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.

Five Important Points About Twitter

Twitter I've mentioned before that I tried Twitter awhile back and immediately gave up on it.  I'm glad my colleague Steve Weiss talked me back onto it last October, mostly because I'm now finding it to be a more valuable tool and platform than blogging.

With that in mind, I'd like to present the five most important things I've learned about Twitter over the past few months (in no particular order):

It's all about the client -- Twitter's website is as bare-bones as it gets.  If you base your impression of Twitter on the site itself you'll walk away disappointed.  Once you sign up you really need to get a client app for Twitter.  I used Twhirl for awhile but some colleagues talked me into TweetDeck.  I love TweetDeck but it tends to crash and make my system flaky; I can go days without rebooting if I don't run TweetDeck but I have to reboot every day if I'm running it.  (My Mac friends tell me it's much more stable on that platform, so I'm glad I'll be switching shortly.)  The point here is that the various client apps offer a great deal more Twitter functionality than the website itself does.  And don't forget about your mobile device.  I have a couple of Twitter clients on my iPhone and I use them as much as I use TweetDeck on my laptop.  Mobile devices and Twitter were made for each other.

It's more about listening than speaking -- It's true.  Nobody cares how good your blueberry muffin was. Please don't Twitter that stuff.  I don't tweet that frequently but I get loads of value by following (listening to) other Twitterers.  Hashtags are one way to tune into a specific discussion.  For example, at last week's TOC conference if you followed the #toc hashtag you could have tuned in to the proceedings (more on that in a moment).  Listening is next to impossible without a great client that offers search functionality though.

It enriches the conference experience -- I couldn't believe the Twitter activity throughout the TOC conference.  It's one thing to marvel at the volume of tweets, but it's even more important to stop and think about the value that's created by that stream.  TOC was a multi-track conference, which means sessions were run in parallel and you obviously couldn't be in multiple rooms at once...unless you followed the Twitter stream.  I found myself listening to a speaker in one session while also reading the tweets from the others running simultaneously.  Some attendees felt the tweet stream made another session look more interesting so they switched from one to another.  It was also interesting to read audience feedback while that particular session was still running.  Twitter has the potential to dramatically affect (and improve!) the conference model.

Speaking of conferences, you don't even have to be there to get the benefit -- T&E budgets are tight.  You probably won't make it to all the conferences you'd like to attend this year.  Why not research the ones you'll miss and see if there will be hashtags to follow along from home/office?  Anyone who missed TOC would have benefited significantly from following #toc last week.  It doesn't replace the in-person networking and other benefits of being there, but it's better than missing out entirely.  And, if you're lucky, you might be able to pass your speaker question(s) along to an attendee via Twitter.

It's 140 characters per tweet, max, sort of... -- The 140-character tweet limit is both the best and worst aspect of Twitter.  I love it that nobody can ramble on but it's painful when you've tightened your message as much as possible and you're still looking at 142 characters.  That's where links come in.  I've sometimes written a lengthier blog post and then linked to it from a tweet (in fact, I'm about to do just that with this one).  Some followers won't bother to click through but if you make your link message powerful enough you might coax them.  Remember to use numbers (rather than spelling them out) and symbols (such as &, not "and") when you run tight!

So there you have it.  My top five points about Twitter.  Now for the call to action.  If you don't already have a Twitter account you need to sign up right now.  Seriously, do it now, don't wait.  Next, download a client app and start playing around with it.  These two steps combined will take you all of about 3-5 minutes, so it's not a big time investment.  Next, if you're looking for publishing/publisher Twitterers, start by looking at the 75 Twitterers I'm currently following.  And do me a favor: If you find some other interesting publishing-related Twitterers that I'm not yet following, please let me know (or add them via a comment to this post).

Twitter is for real.  So are the benefits of being on Twitter.  Jump in today and you'll ask yourself why you waited so long.

O'Reilly's Tools of Change (TOC) Conference Starts Tomorrow

ScreenHunter_02 Feb. 08 13.35I've been counting down the days for this one and tomorrow it will finally be here.  I'm talking about O'Reilly's TOC conference, which starts bright and early tomorrow in NY with a series of tutorials.  I'm heading there tomorrow afternoon and plan to attend a conference-related Tweetup that's scheduled for later in the evening.  Then it's two full days packed with great sessions from morning till evening.

