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5 posts from July 2011

Every Book Is a Startup

Every Book Is a Startup The title of this post isn't some witty phrase I came up with. Every Book Is a Startup is the name of a new short-form ebook (and soon to be print book) from Todd Sattersten. This project is much more than just a typical ebook; it's actually a collection of publishing experiments packaged as an ebook.

First of all, if you go to the book's catalog page you'll see that it's only 28 pages long and $4.99. That's because this is just the beginning of the project. Just like other startups who leverage the agile model, we're releasing the minimum viable product now and encouraging customer feedback for future updates and extensions of the project.

This minimum viable product release is short and low-priced but it will grow over time based on customer input. As it grows the price goes up. That's right. We're starting at $4.99 but as we add more content the price will increase. If you buy it now though, at $4.99, you'll get all those updates for no additional charge. IOW, we're encouraging early adoption of the product and at the same time we're seeing what we can learn from a dynamic pricing model.

As with every ebook on you'll find this one is DRM-free and available to you in all the popular formats. So your $4.99 purchase provides you with EPUB, MOBI and PDF plus all the updates going forward. I encourage you to check this one out and be sure to visit the Get Satisfaction page Todd has set up for community engagement.

Tell us what you think and help us shape not only the future of this project but the future of publishing as well!

P.S. -- If you're in the Portland area this Wednesday, 7/27, come see Todd talk about this model in person at our miniTOC event.

miniTOC: Coming To a Town Near You!

Screen shot 2011-07-22 at 3.01.39 PM We're taking our Tools of Change (TOC) conference on the road. The first in a series of miniTOC events takes place next Wednesday, July 27th, in Portland.

So what exactly is a "miniTOC"? It's a gathering of the local publishing community where we'll talk about the latest industry trends and what needs to be done to truly embrace change.

TOC co-chair Kat Meyer has put together an outstanding agenda for this one-day event. All the details can be found here. Registration is still open. Regular admission is $99 and students can attend for only $25.

If you're in Portland next Wednesday and interested in the future of publishing you'll want to attend. I'll be at miniTOC and I hope to see you there as well.

P.S. -- If you're not in the Portland area don't worry. We're planning additional miniTOC events in other cities down the road. Email me if you'd like your city to be considered.

Should Online Bookstores Go Social?

As I walked through a local brick-and-mortar bookstore the other day I overheard this exchange:

Customer #1: This is why I don't always buy online. I love holding and flipping through books.

Customer #2: Me too, but I really like spending time in the store and seeing if I can get any good recommendations while I'm wandering around.

That's so true. Shopping in person can have a social element to it but shopping online is always a solitary experience. To be fair, I don't make a habit of bothering other customers in the bookstore but there have been times when I've asked their opinion, particularly if I overhear them saying something I'm interested in or if I see them picking up a book I'm considering. Then there are the in-store clerks. I've gotten valuable pointers from store personnel countless times.

What's the analog to that in the online bookstore? There isn't one. Sure you can read through product reviews but that's not the same as talking realtime with other customers or a clerk.

Online bookstores have gotten along just fine despite this brick-and-mortar advantage, of course. But if online stores enable this functionality would it lead to an even richer shopping experience? I think so.

Let's say you're searching your preferred .com for books about one of my favorite topics, the New York Yankees. Wouldn't it be cool if part of the screen listed other shoppers currently browsing the online store who have a history of buying books about the Yankees? They'd appear in a frame just like you see with instant messaging apps and you could initiate a quick chat with any of them about a book you're considering.

Before you privacy advocates get too wound up I'd like to point out that this service is something you'd have to opt into. If you prefer to shop without chatting with anyone you'd simply leave this service disabled. But if you're interested in talking to others with common interests and would love to get their recommendations this service is for you.

The service would automatically include your purchase history, excluding items you may not want to make public or just showing topics/areas of interest, not specific titles. Think of it like an overlay of your Goodreads shelf with a chat service, built right into the online bookstore.

As a consumer I'd love to have access to something like this. As a publisher I'd get even more use out of it. You could do real, live customer research anytime you want to (assuming the right customers are currently logged in).

