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4 posts from October 2010

Final Part of My TOC Frankfurt "Ignite" Session

This is the last of three posts providing more in-depth information about some of my slides from the recent Ignite session at TOC Frankfurt.  Part one can be found here and part two here.

1-Click eBook Sampling

Picture 4 This is one of my favorites.  Let's say you're showing me a great book you're reading and you think I'd enjoy it as well.  I'd like to take a picture of your book with my smartphone and have its ebook sample automatically appear in my e-reader app.  Life should be this simple.  There's no reason the Kindle, iBooks or other popular e-reader app couldn't do something like this.  I read samples before I buy any ebook and I'm sure I'm not alone.  eBook retailers need to make it even easier to grab samples on the fly.

1-Touch Index Access

Picture 5 While we're on the topic of simplicity, I'd also like to have 1-touch access to a book's index, right on the page I'm currently reading.  Some of today's e-reader apps offer 1-click dictionary access.  I want that expanded to enable a quick look-up of all other index entries for the word/phrase I've touched on the screen.  Let me hop from here to there without a search step in between.  And be sure to implement a "back" button that lets me quicky return to where I started.

QR Codes

Picture 6 QR codes are popping up all over the place.  I'm seeing them more in magazines and on displays in stores.  They haven't been used much in books and ebooks but I feel there's a lot of potential here, especially if you can offer a benefit to the reader that features more content on a smartphone screen.  See my earlier blog post about QR codes for more information.

Loyalty Programs

Picture 7 I'm a sucker for loyalty programs.  My keychain used to have a zillion of those little barcode cards on it, but then I moved all that to the CardStar app on my iPhone.  Although most of the major brick-and-mortar bookstores have loyalty programs, none of the ebook retailers appear to have one.  This could be due to the fact that when you buy an e-reader device you're sometimes locking yourself in to a format (and potentially a single retailer).  That's not the case on the iPad though, where I can buy and read products from Apple, Amazon, B&N and others.  There seems to be a race to the bottom for pricing but I'm convinced the winners will be retailers who offer something more than just the lowest price.  What sort of premium access could be granted to frequent buyers?  What are some of the membership program benefits that will build customer loyalty and repeat sales?  These are the questions ebook retailers need to start thinking more about.  Publishers need to give this serious consideration as well.  The ebook revolution is offering all sorts of new opportunities for publishers to sell direct to customers.  A loyalty program is an important ingredient for any direct sales campaign.

Part Two of My TOC Frankfurt "Ignite" Session

This is the second of a three-part series of posts summarizing my Ignite presentation at the recent TOC Frankfurt event.  Part one can be found here

Content Mark-up & Sharing

Picture 1The next item on my eContent wish list is the ability to mark up my content and share it with others.  If you click on the slide to the left you'll see a mock-up I created of a page from a book in Amazon's Kindle reader app for the iPad.  I've added a sticky note, a handwritten reminder as well yellow highlighting on a couple of lines.  Today's e-reader apps (at least on the iPad) only let you do one of those three things; the sticky note and any sort of handwriting option simply don't exist.  They're easy enough to add, but become even more powerful if they can be shared.

Why not add features to ebook reader apps that let me do all this and then package up an excerpt (with my notes) to send to a friend or post on my website?  Rather than focusing on how to limit distribution of ebook content, publishers and resellers should instead work on ways to make the platform work for them.  It's called "marketing" and it's time to support and encourage this sort of content sharing and reuse.

A Used eBook Ecosystem

Picture 2 With two kids in college I have plenty of first-hand experience paying for textbooks.  Those insanely high prices you pay when buying the books suddenly become pennies on the dollar when selling them back as used books.  What if we could turn this model upside down and enable students to resell their textbooks for more than what they paid?  How?  By including all their notes in them as e-textbooks.  Are there any students the following semester who might pay a bit more for a set of well-organized notes for the class?  You bet.  Would this encourage students to skip class and just use the notes?  Probably, but those kids will probably find a way to skip anyhow, so why should that factor in?

What I'm suggesting is a reseller model where the student can package all their notes together with their version of the ebook and sell it at whatever price they feel is appropriate.  The key here is to include the publisher and author in the revenue stream; neither of them share in the proceeds of the used book market today but there's no reason they couldn't in the future.

A Book vs. A Network

Picture 3 Bob Pritchett, CEO of Logos, gave a terrific talk at our TOC conference in NY earlier this year.  He noted how Logos focuses on "selling a network", not just selling an individual book.  What he means is that as you buy more products from Logos you're building a library that's highly integrated from top to bottom.  Every new product fits into and is fully accessible from within your existing library.  Think of it like how one Lego brick is useful but the real power comes from combining it with hundreds of others.  So if you publish both a how-to and a reference guide for a topic, how can they fit together and complement one another in their digital formats?  Done properly, this creates a seemingly endless combination of cross-sell and up-sell opportunities.

Just Long Enough

Picture 4 Have you ever read a 300-page book only to find it contained about 15 pages of really great content?  Why did the author/publisher puff it up to 300 pages?  One reason has to do with creating a spine presence on the shelf.  The work wouldn't really be a "book" if it was thinned down to 15 pages and it would definitely disappear on the shelf.

I'm so glad that spine width has no meaning in the ebook world.  Maybe we can finally get away from inflating page count just to make sure the book looks and feels like all the other ones next to it on the shelf.

