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15 posts from September 2011

TOC Podcasts: Now in iTunes

600x600_toc_podcast A month or so ago we decided it was time to extend TOC's reach with industry news, interviews, etc., in the form of video podcasts. I've already featured many of those segments here on the 2020 Publishing blog but now you'll be able to retrieve them in a more convenient manner.

Head over to iTunes and subscribe to the TOC podcast series using this link. Four of the first sessions are currently available via iTunes and more will follow shortly. Going forward we plan to create 1-2 new segments every week.

We're always on the lookout for new and interesting people, products and platforms to cover via this podcast series. If you know of any be sure to send them my way and I'll make sure the TOC team follows-up on them.

Amazon Rocks! Apple? Not So Much...

That's the opinion I came away with after last week's TOC debate. Then again, I'm somewhat biased since I argued for the Amazon position while my friend and industry colleague, Kassia Krozser, was Ms. Apple. Meanwhile, TOC co-chair, Kat Meyer, had her hands full as moderator and did her best to keep Kassia and I focused on the facts.

Who won? Decide for yourself by watching here or the embedded version below.

P.S. -- We're starting to schedule future TOC debates. What are two opposing viewpoints you'd like to see covered? One of the more interesting suggestions I've heard so far is a debate on native apps vs. HTML5 or EPUB3; it was pitched as "Why native apps suck!". Would you like to see that one? Do you have an idea for an even better one? If so, let me know and we'll see what we can line up!

The State of Digital Content in Spain

Like so many other European countries, Spain still hasn't seen the significant rise in ebook sales like we've experienced in the U.S. But due to the fact that the country has such a high percentage of mobile device owners and the bias towards print seems to be changing, it may not be long before ebooks represent a significant portion of overall sales. Dosdoce Digital Culture's Javier Celaya recently met with me (YouTube link here or watch below) to discuss the state of econtent and what's likely to impact the future. Some of Celaya's more noteworthy points include:

  • Ebooks currently represent about 3% of total sales -- This is rapidly changing though and some publishers are claiming as much as 5% of their sales come from ebooks. Javier sees this climbing all the way to 10% in 2012. [Discussed at 2:20]
  • Tablets vs. dedicated e-reading devices -- The percentage of heavy readers in Spain is rather low compared to other countries. As a result, single-purpose devices, particularly ones dedicated to reading, aren't likely to be successful. Multi-function tablets are already popular in Spain and likely to be the preferred e-reading platform. [Discussed at 7:30]
  • Amazon will have a major advantage, despite the fixed-price restrictions -- It all comes down to service, where Amazon has plenty of experience to leverage. [Discussed at 13:40]
  • iPad will remain strong but iBookstore, not so much -- Although Apple's devices will be popular for content consumption, most of that content will likely be bought from other retailers, not the iBookstore [Discussed at 16:40]
  • Support for DRM is shifting -- Even some larger publishers are starting to offer portions of their lists without DRM, mostly at the request of their authors. [Discussed at 20:30]
  • The advantages of direct sales go well beyond the obvious income boost -- It's also about the customer knowledge you'll gather, and more importantly, what you do with that knowledge. [Discussed at 22:20]

What Good Are Ebook "Daily Deals" & Other Deep Discounts?

I admit it. I check Amazon's Kindle Daily Deal every day. Every single day. Why? As a publisher I'm curious to see what they're offering and as a consumer I don't want to miss out on a great deal. (In the spirit of full disclosure, at O'Reilly Media we offer an ebook or video deal-of-the-day too. In fact, our program was in place long before Amazon started theirs. Everything I'm about to say below pertains not only to Amazon's program but O'Reilly's and everyone else's as well.)

As a publisher I worry about the mindset we're reinforcing that content needs to be deeply discounted to garner customer attention. Amazon started this thinking by pricing so many Kindle edtions at $9.99 even when they took a loss on each sale. And now the Kindle Daily Deals are often priced at $1.99-2.99 or less, so the effective discounts off digital list price are 80-90% or higher.

