Three Questions as I Head for Tools of Change (TOC)
Envisioning iPad Apps

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.


Welcome to 2009:

Smart Digital Books Metadata Notes #6

Andy Rathbone

In college, I bought used textbooks for one main reason: About a dozen students had already written helpful notes in the margins and highlighted key paragraphs. Similarly, ebook texts should be "wikified," letting students worldwide add -- and share -- their notes and highlights with everybody else who's bought the book. What student wouldn't want to buy a book with notes like, "This section was on the exam in Mr. Hand's class, SDSU, 2009"?

Eric Granata

Logos is a sweet app that will destroy on the iPad! I like the idea of the model as it applies to fiction. How cool would it be if you had a "Complete Works of Tolkein," for example, that not only enhanced the reading of the actual story by linking to other books (The Silmarillion) that referenced the story or characters but also to biographical and other behind the scenes information. Awesome!

Francis Hamit

I've thought about this for fiction and it's an engineer's solution to literature. Engineers believe that anything that can be done should be done...and that way lies madness. When you are actually writing the stuff, you constantly have to resist the temptation to go haring off after some thread or side story that does not advance the main narrative. You are providing the reader with a journey with interesting characters and fascinating scenery, but side trips just kill the flow and will lead to the book being put aside, unfinished. They exhaust the reader (Read Tolstoy's original text of "War and Peace" There's a reason it's abridged.)

This is why the whole idea of "remix" is anathema to most authors. It's OUR story, thank you, and we reserve the right (in law and custom) to tell it our way. This is the "Droit Morale"; the moral right to not to have the story messed with by well-meaning fools.

The idea of making connections and hyperlinks within Tolkein's text may appeal to rabid fans, but it is his tale and he has the right to tell it his way. The order of information is key to the presentation.

And I never buy books of any kind that other people have written on or highlighted. Respect for authorial integrity.

My current book is historical fiction (The Shenandoah Spy) and I was able to use only about ten percent of the research done, but I assume that anyone interested in the fine details will look them up. We have a section on our Brass Cannon Books web site ( that links to non-fiction books about and by our heroine Belle Boyd. Putting those same links in the text would simply distract the reader and make it harder to finish the story I've told about her.


I agree, to some extent, that a standalone ebook -- i.e. something that's not only supposed to be self-contained, but is technically constrained to do so -- is probably a dead-end, or at least better suited to the printed format.

But that doesn't necessarily mean all content should be unbounded, or that people will want a platform that lets them hop around to different texts. I would argue that bounded content is not only desired by more people than you'd think, but it's likely necessary in some situations (or for some people) to comprehend some texts.

So, while I think Logos (and services like it) are interesting and will probably enjoy a healthy uptake, I don't think they're going to 'end the ebook' as such.

Andy Rathbone

Francis, I'm saying *non-fiction* will benefit the most from the "ebook as a constantly evolving Web site" publishing model. For one, I'd love to see my reference books automatically update themselves to correct printing errors!

Sure, fiction doesn't offer as many ways to enhance the content. Most readers abhor distractions, preferring to escape into the author's words. Once they've finished the book, though, ebook fiction will still offer extra value.

For example, some people buy DVDs just to hear the director's voiceover. Some hardcore book fans will want an ebook novel with an author's voiceover that explains those side stories cut because they might have killed the flow. And how about an "Author's Cut" version of a classic novel that includes scenes cut by the editor?

Francis Hamit


Yes, but do the cost-benefit on such additional features. It is critical for non-fiction, I agree, but for fiction the author should control the presentation. It's an "apples and oranges" comparison. Limiting choice is sometimes the best path to profit. Ask COSTCO.

chris bates

Personally, I still think fiction can run successfully with this type of 'rabbit hole-ing'.

I'm not suggesting links mid-stream during the narrative. That would be unacceptable to most readers. However, some additional author commentary, interviews, even location imagery that inspired the setting of the novel would be most welcome after story's end.

Eight years ago I sent an email to Australian author Nick Earls, the gist of the email being additional digital products as print book companion.

I'm not saying I was predicting the current ebook landscape ... thousands of others had already done that long before my unsolicited missive to Nick Earls. And yet, almost a decade on and we still haven't truly embraced this perfect on-selling opportunity that has presented itself. Jesus, everyone is still talking about DRM and pirating. What the...?! The game isn't even being played in that ball-park. If you're a publisher/agent/author still thinking about that idiocy then you're really going to drown in the next few years. Remember the razors and razor-blades? Yep, this new market opportunity isn't about selling more of the author's other ebook titles ... it's way bigger than that. And no, other ebook titles are not your razor-blades.

