Unlocking the hidden value of archives

The cost of scanning, converting and digitizing content seems to decline every year. As a result, we’re seeing all sorts of print archives being converted to digital products. The problem is that too many publishers are applying the “if you build it, they will come” approach to these archives.

Simply creating the digital archive might be good enough for a small market of professional researchers, but it will never attract the larger consumer audience; flipping virtually flipping through stacks of old content loses its appeal fairly quickly.

Curation is the important step required to make these archives interesting to the largest potential audience. It’s all about the many stories the archive content has to tell. Some of these stories will be interesting to one audience while another story appeals to other segments.

Let me give you a couple of examples. I grew up in Pittsburgh during the years when the Steelers and the Pirates were dominant teams in football and baseball, respectively. The Pirates last won the World Series in 1979 and the local papers featured coverage of every game in the regular season and postseason. I’d love to read the story of the season from spring training through the final game of the World Series.

Roberto Clemente was one of my childhood heroes. He played for the Pirates from 1955 through 1972 and was killed in a plane crash on December 31, 1972. The local papers had hundreds of pages of content about Clemente and his career between 1955 and early 1973. I’ve read a few books that were written long after his death and while they were generally quite good they’re not the same as reading the articles that were written as his career unfolded.

That’s an important point. Plenty of books have been written about historical events, global leaders, celebrities, etc. No matter how much research is done by the authors on those topics, there’s nothing that compares to reading the articles that were written when those events took place, when those leaders took action or when those celebrities did whatever celebrities do.

The curation opportunity exists in at least two formats. The first format is the collection. This is where the curator collects the relevant pieces of content and stitches them together to tell the story. The results can be put in front of the paywall to attract eyeballs or maybe serve as a teaser for a paid product. They can also be placed behind the paywall as part of a premium subscription option or as a separate paid product.

The other format involves ebooks. Those collections can be quickly converted into the popular formats and placed in ebook distribution channels. This represents a completely new distribution model for some publishers (e.g., newspapers and magazines); it’s an incremental revenue opportunity of remixed content for those already participating in the ebook channel.

One of the concerns I hear from publishers is that they simply don’t have the resources for curation. Their teams are already stretched too thin and they can’t justify adding to staff.

I have one word for publishers in that situation: crowdsourcing. Think of your most active users, fans, readers and subscribers. How many of them might want to help curate your content to create new products? Also, can you use the Wikipedia model, where the crowdsourcing work happens for free? If not, can you create an affiliate program for curators to earn some income from their efforts?

Finally, think outside the box and don’t limit yourself to just one type of content. For example, one of my favorite books is FDR, by Jean Edward Smith.  The author meticulously researched Roosevelt and provided an amazing story of his life.

But what if the ebook edition provided access to the newspaper accounts of the most noteworthy decisions Roosevelt made in his life? It would have been wonderful to veer away from the book every so often and read the accounts of the events that were written when they actually took place, from the point of view of the journalists in the midst of it all.

A hybrid product like this represents a new opportunity for book publishers and newspaper publishers. Properly curated, this sort of product could easily command a much higher price than the traditional ebook on its own. I’d like to see book publishers venture out of their comfort zone and start exploring new concepts like this. It’s a terrific way to unlock the hidden value of archives and give consumers more of what they want to read.

Taking a page out of ESPN's playbook

If you missed this recent BusinessWeek article about ESPN you owe it to yourself to go back and read it. ESPN is so much more than just a sports network and their brilliant strategy offers plenty of lessons for publishers. Here's just one important indicator of their success: While the average network earns about 20 cents per subscriber each month ESPN is paid $5.13. That's more than 25 times the average!


Another Missed Opportunity for Rich Content

I recently finished reading a terrific ebook. It's about the 1975 World Series between the Reds and the Red Sox and the title is Game Six. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed reading Game Six there was something missing. I remember watching that series, just like I watched every postseason baseball game growing up. The image of Carlton Fisk willing his game winning drive to stay fair is iconic. I can almost see Luis Tiant's herky-jerky windup and Bernie Carbo hitting that earlier homerun to tie the game up.

I say "almost" though, because 1975 was a long time ago and my memory is far from perfect. Game Six was fun to read but the author and publisher missed a huge opportunity to make it a much richer experience for their customers.

