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5 posts from January 2011

Kindle Singles Could Be So Much More

Amazon launched their new Kindle Singles line with the usual series of email blasts and banners on recently.  There appear to be 20 or so Singles products so far but I'm sure many more are in the works.  Amazon says Singles are "compelling ideas expressed at their natural length."  My interpretation of that is, "most traditional books are bloated works, puffed up to either achieve a specific spine width or price point a publisher has in mind."

A Singles product isn't tied to spine width because Singles only exist in the e-world, a place where spines have no meaning. I love the concept and blogged about it last year (see the Just Long Enough section of this eContent wish list post).  But I also believe Amazon has one critical aspect of Singles all wrong: pricing.

The first Singles product I bought was The Business of Media, by Larry Dignan. Before I go any further I want to encourage you to by Dignan's Single right now.  It's one of the most thought-provoking works on media/publishing that I've read in a long time.  It's only $2.99...and that's the problem.

Amazon apparently believes shorter equals cheaper.  Wrong!  When I read The Business of Media the other night I realized three dollars got me a condensed version of what I'd normally pay at least $9.99 for (as a Kindle book) and more like $20+ (as a print book).  The author could very easily have bulked this up to 5 or 6 times the length of the Single.  All he had to do was add more stories, background, etc., and he would have had a 300-page book.  I'm so glad he didn't.

It took me about an hour to read The Business of Media and I'm a slow reader.  I could have done it in less time but I found myself highlighting and making so many notes in it.  The Single consists of 12 chapters, many of which only take up about 2 or 3 screens in my Kindle iPad app (although your mileage may vary depending on your app settings).  One hour.  I would have  gladly paid $9.99 for this one.  Not only was the content excellent but the service saved me several hours of reading time since it was in the short format, not the long, old-fashioned one.

I realize Amazon wants to cast a wide net by pricing Singles from $.99 to $2.99 but they're doing their partners (authors and publishers) a huge disservice.  I'm a well-known, card-carrying cheapskate and even I've gotten more relaxed about spending more than $9.99 on ebooks, so let the natural forces drive prices to the correct levels.  And by all means, don't assume shorter equals cheaper.  In this case, brevity is a key product attribute, so don't be afraid to let it drive a price up rather than down.

If the results on this one are what I can come to expect from Singles I'll definitely be spending a lot of money on them.  But I also want to encourage Amazon and their authors to think more "digital-first" (or "digital-exclusive") on these.

My only gripe about The Business of Media is that it felt like something that was written for print, not digital.  For example, something as simple as embedded hyperlinks were few and far between.  There were some, but the content lends itself to many, many more.

And here's another plea for Amazon to add pop-up window functionality to its reader app.  When I click on a link don't close the reader and open the browser; just open a frame on the screen with a browser so I can keep everything in context.

When I reached the end of The Business of Media I wanted to know what's next.  I thoroughly enjoyed the author's work so where can I go for more?  Where can I buy a follow-on product?  A bunch of one-off's like this is a missed opportunity.  Show me a family of related products that keep me coming back.  Also, this Single covers a very dynamic, ever-changing subject.  The content is up-to-date in early 2011 but how should it change in 3 months?  6 months?  Longer?  Here's an opportunity for Amazon to either make updates part of the original product (and charge more) or sell quick revisions.

Singles is a good idea but I hope Amazon takes the time to develop it into something more than just shorter pieces of content.

P.S. -- I know Amazon is trying to play off the album single, but why does "Kindle Singles" always make me think of "Kraft Singles"?

Previewing TOC 2011

Our next Tools of Change (TOC) conference is rapidly approaching (February 14-16).  TOC is my favorite conference and this year I'm thrilled to serve as emcee for the Ignite session Tuesday afternoon.  If you haven't registered yet be sure to do so soon as we're on track for yet another sellout. 

I thought I'd use this post to highlight just a few of the sessions I'm looking forward to attending:

Monday, 2/14

Standards in Flux -- This is a panel discussion covering all the major formats including EPUB.  I'm anxious to see more rich content options built into the key standards so that we can go beyond the current state of ebooks.

Building a Successful Direct Channel -- This session is led by my O'Reilly colleague Allen Noren.  Allen and his team have developed a terrific direct sales channel for us on and I always learn something new every time I talk with him.

