage anything other than quick-and-dirty p-to-e-conversions.  Heck, the Kindle doesn't even offer full color let alone something like rich video.  That's one of the reasons I'm optimistic that the iPad could be a major step forward.  You might not want to read a novel for hours on end with a backlit display but we'll finally have a viable platform to support richer content.  The iPad could be the turning point where we finally have digital-first, and probably digital-only (since the rich content doesn't have a print equivalent), products at the top of the best-seller charts.  We just need authors and publishers to leverage that potential rather than limiting themselves to simple conversions.

Back to James Sturdivant's article...  Here's the piece I choked on:

"The six big publishers remain the primary repositories of the absolute best in fiction and nonfiction," Ethan Ellenberg says. "I don't see that changing. I think their reach is going to continue to be what it is, and there's no reason why, if we can find a successful model for selling intellectual property … the big publishers won't continue to do well. The whole self-publishing market is really a variation of subsidy publishing of 40 years ago. It ultimately is going to frustrate the consumer, and they're not going to get involved. Who can browse 100,000 books and say, 'Oh gee, I really like this one?' We need tastemakers; we need professionals. I think publishers have tremendous strategic advantages that are not going to go away."

No, no, no!  That's the sort of entitlement mentality that leads to market disruption.  (It's probably the same type of thinking that went on in the Blockbuster boardroom when Netflix and Redbox started up!)  Just because these publishers are the leaders today doesn't mean they'll be the leaders tomorrow.  And if you're looking for "tastemakers", how about considering the community?  I'm talking about the same community that already writes reviews and helps customers figure out which book to buy on Amazon, for example.  Now apply that same approach to the self-publishing world and you've got the feedback of dozens, hundreds, thousands or more, not just the decision of an editor or a publisher.

P.S. -- It's no secret that I'm ditching my Kindle for an iPad.  In case you missed it, here's a series of tweets I wrote describing "Kindle features I won't miss."  I've also launched a new blog called iPadHound.  My Kindle days are numbered (12 days left, to be precise!) and although Kindleville still exists it's officially on mothballs.  If you're interested in following the iPad, be sure to grab the iPadHound RSS feed.

How Will the iPad Affect Content and App Pricing?

Question MarkWade Roush recently asked three question about the iPad, one of which inspired this post.  That question was, "How much will iPad-only apps cost?"  It got me thinking about the different user experience between the iPhone and iPad as well as how not only apps can (and will) be priced differently, but content as well.

We've grown accustomed to paying only a dollar or two, if anything at all, for most iPhone apps.  I don't expect that will change much going forward, but I do anticipate more successful higher-priced apps for the iPad.  As Wade points out, Apple will lead the way with their $9.99 iWork apps.  Although you could argue any one of the iWork apps is much more powerful than the typical iPhone app, I think the additional display surface on an iPad (vs. an iPhone) will lead to opportunities for richer applications and content content.

Publishers currently spend a lot of time trying to figure out the best user experience on the smaller screen.  Reference material in particular is tricky because you want to pack as much into one screen as possible.  Not only is that less of an issue with the iPad, the larger display lends itself to some clever things publishers will be able to do to enhance that smaller-screen content.

Does anyone remember VH1's "Pop-Up Video" series from several years ago?  They took old videos and added value to them by popping up bubbles of behind-the-scenes info.  No matter how many times you saw the original video, you learned something new when you watched the enhanced pop-up video version.  Interesting factoids as well as silly trivia were added to the original videos and they were fun to watch.

Now imagine the same thing added to the small-screen version of a tutorial or reference work.  (Btw, I'm pretty sure Pete Meyers described something like this in his recent TOC session.)  If the original format worked well on the iPhone's screen, why not make it even more powerful by adding richer functionality on the bigger screen?  This pop-up option is just one way to add value and I'm sure others will come up with even more compelling enhancements.  Ultimately though, you'll be able to offer one product for the iPhone and something that builds on that same framework of content for the iPad.  Done properly, and if enough value is added, it's easy to see where the latter could be higher-priced than the former.

Envisioning iPad Apps

Appstore_20100127The more I play with my iPad Nano, also known as my iPhone, the more I realize the potential the bigger screen will offer.  This is the time of year when I go out and buy a Major League Baseball preview magazine.  My old favorite, Street & Smith's, was rebranded as Sporting News awhile back, so I picked one of those up last weekend.

What did I get for my $8 investment?  The same type of season preview guide I've seen for the past 30+ years.  That's great, but why not create something to take advantage of today's (and tomorrow's) technologies?

There's a Sporting News app for baseball.  It's a free alternative to and offers a subset of the features offered in MLB's own $14.99 app (which happens to be one of the best apps in the entire store, btw).

