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4 posts from September 2010

QR Codes: Making Static Content Dynamic

Qrcode You've probably already seen quite a few of the funky looking graphics like the one on the left.  It's called a QR code and it's a quick and easy way to share a website link that can be decoded by a mobile app using a smartphone camera.  For example, I use the ScanLife QR code reader app on my iPhone.

We included a bunch of QR codes in our popular book, Best Android Apps; a code appeared for each app so readers could quickly find and download them from the Android Market.  Before QR codes publishers had to include urls to point readers to a related website; now they can include QR code graphics and readers simply point and shoot to get to the same location.  QR codes aren't just limited to urls though.  You can embed a simple message, a phone number or even a text message in a code.

Why should you care about QR codes?  They have the potential to dramatically enhance the user's experience with your content.  Here are a few potential applications:

A cookbook that lists the ingredients and describes the preparation process but it can also include QR codes with links to videos showing how to create the dish.

A travel guide can describe a destination and include a picture or two but it can also include QR codes featuring an entire gallery of photos and videos.  Better yet, why not have a QR code take you to a custom map showing where you are (using the smartphone's geolocation sensor) and all the great, must-see highlights around you?

You're learning German and you just bought a tutorial on the language.  At the end of each lesson, why not have QR codes that take you to a short assessment test to make sure you learned everything you need to know?

The possibilities are endless.  What I love about all this is that it takes a static print book and makes it much more dynamic.  QR codes aren't limited to print books though.  They're just as useful in an ebook.  In both situations you're simply adding a second object to the equation, your smartphone.  As such, it's important to think about the user experience; the sites your QR codes point to are most useful when they're built with the small screen in mind.

What are some of the ways you could use QR codes to enhance your content?

P.S. -- Be sure to check out the QR code at the top of this blog post -- it takes you to one of my favorite blogs. :-)

The Future of Ebook Apps (Today)

Kindle App Screen-2I'm in the process of reading Nick Bilton's excellent book, I Live in the Future and Here's How it Works.  I highly recommend it, btw; look for a detailed review here in the not too distant future.

While Nick's content is extremely fascinating, the reading experience on my iPad has been painfully frustrating.  I want to mark it up and pass excerpts along to colleagues.  That's next to impossible with all the ereader apps out there.  I'm reading it via the Kindle app on my iPad.  Does anyone feel the Kindle app's note-taking feature is adequate?  Anyone at all?  I didn't think so.

At the same time, I'm using a new note-taking app on my iPad.  It's called Noterize (App Store link) and you can find my review of it here.  As I mention in the review, Noterize excels as a document mark-up tool, but imagine an ebook reader app with Noterize functionality built-in.

Click on the image at the top of this blog post to see how it would work.  What I've done there is doctor up a screen shot of Nick Bilton's book from the Kindle iPad app.  I imported it into Noterize and added a bit of highlighting, a handwritten note and a PostIt note.  Know of any ereader apps that let you do this?  No, there aren't any.

I realize what I'm asking for isn't all that useful if you're reading a novel, but how many other types of books have you read where you wrote in the margin or added a PostIt note?  I've got plenty and I think it's ridiculous that something you can do so easily in a physical book can't be done in an ebook.

Now take this to the next level and add the ability to share portions of the book and your notes.  Let readers press a button and share an excerpt via email, Twitter, etc.  Incorporate a "buy now" button and it quickly becomes a marketing tool.  Old-school publishers are already cringing!  So what?  Make it optional by title and let publishers opt out if they're afraid of change.  Over time those publishers will either support it or die off because their products don't offer the same features as competitors.

The first ereader app vendor who adds Noterize-like functionality to their product becomes my preferred ebook store.  I'm just hoping it's not Apple since multi-platform support remains an even more important issue for me.

Bookstores Should Copy Best Buy's Approach

Once upon a time Amazon felt they only place they needed to sell the Kindle was on their own website.  Earlier this year they decided they needed a brick and mortar presence though, so now you can buy a Kindle at Target.  Soon you'll also be able to pick one up at your local Staples.

Amazon isn't stopping there.  They've also announced a deal to sell the Kindle at Best Buy.  As this article notes, that means Best Buy will offer the Kindle, the Nook and the Sony Reader.  And don't forget Best Buy also currently sells the iPad, making the big blue box store your one stop shop for everything e-reader related.

Have you noticed you can buy a Nook or an iPad on Amazon?  So if it makes sense for Best Buy and Amazon to offer all these devices, why don't the brick and mortar bookstores do the same?  I think it's because the brick and mortars  foolishly believe the only way they can win the ebook war is by selling only their device.

The problem with that logic is they're focusing on the wrong goal.  They're too busy worrying about device sales when they should be investing more in the content itself.  Amazon gets this.  That's why they have a Kindle reader on all the major platforms (e.g., Apple and Android).  Even though B&N has a Nook reader for the iPad I never think to buy a Nook book on my iPad.  Never.

So if you're B&N or Borders, what do you have to lose by selling the iPad in your stores, for example?  Don't stop there though.  Come up with a compelling reason why someone buying an iPad in your store should go to your ebook store (not Apple's or Amazon's) so that you get a cut of the device sale but, more importantly, you earn the longer-term ebook business of that same customer.  Heck, even a simple loyalty program for customers who buy an iPad from you is a good start; give them a special discount on the purchase of their first couple of ebooks.

Textbook Publishing vs. Lifelong Learning Publishing

The textbook publishing industry certainly has its share of challenges.  It's hard telling whether upstarts like Flatworld Knowledge will ever fully disrupt this sector but as the textbook-buying parent of two college students I admit I'm pulling for underdogs like Flatworld.  Everyone knows textbooks are ridiculously expensive but I'm not here to lobby for a price cut.  What I'm wondering about is why the textbook publishers are so focused on the school years but then they largely ignore students after they've graduated from college.

Yes, I'm well aware of the journal publishing world and how a number of textbook publishers offer a wide variety of periodicals showcasing the latest in R&D.  I'm also aware of the various e-products offered for researchers, but they're mostly database front-ends; great resources, but not what I'm talking about.

What I want to know is this: When a college graduate enters the workforce with a computer science degree, for example, why aren't the textbook publishers offering them a tool to continue their education throughout their career?  Lifelong learning was something my parents didn't have to worry much about but it's important for my generation and critical for my kids' generation.  If you're not keeping up with the latest developments in your field you're toast.  So why aren't the publishers of textbooks on programming languages, computer technology, etc., lined up to sell that new CS grad a subscription to a lifelong learning service?  Why are they content with a 1-, 2- or at most 4-year revenue stream when they could be building a much more valuable customer relationship for 20 or 30 years?

If the traditional publishers are too busy to bother with it maybe this is the real opportunity for the open textbook publishers like Flatworld Knowledge.  They could keep building those freely accessible online textbooks, but at the same time they should work on a learning product for students after they graduate.  Focus on providing lifelong learners with the information they need to build upon their school years and advance their careers.  Make it freely available online and charge for the convenience of delivery via an app for mobile devices, for example.  Better yet, as a graduation gift, why not offer the first year free?  If you build a compelling product you'll quickly convert those free subscribers into paying customers, many of which will become lifelong paying customers.