Forget about the customers for a moment though and let's think about the in-store clerk. Wouldn't it be cool if there were virtual in-store clerks available to chat with, ready to make a recommendation or answer your questions? You might figure it makes no sense for an online bookstore to add to staff just to have a bunch of subject matter experts online for customer inquiries. I agree, but this is where the brick-and-mortar stores could use it to their advantage...

Think about B&N, for example. There are hundreds of stores open from about 9AM ET till about 10PM PT each day. That's 16 hours each day and every store has one or more in-store clerks on the job at any given time. Connect the in-store computers to this service so that the NY clerk who manages the sports section and loves baseball gets notified when I have a general question about Yankees books. The clerk steps over to the computer and joins me in a chat session. The in-store employee now adds value to the online bookstore experience as well.

I'm just scratching the surface on this idea. How about making it more compelling with badges and credits earned for answering customer questions? Better yet, how about including an affiliate program so that if my recommendation results in a purchase I get a cut of the transaction? Then there's the ebook side of this. How about letting me send you an excerpt from a book I'm recommending? If it's a better sample than the one the publisher made available it only increases the likelihood of generating a sale. And if it doesn't, the retailer should be capturing all this information and using it to follow-up with that customer to nudge them again on that book (or other related books).

I'm convinced social will play a crucial role in the future of search in general and I also see a terrific opportunity for it to add to the online book buying experience. How about you? Would you be interested in something like this if your favorite online bookseller implemented it?

Short Form Content: There's An App for That

New short form content initiatives seem to be sprouting up all around us.  You're probably familiar with Amazon's Kindle Singles program.  As I mentioned earlier this year, Singles is a smart move on Amazon's part but they're wrong to assume that "shorter" always equals "cheaper."

We're also doing a lot with short form content at O'Reilly.  Two examples are 21 Recipes for Mining Twitter and Writing Game Center Apps in iOS.   These products are available as both ebooks and print products.  The shorter length means they're easy to update quickly, an important attribute when you're publishing in the rapidly changing technology space.

One of my favorite magazines is also part of the short form content movement.  It's called The Week and if you're not familiar with it I encourage you to sign up now for a 4-issue trial subscription.  Most of the content in each issue is excerpts from some of the best news and editorials from other publications.  Rather than subscribe to all these other magazines and newspapers (and deal with the political bias each one of them offers!) I just get excerpts of the best of the best from The Week.

Perhaps you're not comfortable with someone else deciding which articles are the most important ones.  I too was skeptical at first but I've found The Week is a great, fast way for me to absorb a lot more news and opinion than I could before.

If you don't trust humans to serve as a content filter you'll probably never let your iPhone do it for you.  That's right.  There's now a "text summarizer and simplifier" app for your iPhone and it's called TrimIt.  I'm always interested in finding ways to consume more content so I couldn't resist trying TrimIt out.  I ran a few of my blog posts through it and while the results were shorter I'm not convinced all the critical points were still intact.  Bottom line: TrimIt is an interesting concept but it's not ready for prime time.

What's your short form content strategy?  You may not be working on one but I'll bet some of your competitors are.  And if you're not doing anything in the short form area, are you really willing to let apps like TrimIt fill that void for you?

Digital Bookmaking Tools Roundup with Pete Meyers

Digital Bookmaking Tools Roundup

We presented another TOC webcast last week and it featured author and industry consultant Pete Meyers covering the world of digital bookmaking tools. If you're not familiar with Pete I encourage you to check out his blog, A New Kind of Book.

Thanks to Pete's efforts we now have a short list of tools vendors to take a closer look at.  But since each month brings new vendors in this space we're planning to offer Digital Bookmaking Tools Roundup webcasts with Pete every quarter.  Mark your calendars for the next one, which is currently scheduled for September 29th at 1 PM ET.

If you missed the first Roundup webcast you'l find the archive here.  Pete also wrote a nice follow-up post on his blog which includes links to each of the companies whose products he talks about as well as his deck on slideshare.

Pete's next TOC webcast isn't till September 29th but we've got a couple of others lined up for between now and then. Our next one is scheduled for July 28th 1 PM ET and it's called The Changing World of Digital Rights and Publishing Agreements.  TOC co-chair Kat Meyer is working on this one with industry experts Dana Newman and Jenny Bent.  Click here for additional details and registration information.