Rather than creating a poor man's MLB app I think Sporting News should have broght their preview guide to life as a different type of app.  I'm not talking about a quick-and-dirty p-to-e conversion.  What's needed here is a dynamic guide, something that's always up-to-date from spring training till the bottles are uncorked after the World Series.

Players get cut, traded, put on the disabled list, etc.  My $8 print product is already out of date.  So why not offer an app with the same content for, say, $4.99 and charge me a dollar or two every month for updates?  Another option is to let me buy the full season's guide for $9.99.  Either way Sporting News gets more money out of the deal than they did on my $8 print purchase.

More importantly, think about how this sort of content would render on an iPad!  Those rich images in my color preview guide would come to life in the form of videos and other rich content.  And rather than the limited view box scores you get on the iPhone, imagine a scorecard display on the iPad.  You hook up to the game in the 5th inning and the app shows what looks like the official scorekeeper's sheet with pitch-by-pitch details of the game, all on one screen.  Let's see someone do that on an iPhone.

Speaking of improved renderings on the iPad (vs. iPhone)...  I recently discovered the Tech Junkie iPhone app.  This is a terrific product that lets you aggregate all the popular tech news sites into one app.  If you're into technology and you have an iPhone you need to invest 99 cents in this one.  It's great on an iPhone but I can't wait to see it on an iPad.  There's way too much scrolling required on the iPhone but that will be less of a problem on the larger device.

Why isn't there a premium, paid upgrade option for apps like Tech Junkie with more features?  I'd pay $5 for the app and a couple of dollars per month (minimum!) if this would just do one simple thing: Push the content to me and don't force me to go out and retrieve it.  It's the same complaint I have about the New York Times app.  The free version is terrific but I'd pay a monthly subscription if the content would come to me instead of me having to click and save each individual article.  I was told once that the NYT app doesn't do that because of the volume of data it would require.  I don't buy it.  Configure it so that it only happens when I'm on wifi or charge me more for 3G.

I can't be the only person looking to dump all my print magazine and newspaper subscriptions for e-replacements.  This push vs. pull issue is a critical feature that's largely missing in today's apps, and one that could generate a lot of revenue.  Here's to hoping Apple's iPad is more successful than Amazon's Kindle has been at getting more newspaper and magazine publishers to recognize this opportunity.

The End of Ebooks

Picture 2The most inspiring session I attended at last week's Tools of Change conference was by Bob Pritchett, President/CEO of Logos.  What was so special about Bob's presentation, "Network Effects Promote Premium Pricing"?  Two words: content and value.  It's causing me to stop looking at individual ebooks and start thinking much bigger.

I downloaded the Logos iPhone app during Bob's talk so that I could have a better feel for what he was describing.  You might think it's nothing more than an ebook reader like Stanza but there's more to it than that.  It comes with a number of books built in, including a few Bibles.  If you're using one translation and you wonder what the same verse looks like in another translation, just touch the verse number, select one of your other Bibles and the app takes you right to that same verse.

Seems pretty simple, right?  That's just the start.  Curious to learn more about a person, place or word in the Bible?  Just touch and hold and the Logos app lets you search for it throughout the Bible or in a seemingly endless list of other Logos products.

This is the "network effect" Bob referred to in his session's title.  You start reading the Bible in the Logos app but before you know it you've hopped to several other resources, clicking from one link to the next, learning more and more along the way.  It's similar to when you start researching something in Bing or Google and a couple of hours later you realize you're 20 links deep; you have no idea how you got there but every link has added to the journey.

When was the last time you had that feeling with an ebook or app?  Have you ever had that feeling in an ebook?  I haven't, and that's because most publishers are just selling an individual ebook, not a network of content.  What makes the Logos product so powerful is that they've spent a lot of time curating their content, building links across products and thinking about how their customers can get the most out of it.  They're not selling individual titles as much as they're selling access to their larger service.

That brings me to "value", the other key takeaway from Bob's session.  It's important to note that this isn't just a bunch of related books that have been slapped together.  Logos has taken the time to leverage the content, add value and build on the network philosophy.  Most publishers are complaining about the $9.99 ebook model but Logos is doing something about it.  They're offering their content in a manner where the total is far greater than the sum of the parts.

You might think this is a model that only works with reference content that doesn't change over time.  You'd be wrong.  The "total-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-the-parts" model can be applied to just about any type of reference, how-to and even fiction material.  And when it is, the resulting product has far more value than what you get from a quick, standalone print-to-e conversion.

Download the Logos app, spend some time in it and see if you don't agree.  It's time to stop thinking about standalone ebooks and focus more on the larger network product opportunities.