Why doesn't this book have a ton of links built in that point to related video clips and interviews? They're all over YouTube and many other sites but they're not curated in any manner. Search for "1975 world series game six" or "bernie carbo 1975 homerun" and you get all sorts of interesting results but there's no one guiding you to be sure and watch this one but don't bother with that one or watch this one before you watch that one. I would have gladly paid more for a richer edition of this book with all those links curated by the author included.

I should note that I read Game Six on my Kindle Touch. It's the last one I'll be reading on that device as I've moved on to the new Nook with GlowLight. The video links I'm talking about would have been useless on either device, but if they were integrated with the ebook I would have gladly read it with the Kindle app on my tablet. And just to repeat: The publisher could charge me more for this web-enabled version.

Notice I didn't say anything about selling or embedding these videos with the ebook. All I'm talking about is adding links to the videos that are all over the web, so there are no rights issues to worry about. This enhancement doesn't work for every book either, btw. Game Six is just begging for this enhancement though.

Publishers often complain about the prohibitive cost of creating apps out of books. Rather than going that far and spending a fortune, why not start with the inexpensive option of simply enhancing the ebook by curating everything related to it that already exists on the web?

Content Lessons Learned from NHL GameCenter LIVE

I'm a huge hockey fan and even though I pay Comcast extra for the NHL Network I only get to see a few games a week, most of which don't interest me. I want to see my favorite team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, but they're not on the cable channels frequently enough. I'd like to have access to every Penguins game and the only option for that is NHL's GameCenter LIVE subscription. It costs $169 though and, being a cheapskate, I resisted signing up...till now.

I coughed up $169 over the weekend and I'm glad I did. Now that I've used the service for a few days I've discovered there are a number of lessons GameCenter can teach those of us who manage other types of content:

The ongoing value of the direct sale -- When you sell direct you capture 100% of the transaction. There's no middleman. So now the NHL has a direct relationship with me and I'm no longer some unknown customer with Comcast in the middle. The NHL now has an excellent opportunity to upsell to me, especially since they'll quickly discover my preferences.

Trust your customers -- I was amazed to discover that I could use my GameCenter account on more than one device at the same time. That means I can watch one game on my iPad while another is playing on my computer. I'm assuming this means I'll be able to share my account with my son (who's also a big NHL fan). If so, we could both watch the same or different games simultaneously. That was a very pleasant surprise, btw, as I expected them to lock the second device out. Think of this as the equivalent to a DRM-free ebook. I'm sure the NHL doesn't want me posting my account credentials for anyone to use but their system is loose enough to surprise and delight. I can't wait to watch two games simultaneously (on different devices) when a couple of good ones are on at the same time! Btw, this is how all types of content access should work. But with all the restrictions and limitations we encounter every day in the digital world I was blown away to see how liberal GameCenter's access policies are. This makes me like them and their product even more. Trust is an amazing thing, isn't it? :-)

Make sure your content is available everywhere (including direct!) -- This sounds so obvious but it's so frequently overlooked. Sure, some of the NHL content was available to me via cable but I wanted more. Are you only making your e-content available on the "big" sites? Are those sites reaching all your potential global customers? Probably not. Once again, that's why you need a strong direct sales presence and the ability to serve that content globally.

Make sure it's on every platform -- I can watch games on any of my devices. That includes Mac, Windows, iPad, Android phone, and yes, even my Blackberry Playbook. Are all of your ebooks available in EPUB, mobi and PDF? Those are the key three today and if your content isn't available in all of those formats you're definitely missing some platform opportunities. More importantly, when a customer buys your product do they receive it in all those formats? Unless you're selling it directly as a multi-format product (like we do on oreilly.com) I'll bet the answer to that is no. Don't force your customers to buy mobi today and epub separately tomorrow, for example. That's irritating. Give them all formats in one transaction. This once again underscores the importance of having a strong direct channel. After all, you're probably safe assuming the big e-tailers are only going to offer the format that best suits their needs, not the customer's.

Pricing shouldn't be a race to the bottom -- At first that $169 price tag sounded awfully rich to me. But the more I looked into the service the more I realized it's actually quite reasonable. That's mostly because the NHL is delivering a very high quality product without the limitations found in other services (e.g., MLB's AtBat). All the games I care about are featured and the video is somewhere between standard and high def; pretty remarkable considering it's coming in via wifi. Every ebook doesn't have to be $9.99 or less. Consider your product's overall value proposition before you give in to the pressures of a low-priced solution.

Pennant iPad App Reinvents The Baseball Encyclopedia


If you're a big baseball fan you probably remember the Baseball Encyclopdia.  The most recent edition from Macmillan is now 15 years old.  It was loaded with career stats and box scores but apparently became too unweildy to keep up-to-date.  The Baseball Encyclopedia was always a terrific reference but not something you'd typically spend a lot of time immersed in.

I recently discovered a new iPad app that provides details of every major league baseball game played in the past 60 years.  It's called Pennant and it's not a boring data dump like the Baseball Encyclopedia; it's a highly engaging app that's hard to put down.

The Pennant app lets me relive the 1971 World Series, one play at a time.  My (former) hometown Pirates beat the Orioles in 7 games and I get to see exactly what happened each step of the way.  This isn't just a bunch of box scores.  Pennant represents a whole new imaginative way of envisioning box scores.  As soon as I saw this video I was ready to cough up $5 for the Pennant app:

Why is this so special and what does it have to do with publishing?  I'm inspired by how the developers of Pennant took the box score, something that hasn't changed much in about 100 years, and came up with a rich iPad app that brings all those old games back to life.  There are plenty of features I'd love to see added to Pennant (e.g., career stats by player) but if baseball statistics can be recast like this, imagine how any type of content coud be completely reinvented in the tablet era.

Envisioning iPad Apps

Appstore_20100127The more I play with my iPad Nano, also known as my iPhone, the more I realize the potential the bigger screen will offer.  This is the time of year when I go out and buy a Major League Baseball preview magazine.  My old favorite, Street & Smith's, was rebranded as Sporting News awhile back, so I picked one of those up last weekend.

What did I get for my $8 investment?  The same type of season preview guide I've seen for the past 30+ years.  That's great, but why not create something to take advantage of today's (and tomorrow's) technologies?

There's a Sporting News app for baseball.  It's a free alternative to and offers a subset of the features offered in MLB's own $14.99 app (which happens to be one of the best apps in the entire store, btw).

Rather than creating a poor man's MLB app I think Sporting News should have broght their preview guide to life as a different type of app.  I'm not talking about a quick-and-dirty p-to-e conversion.  What's needed here is a dynamic guide, something that's always up-to-date from spring training till the bottles are uncorked after the World Series.

Players get cut, traded, put on the disabled list, etc.  My $8 print product is already out of date.  So why not offer an app with the same content for, say, $4.99 and charge me a dollar or two every month for updates?  Another option is to let me buy the full season's guide for $9.99.  Either way Sporting News gets more money out of the deal than they did on my $8 print purchase.

More importantly, think about how this sort of content would render on an iPad!  Those rich images in my color preview guide would come to life in the form of videos and other rich content.  And rather than the limited view box scores you get on the iPhone, imagine a scorecard display on the iPad.  You hook up to the game in the 5th inning and the app shows what looks like the official scorekeeper's sheet with pitch-by-pitch details of the game, all on one screen.  Let's see someone do that on an iPhone.

Speaking of improved renderings on the iPad (vs. iPhone)...  I recently discovered the Tech Junkie iPhone app.  This is a terrific product that lets you aggregate all the popular tech news sites into one app.  If you're into technology and you have an iPhone you need to invest 99 cents in this one.  It's great on an iPhone but I can't wait to see it on an iPad.  There's way too much scrolling required on the iPhone but that will be less of a problem on the larger device.

Why isn't there a premium, paid upgrade option for apps like Tech Junkie with more features?  I'd pay $5 for the app and a couple of dollars per month (minimum!) if this would just do one simple thing: Push the content to me and don't force me to go out and retrieve it.  It's the same complaint I have about the New York Times app.  The free version is terrific but I'd pay a monthly subscription if the content would come to me instead of me having to click and save each individual article.  I was told once that the NYT app doesn't do that because of the volume of data it would require.  I don't buy it.  Configure it so that it only happens when I'm on wifi or charge me more for 3G.

I can't be the only person looking to dump all my print magazine and newspaper subscriptions for e-replacements.  This push vs. pull issue is a critical feature that's largely missing in today's apps, and one that could generate a lot of revenue.  Here's to hoping Apple's iPad is more successful than Amazon's Kindle has been at getting more newspaper and magazine publishers to recognize this opportunity.

Why Aren't Magazine Publishers Thinking About This Stuff?!

Question Mark I let my Sports Illustrated subscription lapse awhile back but my wife was kind enough to renew it last year for my birthday.  While catching up on my SI reading tonight, I happened to notice all the references inside to si.com/vault.

Have you seen that site?  If not, take a look.  It's a full archive of SI and it's freely accessible to everyone, even if you're not a subscriber.  I've been doing searches on it for the past hour or so and I'm rediscovering all sorts of great SI content from when I was a kid.  I could probably waste away the rest of the night searching for things like "70's Pirates", "Roberto Clemente", etc.

OK, it's not that uncommon for magazines to open their archives like this, so what's the big deal?  I don't have all night to search and read this stuff.  Why doesn't SI marry this content to an e-strategy that they could further monetize?  How about letting me search for "Roberto Clemente" and offering to create a PDF, an EPUB or a mobi file I can pull down to my computer, Kindle, Sony Reader, etc.?  Go ahead and include the ads -- I'm fine seeing them in here.  Or, sell it to me ad-free for $4.99.  I'm not going to sit and read this on my computer for hours but I'd love to have it on my Kindle where I'll read every last word.

SI publishes a variety of books built off content that was published in their magazine long ago.  They have "best of" books on all the major sports.  Why not let me create my own based on the writers or topics I'm most interested in?  Steve Rushin was my favorite sportswriter, but he "retired" a few years ago.  I'd love to gather all his articles into a Kindle book.  I'd even be willing to break my $9.99 Kindle price ceiling for something like that!

Then there's the gift angle.  Wouldn't it be cool to create a custom e-book of SI content for the sports-lover in your family?  Think about the Father's Day promotions they could do around this.

So again, I'll ask the question, why aren't magazine publishers thinking about this stuff?  They seem to be heading down the same rat hole the newspapers have gone down.  Quit whining and start leveraging your content archives!!!

The Game, by Ken Dryden

The game As a hockey fan growing up in the late '60's and early '70's, Ken Dryden was one of my heroes.  The Canadiens seemed to always win the Stanley Cup in those years and Dryden was the goalie to watch in the '70's.  The Game chronicles the latter stage of his career and provides a great deal of insight into the NHL, the Canadiens and, of course, Dryden himself.

My favorite part of this book is when he takes the time to drill down deeper into the quirky personalities of certain teammates.  When you think of the Canadiens of the '70's, players like Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, Bob Gainey, Guy Lapointe, Steve Shutt, and of course, coach Scotty Bowman come to mind.  Dryden devotes much of The Game to coverage of teammates, coaches and even trainers, all written in the cerebral style he was known for throughout his career.

Any true hockey fan will want to read this book, regardless of how much or little you know about Dryden and Canadiens history.  Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the NHL today is where it stands after the 2004-05 lockout.  Although Dryden didn't touch on this in The Game, he offered these prescient thoughts towards the end of the book (and his NHL career):
Expansion and the WHA behind it, it will be a time to turn inward, to put its (the NHL's) unwieldy house in order.  Like an aging adolescent having grown too fast, it will get reacquainted with its parts, get them in hand, and do something with them.  It will be a time for realism, and stability, for chastened hopes and dreams deferred--except one.  Off ice, the whispered word will be "cable."  But it will represent a more modest dream this time, and more realizable, if the promised bonanza is only for some.  It is time for a deep breath, a pause, a time to return the game to the ice.  For that is the real tragedy of the 1970s, and the real opportunity for the 1980s.  It is on the ice that its next great challenge lies.
Gee, he could have written much of that in the last 3 years and it would have been just as applicable.  The league is on the rebound but the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals, the ultimate hockey championship, are relegated to the Versus network.  Ugh.  I even had to bite the bullet and sign up for Versus network service yesterday so that I could watch games 1 and 2, featuring my beloved Pittsburgh Penguins against the evil Detroit Red Wings.

How sad is that?  The Stanley Cup Finals start out on some third-tier cable network.  Maybe it's time to toss Gary Bettman out as NHL commissioner and replace him with someone like Ken Dryden...

