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!

Read more...


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

Pennant

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.