HTML5: A Workshop for Publishers -- This is a tough call as I'd also like to see Cali Bush's (another O'Reilly colleague) eBook Distribution Contracts session.  HTML5 is red hot though and something everyone in publishing needs to pay close attention to.

Tuesday, 2/15

The Elements -- If you haven't seen The Elements iPad app you need to download it right now.  This keynote from Wolfram's Theodore Gray tells how they took an unsexy topic like the periodic table of elements and turned it into one of the hottest apps of 2010.

Value-Added Apps -- What a terrific opportunity to hear the inside stories behind some very successful content rich apps!

MoBible -- More insider lessons, this time from a publisher (B&H Publishing Group) who has done a lot of econtent experimentation.

Wednesday, 2/16

What Do eReading Customers Really, Really Want? -- I'm always interested in hearing answers to this question and how they map to my own assumptions as both a consumer and a publisher.

Building the Future from Within -- Dominique Raccah always has something interesting to share and I'm sure this session will be no exception.

Game Plans for Publishers to Build Direct Relationships with Customers -- The title says it all.  You're seriously missing out if you're not already building a direct channel.

P.S. -- If you missed the TOC webcast (My eContent Wish List) I did last month you can watch it here or directly on my blog below.

Why I'll Pay More than $9.99 for an Ebook

I recently finished reading Laura Hillenbrand's latest book, Unbroken.  It's the story of Louie Zamperini and was one of those rare books I had a hard time putting down.  It was so good, in fact, that I feel bad that I only paid $9.99 for the Kindle edition.  Amazon also sells the print version for $13.99, still a steal at 48% off the print cover price of $27.

I'm generally price-sensitive when it comes to ebooks and I'll rarely pay more than $9.99.  I knew as soon as I read the sample on this one though that I absolutely had to have it.  I would have easily paid the discounted print price of $13.99 for the Kindle edition but what would it take for me to pay $19.99 or even $29.99 for it instead?

My heart sank when I read the last page of the book's Epilogue.  I wanted more.  I was curious to learn as much as possible about Louie Zamperini and, unfortunately, neither Amazon nor the book's publisher (Random House) were there to help me continue the journey.  Yes, Amazon carries other books about Mr. Zamperini and I'll probably buy one of those, but that's not what I have in mind.

My next step was to use a combination of Bing and Google to figure out what resources are out there to further explore this man's remarkable story.  I quickly found his website, a Wikipedia entry about him and even a few videos on YouTube.  Using a combination of iPad apps, Instapaper and MiTube, I was able to pull all these pieces of content together for later reading/viewing.  My questions though are: (1) Why do I have to go out and find/gather all these things on my own?, and (2) There's probably even more great content from this project that didn't make it into the book and isn't available on the web, so why isn't the publisher selling it as well?

When I buy an ebook from Amazon the relationship for that transaction ends when my book arrives on my device.  I'd rather see a richer relationship, one that goes beyond the e-version of the print book.  When I log into Amazon each book I've bought should include links to other content on the subject.  In this case, the author or perhaps Mr. Zamperini could pull together the best resources on the web they recommend for further reading.  More importantly, what about all the other photos, stories, etc., that didn't make it into the print book?  Just as movie studios do with DVDs, why not include downloads of the author's notes, audio/video interviews, photos taken along the way, etc.?

There are many reasons why Amazon doesn't offer something like this.  The first one is because they don't want to provide links off their own page.  Amazon wants to keep all the traffic to themselves.  Too bad.  This is a great service they could offer which would only make me want to come back to more frequently to see what other links have been curated for the topic.  Pretty ironic, don't you think?

The second reason they don't offer all the additional content is they probably figure their own device won't support it.  eInk is great at rendering words on a screen but it still doesn't offer color or video capabilities.  Amazon needs to think further about all the devices their customers have access to though.  I read all my Kindle books on my iPad.  Even those customers who are reading on a Kindle have access to a PC/Mac though, where they could easily consume these other forms of content.  So when someone buys the Kindle version of Unbroken why couldn't they watch videos related to the book on their Mac?

What I'm describing isn't for everyone and I wouldn't even need/want it for most books.  But why not offer it for the ones that really lend themselves to it, like Unbroken?  Offer the additional content separately and give the customer the option of buying the bundle or just the ebook.  I'm sure this type of content is out there and some of it isn't floating around for free on the web.  I would gladly pay more for it.  In this case, a robust collection of notes, interviews, stories, videos, etc., would be worth $29.99, or $20 more than I paid for the book alone.