You might ask, "what's the harm?". After all, brick-and-mortar retailers of all shapes and sizes have offered deep discounts as a way of getting the customer into the store. That's why a grocery store sells a gallon of milk at a loss and hopes that you'll pick up several other profitable items between the dairy section and the checkout counter. And that's the problem.

When I go to the grocery store I always wind up buying something more than what I went in for but that never happens when I buy online. I find I'm willing to let more items catch my eye in a physical store than an online store, so impulse buys are the norm for me in a physical store. When I'm online I'm much more of a destination shopper. I have something in mind. If I find it at the right price I buy it and nothing else.

So I've now bought 3 or 4 of the Kindle Daily Deal titles but they were all bought alone as single-title transactions. Each day when I check the Daily Deal I'm greeted by plenty of other products and offers on but I don't bother with any of them.

You might still say the deal is good for both Amazon and that day's publisher/author. I'm not so sure. One way of measuring that would be monitoring how long the discounted title continues to sell through at higher levels after the discount ends. I don't have any statistics to prove this (since Amazon doesn't share the data) but just watching Amazon's Kindle bestseller list tells me the daily deal titles typically stick around the top 5 or so for another day or two and then pretty much disappear from the top 25-50. Maybe they're still selling at a higher rate than they did pre-promo but if that's the case you'd think Amazon would be playing that up with publishers and authors. I haven't heard a word from them about it.

Meanwhile, the Amazon program is causing me to change my behavior, but not in a good way. I used to take a closer look at the Amazon home page for other campaigns but now I pretty much check the Daily Deal and head out. To make matters worse, one of the recent Daily Deal titles was one I paid full price for several months ago. That one left a bad taste in my mouth all day.

I should point out that I'm a fan of discounts and promotional long as they lead to something more meaningful than a one-and-done transaction. So why not make these deals part of some membership program? There are a lot of directions that could head in. For example, if I buy five books at regular price I get the sixth one of my choice for only 99 cents. Or what if the Amazon Daily Deal was always priced at $2.99 to $4.99 but if I'm a Prime member I get it for 99 cents? In that model the general public still gets a deal (albeit not as deep a discount as today) but customers are encouraged to join a membership program which should lead to even more purchases down the road.

That's all I'm asking for. Let's get away from these one-product deep discount campaigns and start thinking about how to build a much more extensive relationship with our customers.

P.S. -- Again, since O'Reilly offers an ebook deal-of-the-day program I'm going to see if I can grab our head of online, Allen Noren, to join me in a TOC podcast where we can talk further about our results, what works, what doesn't, and how we might want to think about tailoring it for the future. Stay tuned for more details on that podcast interview.

Flipboard's Evan Doll Explains How Simplicity is One of the Keys to Success

When the Flipboard iPad app first arrived it helped us to look at the tablet user interface in a whole new way. Suddenly those ugly RSS feeds became beautiful and they could be navigated alongside your Twitter and Facebook streams. Flipboard's co-founder, Evan Doll, recently sat down with O'Reilly's me to talk about how the app was designed and where it might be heading. Key points include: 

  • A key to design at Apple -- Every time you present the user with a non-essential decision to make, you have failed as a designer. [Discussed at the 0:40 mark]
  • Steve Jobs and user interface design -- All those rumors are true. Steve Jobs has indeed played a significant role in even the tiniest of user interface design decisions. [Discussed at 1:18]
  • Exceeding customer expectations -- Focus less on producing a "minimum viable product" and more on making it a "minimum awesome product." [Discussed at 2:28]
  • Anonymized data is a crucial tool -- You may not like it but your browsing habits are being studied. Don't worry though. It's not some big brother conspiracy but rather the Flipboard team looking for ways to improve the user experience. [Discussed at 4:05]
  • Focus on being "fundamentally social" -- The social component of your product needs to be organic, not something that's tacked on later. Flipboard is an "inherently social browser." [Discussed at 5:15]

P.S. -- My apologies for the crying baby in the background of this one. Evan mentioned his 2 month-old son got some shots earlier that day and he wasn't in a very happy mood.