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6 posts from February 2013

What's going on with readers today?

You might recall an article from our TOC site a few months ago that asked the question, "What do readers want?". It was a call for publishing types to submit questions that Goodreads could ask their members. Your questions ultimately formed the basis of the Goodreads member survey.

I was fortunate enough to join Goodreads CEO Otis Chandler on stage for his presentation of the survey results at TOC NY a couple of weeks ago. The presentation featured a good deal of Q&A between Otis, myself and the audience, making it one of the most interesting sessions I've recently sat in on. I wanted to highlight a few of the more noteworthy takeaways from it in this article. The entire deck is embedded below, so you'll want to flip through it as you read my commentary.

Slide #6 -- As an industry we've long wondered just how influential social media is for book discovery. Take a peek at this slide and you'll see, at least for the two titles in question, the answer is "not very influential." Facebook and Twitter both fall well below most other forms of discovery while the timeless option of a friend's recommendation (presumably outside of Facebook) still ranks at the top.

Slide #9 -- If a friend is best for discovery it stands to reason that they'll also influence you to actually read a book. That's exactly what this slide shows. Even Amazon's powerful review platform only ranks in the bottom half of these choices. Also, note how low both "book blurb" and "cover" rank here. Even though those blurbs typically end up in the online description for the catalog page it makes you wonder just how influential they are.

Slide #21 -- Still in denial about whether ebooks are read on mobile phones? Almost 40% of cell phone owners read ebooks on them for all the typical reasons, but mostly while commuting or stuck in line. (Btw, how do your books render on a mobile phone? You might want to check into that...)

Slide #25 -- 73% of ebook readers shop around for the best price. So that would imply they're willing to buy from different retailers, either using different devices or apps on a tablet. More on that in slide 26.

Slide #26 -- OK, here's the most fascinating slide in the entire deck, IMHO. It more or less destroys the notion that platform lock-in is a problem. How else can you explain that 18% of Kindle ebook readers also read via iBooks and 15% also read Nook books? The other charts on this slide show just how much crossover there is going in the other direction. So not only is the e-reading lock-in problem overrated, it's also clear there's quite a bit of reading happening on tablets rather than dedicated e-readers.

Slides #27 and #28 -- These two should be a wake-up call for anyone in marketing. When they get to the end, a whopping 83% of readers want to see what else the author has written. But, as slide #28 shows, we don't exactly make it easy for our customers to discover and purchase that next book. 

Why B&N should abandon hardware

The ebook retailing business consists of three elements: hardware, content, and selling model. Dedicated e-readers (think eInk devices) are losing momentum to tablets. Content is mostly quick-and-dirty print-to-e conversions, or "paper under glass", if you will. The typical selling model is to buy one ebook at a time. Pretty simple. And not a whole lot of innovation happening in any of the three areas by the major players.

Recently there's been speculation that B&N is about to ditch the hardware part of their Nook business and focus instead on content and licensing. If true, that's probably the wisest thing I've heard from Riggio & Co. in a long time. Hardware has been, and will increasingly become more of, a fool's game for B&N.

They can't possibly steal Apple's mojo, so why try? I'll bet more people are reading B&N ebooks on an iPad or iPhone than they are on the Nook tablets.

On the Amazon side, B&N simply doesn't have deep enough pockets to lose money on both hardware and ebooks as long as Bezos can, so it's time to cut bait. Plus, Amazon's goal is to turn the Kindle Fire into a gateway for purchasing much, much more than ebooks. Amazon has a significantly larger product catalog outside of books, so Amazon can afford to lose money on the device if they make it up on the sale of electronics and other goods B&N doesn't sell.

So if B&N completely gets out of the hardware business what can they do to compete in the ebook world? Think app functionality, reader experience, and content sales model.

Today's e-reader apps have pretty much the same functionality as yesterday's. There's basically no innovation happening with the user experience in any of these apps, whether they come from Amazon, B&N, Kobo, etc.

Now is the time for B&N to shift all those resources they have in hardware onto the team that develops their Nook apps. What features are customers asking for? More importantly, what features have readers never even envisioned but would love to have? Channel Steve Jobs. We were all pretty content with our MP3 players back in 2000 and then in 2001 the iPod hit the scene. What a game-changer. What will be the "iPod moment" for e-reading apps?

And while they're working on that, be bold and work with publishers to develop some genre-specific, all-you-can-eat, ebook subscription programs. Romance is a good place to start but look at other verticals as well. What kind of package would compel customers to pay a subscription rate of $5 or $10 per month? They'll need to find the publishers who are willing to experiment here but that's why you focus on just one genre to start and build a success story to create others down the road.

At the end of the day B&N should continue to let Apple, Google, et al, distribute their Nook apps. They don't need to lose any more money selling devices that are viewed as commodities. They should instead focus on dramatically changing the reading experience and content acquisition model. After all, once hardware is eliminated, those are the only two other elements of ebook retailing that matter.

Beyond quick-and-dirty conversions

I'm convinced some publishers think the current state of the ebook market is all they need. They're comfortable taking their print products and making them available as ebooks. No thought is given to how the reading experience can be improved on the digital platform.

At TOC NY a couple of weeks ago we saw a terrific exception to this kind of thinking. The presenter's name is Mark Waid and his company is Thrillbent. I should point out that Thrillbent is in the digital comics business. I'll also admit that I've never been a comics fan...or at least I wasn't until I saw Mark's TOC presentation.

What won me over? He's taking the time to carefully think about how the reading experience can be enhanced as we shift from print to digital. He's not using technology for technology's sake. In fact, he talked about how he's resisted the temptation to add certain digital elements because he believes they're not in the best interest of the reader.

I encourage you to watch Mark's entire TOC NY presentation below. It's an inspiring talk we can all learn from and apply to our businesses.

Collaborating with startups

I mentioned in an article yesterday that what’s happening in the startup community is one of the key takeaways from TOC NY 2013. I’d like to drill a bit deeper into that subject and a recent report from Dosdoce helps me do just that.

If you’re not familiar with Dosdoce and their CEO/Founder, Javier Celaya, you need to be. Dosdoce analyzes the use of technology in culture and Javier is one of the smartest people in publishing. Their latest report was released last week during TOC NY and is called How to Collaborate with Startups. You’ll find some background information about the report here and a PDF of the report is here.


Five key takeaways from TOC NY 2013

TOC NY 2013 is a wrap and based on the feedback I’ve received so far I think it was one of our best. When Kat and I closed the event Thursday afternoon we both shared thoughts on the most important points we came away with. If you weren’t able to join us last week, here are my top five lessons learned and discussed at TOC NY 2013: