Is your content strategy optimized for Millennials?

Unless your organization is a startup it’s highly likely you’re using a strategy and business model that’s worked for many years. That same strategy and business model might span multiple generations. Even though you’ve embraced the latest technologies and devices, are you also meeting the needs and expectations of the younger generation?

Here are four key points you need to consider:

Ownership – Remember the days when Steve Jobs suggested that consumers want to own their music, not rent it? That’s probably still largely true for anyone over 30 but Millennials have grown up with Spotify and Pandora. And if they’re willing to rent songs, which get consumed repeatedly, why do we think they’ll insist on owning a book they’ll only read once? The content streaming/rental segment will continue to grow like crazy, largely driven by Millennials.

Consumption – When Amazon launched the Kindle in 2007 Jeff Bezos talked about the concept of “information snacking”, where more short-form content is consumed, potentially at the expense of long-form reading. I’d argue that the iPad has done more to promote info snacking than the original Kindle but there’s no doubt that short-form content consumption is extremely popular. Whether it’s quick Facebook updates or 140-character tweets, Millennials have grown up in an era where communication brevity rules. Storytelling will never die but publishers of longer-form content need to make sure they have a model and products to remain relevant as Millennials become an even larger portion of the target market.

Value – What’s the value of digital content? The answer to that question largely depends on the age of the person being asked. Results of a recent survey note that the younger generation expects digital content to be free. That’s not terribly surprising given the lax file-sharing environments most of them have grown up in. Regardless of whether you believe we just need to better educate Millennials on copyright law the simple truth is they place a lower value on digital content than older generations tend to. Btw, part of the blame for this lower valuation belongs to publishers – when their digital offerings are just the print product on a device, oftentimes with even less functionality than the print version (e.g., inability to share, resell or simply give to someone else), why wouldn’t consumers place a lower value on the digital version? 

Privacy – Despite all the times Facebook has been criticized for their official privacy settings, policies and monetization techniques, I’ve never heard anyone under 20 years old complain. Parental guidance is frequently required to prevent Millennials from posting things today they’ll regret tomorrow. Millennials have grown up with social tools and they generally love sharing. Just compare an 18 year-old’s Facebook page with that of a 40 year-old and you’ll see the difference. Most of the privacy advocates have gray and thinning hair while Millennials will probably always be more liberal when it comes to sharing updates and content.

How does your strategy stack up in these four areas? You may have ignored them up to now because your current customers are older. Have you stopped to consider that those current customers will continue to age and there will be fewer of them in the future?

Publishing in the Social World

I spent most of last week at our Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco.  If you missed it, you'll find all of the video for it here.  I came away from it with two things in mind.  First, Google is under attack from every angle.  Sure, they've felt competitive pressures before but whether it's from Facebook, Bing or some startup in a garage, I get the impression it's more intense now than ever before.  No wonder they're giving all employees a 10% pay raise!  Seriously, search is getting more social every day and tomorrow's recommendations from people you know via Facebook are infinitely more valuable than search results from yesterday's algorithm.

That brings me to my second key takeaway from Web 2.0: The importance of a social strategy for every industry, inculding publishing.  I can already hear the skeptics saying, "reading is a time of solitude, not something that's done socially."  That's mostly right, but it ignores at least two key areas where a social strategy can have a profound impact on the publishing industry: recommendations and remixes.

Amazon pretty much pioneered the online recommendation aspect of book publishing.  Everyone wants 5-star reviews of their book, but I'm pretty sure we could also agree that a trusted friend's recommendation is even more powerful than a stranger's.  Almost every ebook purchase I make these days is because a friend suggested it.  There are just too many options (and too little time!) to risk buying a dud, even if it's only $9.99.

What's missing in the recommendation area though is a fast and easy way to share excerpts.  If I come across a terrific sentence or paragraph I want to share from Drew Brees' ebook, Coming Back Stronger (a terrific read so far, btw), what are my options?  The Kindle reader on my iPad doesn't offer a way for me to even tweet/email from within the app let alone share an excerpt.

Even though I mentioned Google could face challenging times ahead I think they're on to a solution for this particular problem.  Google Books lets you share links right into the book's content.  For example, I love it when Brees says, "Anyone can see the adversity in a difficult situation, but it takes a stronger person to see the opportunity."  I could tweet that sentence but it wouldn't leave much room for an attribution.  I prefer to share a link, like this one, which takes you right to that page in the book (the quote starts at the bottom of the previous page and runs through the top of the one linked to).

Since Google Books already offers this service it seems likely the much-anticipated Google Editions will too.  If it does, that's one reason I'll seriously consider switching from Amazon to Google for all my future ebook purchases.  I want to be able to not only share excerpts but also give my friends more context though a service that lets them dive right into the book I'm talking about.

Even though Google lets publishers determine what percentage of a book visitors can view for free in their Books service it's clear many publishers aren't participating.  For example, I've queued up Bill Bryson's At Home to read soon but all you'll find about it on Google Books is this content-free catalog page.

Any publishers who are skittish about sharing content previews today are likely to choke on the idea of content remix in the future.  Remix isn't great for all types of content but it lends itself to formats like how-to, for example.  The author may have one way of solving a problem but a reader might find an even better approach.  Why not make that reader's solution available to other readers, even if it's just a small change to one of the steps originally provided by the author?  Some readers will offer their appoach for free and others might want some form of compensation; we need to come up with a model that supports both.  And remember, nobody's trying to jam these remixes down anyone else's throat.  I envision an ereader app that lets you hide all other reader comments and content.  But for those of us who are curious to see what other readers, especially our own friends, have to say, I think this will be a nice new service.

The social publishing/content options suggested in this post are things that can't effectively be executed in the print world.  Up to now, ebooks have mostly been nothing more than quick-and-dirty conversions of the print product.  I look forward to a future where social options and other features more fully leverage the ebook medium.

The Evolution of Content Consumption

Basset reading Eric Shanfelt's article in the latest issue of Publishing Executive magazine is called Publishing in a Fragmented Online World.  Here's the excerpt that got me thinking:

How can we get our content to our readers however they want to get it?  Does a reader want to get our latest content by visiting our web site?

These questions are intertwined and I'd argue the answer to the second one is "no."  Are you familiar with that saying that, "the best camera is the one that's with you"?  The same logic applies to reading.  A book is great, my Kindle is nice but my iPhone is always with me so the bulk of my content consumption happens via that small screen.

Here are some of the more noteworthy ways my reading habits have changed over the last few years:

iPhone, not the Kindle.  OK, I prefer to read a lengthy book on my Kindle, but that's about it.  A year ago I liked the Kindle for newspapers.  But then the NY Times offered the same content via a free app, so I dumped the Kindle subscription.  I've been paying for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on my Kindle but I'm about to cancel that one too now that I can get it for free via another app.  So the Kindle has quickly become a long form content-only option for me now.

Apps, not browser access.  And since I'm consuming more and more content on my iPhone, this has become a critical distinction.  It's also why I say "no" is the answer to Shanfelt's second question.  To me, the iPhone Safari browser is for emergency use only.  I don't want to access your website that way even if you've "optimized it for mobile access."  A well-designed app is always going to offer UI touches you just won't find in a mobile UI view of your website.  I'm much more likely to access your content if it's available as an ap than I am if I have to use my browser.  There's a reason the phrase, "there's an app for that," is so darned popular!

Far less RSS.  My RSS reader used to be my first and last stop of the day.  Now I rarely use it.

Short form, not long form.  I'm an info-snacking addict.  The Kindle enables it but the iPhone perfects the experience.

More Twitter, less blogs.  18 months ago I was a non-believer in the Twitter revolution.  Now I use it throughout the day.  It has its flaws and one day something will replace it, but it's a nice solution for now.  The time I used to spend reading (and writing) blogs has shifted to Twitter.  I find myself less attracted to the long form writing in blogs and more to the short bursts of Twitter.  FWIW, I used to write 4-6 posts for this blog every week and now I typically only write one, but I also write anywhere from 3-10 or more tweets per day.  Despite that, traffic continues to grow modestly and nobody has complained so it seems like the right approach.

Have you seen similar trends with your reading habits?  Different trends?  No change whatsoever? :-)

You, The iPhone App

Iphoneapps Life seemed much simpler in the pre-Twitter days. You found a blogger you liked and you grabbed their RSS feed.  These days, if I want to follow someone I still do that but I also need to keep an eye on their tweets, their Facebook updates as well as a host of other specialty networks they might be part of.  To tell you the truth, the more social networking evolves the more distant I feel from the people I (try to) follow.

That's why I look forward to the day when we'll be able to say, stealing Apple's catchphrase, "yeah, there's an app for that."

I read a great quote by Albert Einstein recently that applies here:

The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.

The source for this idea was an ad I saw in the latest issue of Wired.  The ad is for an iPhone app I was previously unaware of...then again, thanks to the ongoing discoverability issue with the App Store, this isn't exactly surprising.  The ad's headline is "Our Killer App" and it promotes the All Things Digital app, featuring Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher.  I immediately downloaded the free app and I love it.  I've always enjoyed reading Mossberg and now I have a single place where I can quickly and easily keep up with him; no more hunting through countless feeds.

So what does this have to do with publishing?  If you're an author looking to build your platform I'd argue you should consider creating an iPhone app that's all about you, your work, your observations, etc.  Why not give your readers a single tool they can use to keep up with everything you have to say, show and report?

Publishers should have their own iPhone apps as well.  We've released several books as iPhone apps at O'Reilly but we haven't created a single "O'Reilly iPhone App."  I think we should though and it ought to contain a number of different elements including new release summaries, excerpts, articles, industry information and more.  The base app could be free but there could be a paid subscription option as well that offers much more premium content.

What would a typical author's iPhone app look like?  It too could have multiple levels with the free version including the type of information currently shared via blogs, Twitter, etc.  The paid version might have more content and a chance for readers to speak directly to you from time to time, for example.  I'd pay for one of these from Thomas Friedman or Nassim Nicholas Taleb, for example.  These are just a couple of authors I frequently read but they probably get swamped with reader emails.  Imagine a premium iPhone app by either one that gives you direct access to them, sort of like when they speak at a smaller corporate function.  How cool is that?  Every author can't command this sort of model but the big ones certainly could and the next tier could do the same but at a lower price point.

You know how all those industry pundits say that the publishing industry needs to learn from the music business and figure out how to monetize something other than the book (like they're doing with concerts, t-shirts, etc.)?  Maybe this app model is a step in that direction.

Let's not stop with authors and publishers though.  How about conferences?  Shouldn't there be an iPhone app for every conference and trade show?  I recently attended OSCON and I could see where an iPhone app for that show would help "keep the fire burning", as my O'Reilly colleague Allen Noren likes to say.  The same goes for pretty much every other conference out there.  Why limit the event to a once-a-year activity when an iPhone app could make it year-round and encourage even more participation (as well as drive more revenue)?

The iPhone app dev world is still in a gold rush mentality.  It's a seller's market as good developers are hard to find and even harder to negotiate with.  The apps I'm describing don't all have to be different though.  They could use the same common framework, levels of functionality and be easily skinned to meet individual branding and look-and-feel requirements.  It seems like a terrific opportunity for a smart iPhone app developer to step in and corner the market with something that's both powerful and flexible.

I can think of several individual, corporate and conference-based iPhone apps I'd immediately download, several of which I'd be willing to pay an annual subscription for.  How about you?

P.S. -- I recently read that Bill Simmons, aka "The Sports Guy", is retiring from his ESPN The Mag column.  I'd buy an iPhone app featuring Simmons.  The same goes for Steve Rushin.

Three New Books from Our O'Reilly Team

One of the benefits of coming home after a long trip is that there's usually a package (or 2 or 3) waiting for me.  My return last Friday night was no different as I came home to about a dozen of our recent publications.  Three of them really jumped out at me and I wanted to highlight them here.

Twitter API Twitter API: Up and Running is an extremely timely book.  Twitter continues to grow at a torrential rate and more and more developers are trying to figure out how to tie into it.  Our book provides everything you need to know to ride the wave.  And as I mentioned in this tweet yesterday, auto-tweeting and other services are likely to make Twitter an even more important technology in the future.  (Btw, don't miss our next important title on this topic, The Twitter Book, by expert tweeters Tim O'Reilly and Sarah Milstein.)

SEO Flash Next up, Search Engine Optimization for Flash.  SEO remains vitally important but think about all that Flash content out there that's so hard to leverage on this front.  Our book offers one-of-a-kind solutions for applying SEO techniques to your Flash video.  The book is part of our Adobe Developer Library program and is written by Todd Perkins, an Adobe-Certified Flash Instructor.  If you've got a lot of Flash content on your site, make sure your SEO expert is aware of this one.  It's a quick read at only 250 pages but it's loaded with wonderful insights.

Beautiful Teams And finally, a gorgeous book with an equally eye-catching cover.  I'm talking about Beautiful Teams, the latest in our Theory in Practice series.  This book offers more than two dozen "inspiring and cautionary tales from veteran team leaders."  The list of contributors includes Scott Berkun, Grady Booch, Cory Doctorow, Steve McConnell, Scott Ambler, and our own Tim O'Reilly.  And when you buy a copy of this book you'll be doing your good deed for the day as a portion of the proceeds is being donated to PlayPumps International.