Previous month:
February 2013
Next month:
April 2013

9 posts from March 2013

Join the ebook subscription model movement

The ebook revenue stream has much more potential beyond simply selling standalone titles, one by one, to customers. If you're not already offering your content in an ebook subscription program you need to. I'm not talking about a broad program like Amazon's Kindle Owner Lending Library model; publishers and authors should focus instead on genre-specific vertical subscriptions that pay content creators based on the title's performance, not some portion of a flat licensing fee assigned for an entire collection of titles.

Safari Books Online is one of the oldest and most successful genre-specific models to learn from. Next month I have the honor of moderating a free TOC webcast with Safari CEO, Andrew Savikas. During this webcast Andrew will cover the following:

  • The original thinking behind the subscription model for technology books
  • The user data Safari provides publishers and what they can learn from it
  • Why the pay-for-performance model is crucial for publishers and authors
  • The opportunity in creating new genre-specific verticals to include your content
The webcast takes place at 1PM ET on April 26th. If you'd like to join us be sure to register here, but sign up now as this one will fill up quickly.

Automated ebook summaries

Yesterday I wrote about the opportunity to rethink the used book in the digital world. One option I suggested is for the community to create summaries of ebooks and sell them as bundles with the original work. Now I'm thinking about how the summary process could be automated and built into the ereader app.

I recently discovered a Chrome plug-in called CruxLight which highlights the key elements of a web page. If you're pressed for time and just want to quickly scan the page CruxLight helps you out by highlighting the important pieces and providing a list of keywords.

Is the technology perfect? Of course not. Will it improve over time? Absolutely, whether it's CruxLight or some other service. And if this works for web pages why can't it be a viable option for longer works, like ebooks?

This is exactly the type of functionality someone like B&N should look to integrate with their Nook devices and apps. It's a way of distinguishing themselves from Amazon and everyone else. I can see the headline:

Nook, now with automatic ebook summaries to shorten your reading time

Customers who don't want to use it can easily turn it off. But those who warm up to it are likely to buy and read more ebooks faster than they ever have before. Sounds like a win-win to me.

Used ebooks: Why your assumptions are wrong and the opportunity is huge

Amazon has a patent and now Apple does too. I'm talking about the techniques both companies might use to let you resell your digital content. They join ReDigi, who already offers a platform to resell your digital music.

Ebooks are next, of course, and the concern I hear isn't so much about the legal aspect but rather the risk of cannibalization. Most publishers seem hung up on the notion that a used ebook sale will mean one less original sale for them. And even if they participate in the used ebook revenue stream, they're concerned that the selling price will be lower, so they'll make less when cannibalization happens. I think that's a very shortsighted view of the opportunity.

This isn't just about lower-priced versions of the original work. It's time to think about the added-value aspects of a used digital content platform.

I've written before about how consumer might be able to resell their highlights and notes. Let's take that a step further. What if someone reads a 300-page business ebook and condenses the key lessons into 10-20 pages? Think of it as the Cliffs Notes, summarized version. Let's further assume that reader bundles their summary with the original ebook they bought and sells it via a used ebook marketplace. Could they charge more for their version? Absolutely.

You're concerned about this being more attractive than the ebook by itself? You should be. But what if the publisher owns this platform? What if all these sales were done directly by them, so they're capturing 100% of the revenue stream and sharing the appropriate cut with the author? Now let's take it another step further... What if that reader isn't just able to sell the one copy they bought, but an unlimited number of copies that come bundled with their summary? The consumer price of this version would be higher than the version with the ebook by itself and the reader who created the summary would receive a portion of the difference between those prices, essentially making them a royalty-based author on the bundle.

Btw, there's no reason the original author couldn't create this summary instead of or in addition to whatever is created in the reader community. In fact, why not open this up to all readers to create their summary of the ebook and let consumers decide which version they want? Use a voting system so that the best summary writers build a reputation and generate the most income.

These summaries aren't limited to written material either. There's no reason video couldn't play a role here. There's also plenty of room for an idea I suggested a couple of years ago: The "VIP Notes Edition." The key is to create a model where author, publisher and summary writer all share in the revenue stream.

So let's stop thinking of the used ebook market as yet another step towards the race to zero content valuation. This is different from the used print book market and it represents some very interesting opportunities for publishers who are willing to embrace a new model.

Moving from industry brand to household brand name

At last year's BEA I heard a Big Six executive state that her company didn't want to build a direct consumer channel because they're totally happy with their retail partners. She said it as though the two channels are mutually exclusive. They're not, of course, and any publisher that isn't working on building a robust direct-to-consumer channel is missing out on an enormous opportunity.

One of the reasons I think so many publishers haven't moved forward here isn't that they want to be reliant on retailers but rather because they don't have a household brand name. They have one the publishing industry knows, but not one consumers are talking about. As the saying goes, nobody goes into a bookstore looking for the newest book from Macmillan, Random House, Penguin, etc.

Authors and, in some cases, series, are the household brands here, not the publishing house. That was OK in the old days but the more our industry goes digital the more every publisher has a terrific new opportunity to build and leverage a household brand name.

It's not just about capturing 100% of the revenue. That's just part of the benefit. There's also the ability to engage directly with your customers, something you can almost never do when a third-party retailer is involved. In the direct-to-consumer world you finally have a chance to speak with your customers, learn what they like and don't like, discover new ways to serve them and create new revenue streams.

You'll never be able to do that unless you have a household brand name. And you won't simply build that overnight. That process begins with a commitment to community.

Btw, it might not make sense for the bigger publishers to try to turn their industry brand names into household ones. They need to go more granular based on target audience. I don't see much of that happening today though either, or at least I'm not seeing the fundamental building blocks required here: community engagement. You might have a website for your author/series, but what reasons have you given consumers to come to you rather than Amazon? If you've got nothing more than a collection of catalog pages you haven't given me a reason to buy direct.