I've been tipped off to several exciting product announcements that will be made at TOC this week, two of which that have really caught my eye.  I can't say anything more about them just yet, but stay tuned for upcoming blog posts and Twitter tweets over the next 3 days.  Actually, I'll probably spend more time Twittering than blogging, so look for more of the former and not so much of the latter.  I also have a search panel set up in my TweetDeck feed, searching for #toc entries; there are already a lot of tweets piling up there, so if you can't make it, be sure to watch the stream from attendees.  And, if you see me tweet from within a session and have a question you'd like to ask the speaker, send me a direct message and I'll do my best to get an answer.

Finally, I'm already keeping an eye out for some of you, but if you're a Publishing 2020 reader and would like to say hi at TOC, be sure to pull me aside between sessions.

TweetDeck: Just What Twitter Needs

TweetDeckI've been experimenting more with Twitter over the past two months and I'm happy to report that, similar to my iPhone experience, I've got from skeptic to advocate.  It started slowly with the twhirl client on my laptop and any one of a number of apps formerly on a Blackberry and more recently on my iPhone.  Each of these tools and approaches were useful but the real breakthrough came when several people recommended TweetDeck.

What's so special about TweetDeck?  It's all about the columns.  While other clients offer a number of ways to filter and rearrange tweets, TweetDeck's column approach just feels much more natural.  A column can be configured to just show tweets from a list of people, so I have one set up to show all the tweets from my O'Reilly colleagues, for example.  And while that's nice all by itself, an even more useful function is the ability to save searches in TweetDeck columns.  I have a column for "Kindle" and another one for "iPhone," which enable me to quickly scan the Twittersphere for all the latest tweets covering both of these gadgets.

My only beef about TweetDeck is that you can't stack columns.  Every column extends from top to bottom of the window, so even though I may only care to see the last 2-3 tweets for each column I'm forced to see an entire screen's worth.  This is a pretty common complaint so I'm hoping it will be addressed in a future version.

Finally, here's another confession I need to make about Twitter: I find I'm more active on it than I am on either of my blogs these days.  I still try to feed both blogs regularly but if you'd like to see more frequent, albeit bite-sized, commentary from me, look for me on Twitter.

Twitter Thoughts...Second Time Around

Twitter I've been back in the Twittersphere for a couple of months now after trying and aborting it initially.  I have to admit that the experience has been much more pleasant this time around.  Why?  First of all, I was (and have remained) pretty selective about who I'm following.  More on that in a moment.  Secondly, the Twhirl client I've been using on my laptop (thanks, Steve!) is far better than just doing everything from, which is what I used during that first experiment with Twitter.  That said, I keep hearing a lot of good things about Tweetdeck, so I'll probably give that a shot in the next couple of days.  Twitterffic on the iPhone is a great portable client too, btw (thanks Laurie!).

My initial disappointment with Twitter had to do with the poor signal to noise ratio.  I was seeing far too much junk and I gave up.  That's not the case this time because, as I mentioned before, I've been very selective with who I follow.  I'm currently only following 40 other feeds and I can't imagine letting that go above 100, for example.

Given that last point, I'd like to make an observation: There seems to be a strong correlation between the quality of a feed and the number of other feeds that person is following.  As the latter goes up, the former seems to go down.  The best (highest quality) feeds I follow are generally written by people who follow less than 500 other feeds, and most are less than 100.

I chuckle when I see someone is following 1,000, 2,000 feeds or more.  Really?  How do you find the time?!  I can't help but think these same Twitterers are just clicking the "Follow" button as much as they can in the hopes of reciprocation.  "I'll follow you if you'll follow me", that sort of thing.  Because those high-follower feeds tend to be the weakest, I find myself reconsidering (and canceling some of) my feeds pretty regularly, much more so than I do with RSS feeds.

So am I wrong or is there a variant of Moore's Law happening here that looks something like this: "The quality of a tweet is reduced by half for every 500 feeds the author is following above a base of 500."  IOW, if someone is following 400 others, their tweets have a quality level of 1.0.  If someone is following 700 others, it drops to .5.  1200?  The quality level gets cut in half again to .25.

What's your experience been?  Have you found any great Twitterers who follow more than 500 others?

Guilted Back to Twitter

Twitter I had lunch yesterday with Steve Weiss, one of my new O'Reilly colleagues, and he totally guilted me into giving Twitter another shot.  A year or so ago I complained that Twitter's signal-to-noise ratio was awful, and while I suspect that's still the case, I figure I can help myself a bit there by only following a few key people to start.

One of the next steps is to add my Twitter feed to my blogs (since Twitter widget functionality is offered for both Typepad and Blogger) and we'll see how it goes...  If you care to follow my tweets, you'll find me here.

Thanks Steve!