Heather Johnson Guest-Blogging About Baseball Books

Ball_fourIf variety is the spice of life, other voices are probably the most important spice of the blogosphere.  With that in mind, look for the occasional "Publishing 2020 open mike night" as I encourage others in the community to post their opinions as guest bloggers.  First up, Heather Johnson, and she's here to talk about one of her passions: baseball books.

Top 5 Baseball Books to Read this Summer, by Heather Johnson

What is better than curling up with a great book on your favorite beach in the summer? Well, maybe only one thing: reading a great baseball book. It seems the number of books about baseball has gone through the roof in recent years as every two-bit player that toiled in the minors is writing a tell-all about his time riding the buses from one town not listed on a map to another. If you're tired of sifting through the titles that will never make it to the big leagues, consider these great reads:

  1. Jim Bouton’s Ball Four. There have been many tell-alls to hit the bookstores over the years but Ball Four is the gold standard. Its greatness is not even just due to its recounting of Mickey Mantle's drinking day, rather, its true greatness emerges when we see how much the game meant to Bouton and how he'd do nearly anything to stay in the game for just one more turn on the mound. This is a must-read for any true fan of the game.
  2. Bill James' Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. This is the Bible of books dedicated to the numbers of baseball. No other sport has a rich appreciation for statistics as baseball and Bill James is the authoritative figure in this realm. James ranks players at every position throughout the history of the major leagues and this is sure to spark a heated debate around your beach blanket.
  3. Jerrold Casway's Ed Delahanty in the Emerald Age of Baseball . This fascinating work chronicles the best hitter many people have never heard of and his contributions to the game. In the latter part of the 19th century, first generation Irish-Americans ruled the sport and brought a new, aggressive style of play to the game. Ed Delahanty was a tragic hero as his lifestyle contributed to a shorter career – a career that would have rivaled that of Babe Ruth.
  4. Bill Littlefield's Prospect. This popular NPR host shows his flair for the game in this wonderful, little novel that follows a prospect through the eyes of an incredulous scout. The scout feels as much pride as the prospect when he finally makes it to the big leagues.
  5. Jim Collins' The Last Best League. This production is a magnificent insight into the Cape Cod Baseball League in Massachusetts. The amateur summer league is considered the premiere league of its kind and Collins does a masterful job of portraying the game and the community in this effort.

Heather Johnson is a freelance business, finance and credit writer, as well as a regular contributor for Business Credit Cards, a site for comparing business credit cards. She welcomes questions, comments, and freelancing job inquiries at her email address heatherjohnson2323@gmail.com.

Brookstone's Content Opportunity

Wireless_baseballWhile dining with the family and waiting for a table at The Cheesecake Factory Saturday night I decided to kill some time in Brookstone's.  They had a device on display that really caught my eye.  It's called the SportCast Wireless Baseball Scoreboard.  It's a simple LCD display that provides up-to-the minute box score and standings information, all received through a satellite feed. 

I'm a baseball junkie but even I feel the $99 price tag for this was way too high.  I look at something like this and think of what it could become though...

The device's dimensions are ideal for placement on a desk or shelf.  Sitting next to your computer you'd have a bit of additional content surface area that could be used for a variety of things.  It's also a great size to take with you.  I could see them adding a flap that's set up to serve as both the stand and a protective cover.

Why make it more portable?  Because I think there's a great opportunity to provide more content.  Think of this as a stripped-down Kindle.  Thanks to the satellite feed it could receive all sort of additional content.  Would I want to read a book on this thing?  No, but it would offer a great way to take newspapers, magazines and other short form content on the road, always up-to-date.  If there's not enough memory already built in to house the content, just add an SD slot for customers to increase it on their own.

Then there's the advertising component.  It would be pretty simple to create an additional revenue stream by including banner ads, for example.  They could offer two subscription models: One that's less expensive with ads and an ad-free one that's a bit pricier.

(Speaking of advertising, when we finally got seated at The Cheesecake Factory I noticed that every other page of the menu is an ad for another store in the mall.  Pretty smart, especially when you think about the captive audience reading the menu and the fact that they're already at the mall.)

Suddenly that $99 price tag wouldn't seem so expensive, especially if this device could be my gateway to portable content that's priced at the same level as what Amazon charges for the same content on the Kindle.  I wouldn't need the sexier eInk technology for this...a simple LCD would do the trick.