Here's a crazy idea: Feel free to charge the same price for the 15-page version as you do for the 300-page one.  That's right, if you've got a way of communicating the same amount of information to me, but in a fraction of the time, I'll pay for that convenience.  I'd actually buy and read more of these condensed editions than I what I consume today.  And yes, I'm quite familiar with a couple of the more popular "book summary" programs.  I found one of them to be awful and the other to be better but still far from perfect.

Publishers, why not consider having your authors write similar summaries and either sell them separately or include them with the longer book, all in e-format, of course?  The authors know this material best and are therefore the perfect candidates to write the summaries.  I also realize some books are lengthier because they offer more story-telling than others; that's why I'm suggesting you offer both formats (full and condensed).

Imagine a business book that's available for $25 in either full or condensed ebook format.  Buy one or the other or get both for a bundle price of, say, $30.  And if a customer buys one format but comes back later to buy the other, given them the bundle price and only charge them $5 more for the other piece.

P.S. -- Although poorly named, Amazon's new "Singles" program could be a great step in this direction.  I particularly like the way they describe it as, "compelling ideas expressed at their natural length."

My TOC Frankfurt "Ignite" Session, Part One

Picture 3 Last week was our second TOC Frankfurt conference and it was a thoroughly enjoyable day.  I had the pleasure of being one of eight Ignite speakers at the show.  If you're not familiar with Ignite presentations, they're each exactly 5 minutes long consisting of 20 slides which auto-advance every 15 seconds.  The title of my Ignite talk was "My eContent Wish List".  Not surprisingly (given the Ignite pace) I found myself rushing through my presentation so I thought I'd cover some of the slides in a short series of blog posts (where I can control the pace myself!).  The entire deck can be found here on Slideshare.

Multi-format, DRM-free

Picture 4This is one of those areas that I can't believe there's still debating.  When I buy an ebook I want it in all popular formats (EPUB, mobi, PDF) all of which have no DRM attached.  Yes, I'm biased since this is how we sell ebooks on but it works exceptionally well for us.  Unfortunately, I can't name another publisher that does this; more importantly, you won't find that option in the Kindle or iBooks stores.  Publishers, wake up and follow O'Reilly's lead.  The (current) leading retailers are trying to protect their own platforms, although those rules will change when (and if!) Google ever releases their Editions program.  Imagine how many more ebooks the industry would sell if every time a customer buys one they knew they wouldn't be locked in to a single device or platform.

Readers for All Platforms

Picture 5 If you're too stubborn to follow my format/DRM advice, at least be sure the content purchased works on all the popular platforms.  This is one area where Amazon truly shines.  Even though they're largely selling DRM'd mobi files, they've got a reader for each and every platform.  That's why I buy my ebooks from them and not Apple.  I know that I can read my Kindle books on my iPad, my Mac, my iPhone, and, if I ever want to go retro, even on my first-gen Kindle.  There's also a Kindle reader app for the Android platform, which is good to know since I'm seriously thinking of switching from iPhone to Android next year.  Do you suppose Apple will ever offer an iBooks reader app for the Android?  Yeah, I don't think so either, so I'll continue buying Kindle editions instead.

Social Networks, Please?

Picture 6 This is another head-scratcher to me.  If I've just read a great sentence or two in an ebook, why can't I tweet it from within the reader app?  "Tweet this" buttons are everywhere except ebooks.  I'm looking for a bit more though.  I want an e-reader app that lets me not only tweet my enthusiasm but also link to the actual content in the ebook.  After all, how many meaningful excerpts can be stated in 140 characters, not to mention the need to include the title of the book?!  Amazon has a chance to take the lead here.  As I mentioned in last week's post, their "Kindle for the Web" service has a share feature but they need to extend it so that readers can tweet links to specific locations within the book.  Facebook proved long ago that recommendations are much more valuable when they come from your friends rather than strangers; e-reader apps could drive more e-book sales using the same philosophy.  They also need to incorporate their affiliate program to further incent readers to tweet these excerpt links.

Kindle for the Web

Picture 2 Have you noticed the new greenish "Kindle Edition" box on the right side of certain book catalog pages on Amazon?  It provides access to Amazon's new Kindle for the Web feature which lets you sample a book in your browser and embed portions of it in your website.  For example, click the "Read first chapter FREE" button for Microsoft Office Professional 2010 Step by Step and you'll see a rendering of the book within your browser window.  Up to now if you wanted to read this content on your computer you had to open a separate app (e.g., Kindle for Mac).

Kindle for the Web makes it easier to access the content, but the real step forward here is the ability to embed the sample in another website.  Here's that Step by Step book embedded in this blog post:

What a terrific way for authors and fans to showcase excerpts on their websites.  Kudos to Amazon for offering this service, but I'd encourage them take it further.  For example, let each person decide which portion of the book they want to excerpt.  Yes, I know the danger here is that someone could piece together the entire book across dozens of websites of excerpts.  How many people will go to the trouble of assembling all that content though?  My point is that when I find a book I love I can usually think of certain excerpts that make it special.  Why not let me share the pieces I find most interesting?

Next, you may have noticed the "Share" feature on the right side of the screen, just below the "Embed" button.  The share option takes a link to the book and lets you email it, add it to your Facebook updates or tweet it.  This is a nice step in the right direction but, again, I'd like to point to a specific excerpt, not just the book's catalog page.  Also, Amazon, can you please add this "share" functionality to your Kindle apps, particularly the iPad one I use every day?  Why should it be available on Kindle for the Web but not your individual reader apps?