Here's what I see: Fiction novels can now be a portal for e-commerce for an already captured buyer (your reader).

So, as a discerning - and often cynical - book purchaser, here's what I'm okay with as additional 'content' (research or marketing-based):

1) I'll put up with affiliate linkage on an author's referenced books. Imagine how many 4% commissions Dan Brown's publisher could have made on Holy Blood, Holy Grail...?!

2) You know what, Mr/Mrs Publisher - Why not do the obvious and sell me your other titles direct with a store front at the end of the book? Remember direct marketing (mail order) in the back of mass market paper backs? Well, kids, bring that baby back into play. ASAP. Think of it as the reader purchasing, then consuming your book in a retail environment. This is like buying a book in Borders ... then reading it there in its entirety ... surrounded by other possible purchases upon completion. Yay. Now sell me a coffee and muffin.

3) By the way, I definitely want the author's note to include a link to a video interview. This is really important. Most of us readers go straight to the author's note before we go to Chapter One ... even if the note is on the last page. Chuck in the talking head of an agent or editor while you're at it. And give me a cover design 'process' video. This isn't hard. 100 million teenagers seem to be able to do it successfully on YouTube.

4) Also, I want some images of the author ... and their workspace. Hell, link me to a kick-arse bio ... wikipedia page, fan site. Their column, their 'Letter to the Editor' after 9/11. Whatever. Geez, use Google to find the relevant info if you have to. Aggregate it. Just put it in the book. If I don't want it ... I'll ignore it. But don't for one second think that I shouldn't have that option. Give me everything I could possibly want. Just remember, readers love authors. Not just their words ... we love the author too. We want to see into their creative space.

5) I want to know who inspired the author too. Ie, the writers, the news stories, the locations. Give me a video of the events or audio grabs from the past. Ken Follet gave a great talk a few years back on the linage of Mystery authors that inspired him. I think he used to sell the 25min DVDs on his site. I don't even read Follet ... but I watched the video. Man, if that sucker wasn't included on his fiction ebooks for his fans, I'd be wondering why his publishers bothered to remain in the game.

6) And I'll have some tunes too, thanks. Music that inspired the author. Or music that the book's characters like. Affiliate link me to it, I just might buy the track in question.

Of course, there's a boat-load of stuff that can be added to the above list. And I'm sure everyone with half a brain has already thought about all the avenues of cross promotion and virtual selling. Which just confounds me even more - why isn't it out there yet? Hopefully, some of this stuff makes it into the ebooks I'm destined to buy in the future.

And (anyone who is still with me, please accept my apologies for this essay) finally, I've lost count of how many times I've watched a doco, music video or read a book only to find myself - at resolution - searching wikipedia or google for additional information about the actor, artists, authors, events, topics etc.

Note to publishers: don't wait for the audience to search ... when you can actually lead.

Again, sorry for the length. (...said the Bishop to the actress!)

Francis Hamit

Yes, Chris, it sounds really neat, but how many readers will actually exploit these additional features and what will be their impact on unit price? Are they just going to be thrown in as extras? How do we cover the cost if we do that? Will they generate extra sales/revenue or, as I said above, is this simply something we are doing because we can? The author-related features are something that would be done anyway as part of the publicity and putting links at the beginning and end of the electronic text is workable, but how many readers will actually use them?

Currently I am running an ad for my Facebook page for The Shenandoah Spy for those in five states who have indicated they are interested in the Civil War. It encourages people to click through to the page and become fans. Over the last week it has running to about 3,600 people, there have been over 45,000 impressions and 38 click throughs. About half the the click throughs have become fans of the page. Some of those may have bought the book, but not at the toll free number for my distributor, where they get a discount,but on Of course those sales may have simply been generated by the pages that Amazon provides. My impression is that most people do not click on a link just because it is there. I will continue to experiment with this because some of the new fans are from outside the target area and may have been sent there by friends. That would mean the ad is starting to go viral. Which would be nice.

Obviously the lesson here is that you need about a thousand impressions to get a click through and twice that many to get a fan. The CPM is holding at 18 cents so it's doable.

Mathew Anderson

"In college, I bought used textbooks for one main reason: About a dozen students had already written helpful notes in the margins and highlighted key paragraphs."

What a cool idea, now why didn't I think of that ? . Love your blog, rss bookmarked, will be a regular visitor.

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