Amazon, when will you start selling more than the simple ebook?  You seem to be encouraging publishers to venture off and build richer, direct relationships with readers.  I think that's a smart move for publishers but it amazes me that Amazon isn't moving aggressively on this as well.

Reader Apps vs. Dedicated Book Apps

Today there are typically two ways of publishing and reading ebooks on mobile devices.  You either use a reader app, often from a device maker (e.g., Kindle, iBooks) or you use a dedicated app written on that platform for that particular work (e.g., The Elements or Solar System for iPad).  Some of those dedicated book apps are terrific but I think they're a symptom of one of the more significant problems in the world of ebook evolution.

I love it that there's so much experimentation going on now with apps, but oftentimes they're one-off's that require a reinvention of the wheel for each new product.  I also hate the fact that we're creating a bunch of book apps that don't talk to each another.  One of the simple features I've been asking for in reader apps is the ability to search across a library.  It's far more likely we'll see that implemented in the Kindle reader, for example, before we'll ever see all these individual apps communicating with each other.

What really needs to happen, IMHO, is for the reader apps to evolve much faster than they are today.  Apple just added the ability to separate your ebooks into different shelves in the iBooks app.  What a concept.  The Kindle app has been around much longer than iBooks and it still doesn't support something as simple as this.

Awhile back I suggested that Amazon ought to get out of the hardware business and focus all their efforts on making their reader app the finest on the planet.  Even though they're not taking that advice, I've got a new idea for them to consider: Turn the Kindle apps into open source projects and enlist the help of the community to enhance and improve them.  Imagine how many great new features would be implemented in this model.  Rather than being limited by the fixed (and apparently small) number of developers assigned to the internal Kindle apps dev team they'd suddently have access to as many developers as they could recruit to the open source project.  They could create a world class set of apps and quickly distance themselves from the competition.

"Google-level Relevance, Facebook-level Social, & Apple-level Design"

Of all the items I read over the holidays, a blog post from Bradford Cross called Why the iPad is Destroying the Future of Journalism was by far the best.  It's a must read for everyone involved in any form of publishing.  Here are some of my favorite excerpts (italics) and with a few comments of my own mixed in:

The iPad has been dubbed a revolutionary device and the journalism industry has raced to embrace it.  But their embrace is more of a desperate final grasp at the past.

Yes!  That's exactly why I've tried out at least 4 or 5 different magazines on it but have yet to subscribe to a single one.  Wired is my favorite example.  I spent $4.99 on the first iPad issue and never went back for more.  Even though they lowered the price, why should I buy the iPad version when I get the print one for $10 a year?  There's nothing new and exciting enough to get me to switch.

Publishers want to have their own branded channel - whether in their own app, or in some meta-app.  They are fighting back against syndicating their content on the web and they want you to come to their sites and pay.  Nobody gets their content from only one source; this is the Internet.  Nobody is going to pick their favorite newspaper or magazine and just stick to their app.

This is where we in the publishing industry need to think more about getting our content to where readers already are and not expect them to always come to us (or grab our latest app).

Nobody wants an app for each content source.  The parallels to RSS are striking.

This reminds me of a conversation I was part of at a recent conference.  One person in the session mentioned that he couldn't recall the last time he opened his RSS reader.  Another agreed, saying she felt too guilty seeing the new tally of unread items in it.  How true.  I also can't tell you the last time I looked at my RSS reader, but I certainly don't like the idea of individual apps for every type of content I'm interested in.

Since most non-direct traffic for news now is coming from search, Facebook turns out to be the largest subscription source of news content on the Internet.

Even though Bradford's post is all about the news industry, I believe there are parallels to book publishing here as well.  See this earlier post on publishing in the social world for more info.

The success of search, social, and design seem to indicate that the future of news products need Google-level relevance, Facebook-level social, and Apple-level design.

What a terrific way to state it.  And unlike the famous words of Meatloaf, two out of those three simply isn't good enough.

If journalism is going to rediscover a model that works, it has to figure out how to integrate with the social web.  What should I be able to do with that Economist article?  Should I be able to share it à la carte so I can discuss it with the people I want?  Should I be able to share it within my network?  Should I be able to share it publicly?

I think the answers should be yes, yes and yes.  Btw, I read this article using the Instapaper app on my iPad.  Doing so helped me realize social network functionality that need to be added to Instapaper as well -- see my latest iPadHound post for more info.