Reverse showrooming

This past weekend a friend asked me to pick up a couple of books for them. Print books, btw, and they needed them later that day. That meant it was time to head to a local bookstore, something I'm doing less and less of these days.

B&N was the closest and when I walked in I immediately realized why online shopping sometimes offers such a better experience than in-person. My local B&N moved all their categories around from the last time I was there and I must have circled the entire store three or four times just to find the two books I needed.

Then there's the reviews and top-seller lists I'm so used to seeing online. They don't exist in the brick-and-mortar world, so I decided it was time to do some reverse showrooming.

I chose the Amazon app on my Android phone, mostly because I know Amazon tends to have far more customer reviews than B&N. So I found myself flipping through the Amazon app while standing in the middle of a B&N store. I kept waiting for a store employee to walk past and make me feel guilty, thinking I was just buying the books from Amazon instead, but that never happened.

The whole experience made me realize, once again, that a chain like B&N needs to build a mobile app to make the in-store experience more pleasant and, dare I say it, rewarding.

The only mobile app B&N has is for the Nook. They offer nothing to help you navigate your local superstore. How about simple store maps so I can find the sections I'm looking for without walking all over the place? Yes, I know this has to be done store-by-store and updated regularly. And yes, I'm sure they like it that we're all walking through the store since maybe that means we'll stumble across something we weren't even looking for. I wasn't interested in serendipity on this visit though. I was on a mission and pressed for time.

Once they create this in-store app, how about adding some other features like deals-of-the-day? Base them on my purchasing habits. Make me a deal I can't resist and customize it for me. Feel free to mix the offers between print deals and ebook deals. Let me know about upcoming events and anything else I might be interested in, especially if it ties in with my buying habits.

All I'm asking is that they give me a reason to come back. Without any of this it will probably be a few months before I return. And when I do, the experience is likely to be as frustrating as this last visit. If Mr. Riggio is serious about buying the brick-and-mortar part of the business you'd think he'd want to implement something like this to improve the shopping experience.


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.


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.


TOC’s Global Ebook Market report

One year ago we published the first edition of our Global Ebook Market report. We focused on the major English language territories but also featured coverage of several other popular languages as well.

A lot has changed in the past year so we recently published a completely revised edition of the report. You’ll find it here. The good news it’s totally free, both in terms of cost and DRM. :-) It’s also available in all the popular formats (PDF, EPUB, and mobi), so you’ll be able to read it on any device you own.

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Wikipedia’s EPUB export feature

I recently watched a couple of episodes of The Men Who Built America on The History Channel. Although I learned a lot about John D. Rockefeller, for example, I wanted more. I thought about looking for a good ebook about Rockefeller but decided instead to head over to the Wikipedia.

Like most historical icons, Rockefeller’s Wikipedia page is fairly extensive. It offered more than I was able to read at that moment and there were other people in the series I wanted information on as well. That’s where the Wikipedia’s EPUB export feature came into play. If you haven’t heard about this it’s probably because it didn’t generate a lot of buzz when it launched a couple of months ago. I think it’s one of the most under-appreciated features of the Wikipedia and offers plenty of lessons for all content producers and distributors.

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