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!

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.

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?

Helping Bookstores Remain Relevant

I can't tell you the last print book I bought.  Ever since I got a Kindle more than 3 years ago I've gone almost exclusively with ebooks.  Despite that fact, I visit any one of several local bookstores at least once a week.  I go there because I'm able to browse and discover products in a way that I simply can't do online.

My iPhone is always with me when I'm in the bookstore.  Many times I've found a book that interests me, I pick it up and browse through it, then pull out my iPhone, open the Kindle app and grab the ebook sample (assuming one exists).  I've even bought Kindle ebooks on the spot in a bookstore with my iPhone.  I feel bad, sort of, but it makes me realize the enormous opportunity brick-and-mortar bookstores are missing out on.

I should also mention that I have several other bookstore apps on my iPhone including ones from Barnes & Noble and Borders.  I've never pulled either one of those out while I'm in those stores.  Never.  Why would I?  All my ebooks are in my Kindle library and none of these other e-tailers have given me a compelling reason to switch.

There's something the physical bookstores could do to stop me from constantly defaulting to the Kindle app: Build functionality into their own mobile app that makes me want to go to their brick-and-mortar store.  Here's what I'm talking about:

  • Use location-based services built into pretty much every smartphone to know when I'm in one of your stores.
  • When I open your app and you've detected I'm in-store, offer me special deals which are only good for the next hour.  Make sure all the deals are fully redeemable using only my smartphone app.  Don't email me coupons.  Push them into the app so I can just flash my iPhone at the checkout counter and be on my way without fumbling through my email inbox.
  • If you sell your own reader device, don't make me bring it to your store for all this.  My iPhone is always by my side but I refuse to bring a larger device just to get a deal.  All the promotions and redemptions need to happen with nothing more than my smartphone.  Plus, I probably don't even own your device.  I'm happy reading my ebooks on an iPad today, I might switch to an Android tablet soon and I don't want to be locked into your hardware platform tomorrow.
  • Most importantly, since I'll soon be using your reader app, not Amazon's, you'll know my reading focus the deals on the things I tend to buy.
  • Offer specials on ebooks, print books as well as combinations.  And don't forget about all the other things you sell in your store (remember the cafe!).  If I'm standing in your store and I just bought the ebook version of the latest Mickey Mantle bestseller, make me an offer on the Major League Baseball preseason guide you sell in the magazine section.
  • Take a page out of Groupon's play book.  Use your nifty new app to track how many customers with common interests are currently standing in your stores.  Push a message like this to all of them: "You're a history buff but you've never bought this great ebook about FDR.  If at least 100 of you commit to buying it in the next 10 minutes we'll give you all a special discount of x%.  Stop by the Biography section to browse the book and see why we think it's perfect for you."
  • Surprise me!  Use this app's services to make me want to visit your brick-and-mortar store more frequently!

Everything described above should be free to anyone.  All they have to do is download your free smartphone app and create an account with you.  But don't stop there.  Offer a more exclusive membership program for an annual fee where I'll get even more deals than non-members receive.  How about giving paying members access to lengthier ebook samples?  I'd love that!

Finally, ask all customers to opt in to an anonymous data collection program so that you can analyze the results of all these terrific campaigns and use that data to create even better ones tomorrow.  And don't forget you could also sell that information to publishers.

If you do all this I promise I'll start using your apps and I guarantee you'll see more purchases from me.