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June 27 2012

Direct sales should be a publisher priority

This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


We're focusing on retailing topics this month at TOC, and when it comes to digital sales, one of a publisher's highest priorities should be building a strong direct channel. The shift from print to digital means publishers can be less reliant on retailers. Retailers are still an important partner, of course, but the direct channel brings many additional benefits. For example, establishing a direct sales channel is the best way to learn what your customers really want, and Logos Bible Software has done a terrific job on that front. I recently spoke with Logos president & CEO Bob Pritchett (@BobPritchett) about his company's strategy of placing so much emphasis on their direct channel.

Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

  • Direct doesn't just mean "online" — In addition to their highly successful e-commerce site Logos direct channel includes in-person sales at conferences as well as via a good old-fashioned phone sales team. [Discussed at 00:50.]
  • Selling the network, not the book — This is an innovative approach Logos has pioneered where they take a more holistic approach to their sales efforts and help customers understand the benefit of the entire Logos library, not just an individual title. [Discussed at 1:55.]
  • Customer engagement is the key — Don't assume that if you simply put up an e-commerce site customers will start buying from you. Logos has made significant investments to establish customer dialog and build community. Direct sales are great but sometimes just getting insightful customer feedback is even more valuable. [Discussed at 4:30.]
  • Logos made the shift from retailers to direct — And so can you! Retail represented about 80% of Logos sales initially but Bob realized the changing landscape meant he needed to focus more on the direct channel. As physical bookstores diversify their product mix with gifts and other goods it's time for publishers to diversify their channel mix as well. [Discussed at 5:50.]
  • Can anyone beat Amazon now? — Bob says "absolutely", and he's an Amazon Prime member. He points out the advantage of the in-person experience and focusing on more specialty merchandising. He also notes the Ancestry example, where their content is offered as an online service rather than a book through a retailer. [Discussed at 6:52.]
  • Downward pricing pressure — In many ways, publishers are their own worst enemy when it comes to the race to zero. One answer is to look at selling in different ways. [Discussed at 9:17.]
  • Subscription models — Monthly access to a broad library of digital content is likely to be a much more attractive for many publishers and consumers going forward. The sampling and discovery options with this approach are enticing. The cable TV model, where you get basic channels and pay more for certain packages, is also one we can learn from. [Discussed at 15:09.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

The future of publishing has a busy schedule.
Stay up to date with Tools of Change for Publishing events, publications, research and resources. Visit us at oreilly.com/toc.

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June 21 2012

Depth and immersion give static print images new digital life

This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


Today's ebook landscape is mostly filled with nothing more than quick-and-dirty conversions of print to digital. There's not a lot of imagination, and we're certainly not taking full advantage of all the capabilities of our digital devices. This includes not only the text and how it's presented, but also the images that accompany the text. We have an incredible opportunity to take those static images from print and bring them to life in digital format.

Laura Maaske, a medical illustrator I met earlier this year at TOC NY, is someone who understands this opportunity and is creating digital imagery like you've never seen before. I recently reconnected with her to discuss the move from print to digital and how publishers need to adjust their thinking.

Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

  • Imagery begins with a metaphor — Laura has used layering techniques so that users can easily explore the depths of the object, in this case, a human hand. It's the first step toward a 3D rendering that lends itself to even more immersion. [Discussed at 1:58.]
  • It's not just about medical imaging — Look at all the static images in your own products and consider the option of adding depth or immersion to them. The possibilities are endless and can be applied to pretty much any topic. [Discussed at 3:38.]
  • Is "digital first" the best approach? — Perhaps, but publishers should also consider how they might utilize their vast libraries of existing images that weren't originally created with layering in mind. "Before" and "after" images are excellent candidates, for example. [Discussed at 4:32.]
  • New skills are required ... including programming — The core illustration skills are critical, of course, but digital imaging professionals need to go further. Knowledge of HTML and even a good foundation in scripting or programming is very important as well. [Discussed at 7:12.]
  • Choose your tools wisely — Laura carefully chooses her tools by avoiding proprietary software and using license-free options. [Discussed at 8:10.]


You can view the entire interview in the following video.

The future of publishing has a busy schedule.
Stay up to date with Tools of Change for Publishing events, publications, research and resources. Visit us at oreilly.com/toc.


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  • June 13 2012

    For many publishers, direct sales is an untapped opportunity

    This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


    Our June TOC theme is retailing, and there's never been a more important time for publishers to build a direct sales channel for their customers. Far too many publishers still ignore this opportunity, claiming their existing retail partners already do a good job and they don't want to compete with them. That should put a smile on the faces of the biggest book retailers who are only too happy to compete with publishers by creating and distributing their own content.

    OR Books isn't like these other publishers. I recently spoke with company co-founder John Oakes (@johnghoakes) about the importance of a direct-to-consumer channel and why OR Books has made it a priority.

    Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

    • Start by scrapping distribution & production — It's a classic example of how a startup isn't weighed down by The Innovator's Dilemma; OR Books is an alternative publisher in many ways. [Discussed at the 1:00 mark.]
    • Requires title-specific marketing — Because OR's books cover many different genres, they have to develop unique marketing campaigns for each rather than just trying to get a bunch of copies stocked at a retailer. [Discussed at 2:07.]
    • Another DRM-free advocate — Despite the fact that all OR Books products are sold DRM-free, John points out that piracy has never been an issue for them. [Discussed at 4:07.]
    • Non-returnable, prepaid basis — Those are the terms OR Books has with print book retailers. It probably means they don't get huge placement, but it also eliminates the pain and expense of returns. [Discussed at 6:30.]
    • Less gambling, more hand-selling — John feels there's still an important role for brick-and-mortar retailers, but they need to change their purchase and selling models. [Discussed at 10:55.]

    You can view the entire interview in the following video.

    Related:


    May 21 2012

    Social reading should focus on common interests rather than friend status

    This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


    Social reading is gaining momentum. There are quite a few startups involved in this space, and most of them simply assume your Facebook friends share the same reading interests you do. ReadSocial is different. In this TOC interview, we hear from ReadSocial co-founder Travis Alber (@screenkapture) on why they're building their platform without tying it to your social graph.

    Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

    • Adding conversations into your content — The reading experience needs to flow smoothly, but the reader should have the opportunity to dive into deeper discussions with others along the way without leaving the book environment. [Discussed at 00:39.]
    • Publishers play a role, too — Note that Travis talks about publishers as well as readers here. You can't just have a "build it and they will come" mentality with social reading. Publishers need to take the initiative and add value by inserting comments, managing groups, etc. [Discussed at 2:00.]
    • An open source platform — Open systems are always better than closed ones, and it's great to see that ReadSocial is an open source product. [Discussed at 3:47.]
    • Analytics built in — As publishers we want to learn more about our customers and their reading habits, what they liked in the book, what they skipped over, etc. ReadSocial provides those insights. [Discussed at 4:00.]
    • Hashtags determine what groups you're part of — This functionality gives ReadSocial the flexibility not found in other platforms. It also allows you to be part of just one or many different groups reading the same book. The emphasis here is on common interests rather than a friend status within Facebook, for example. [Discussed at 8:37.]
    • ReadSocial offers API access as well — The entire ReadSocial platform is accessible via API's, which could lead to all sorts of new and innovative applications. [Discussed at 17:00.]

    You can view the entire interview in the following video.

    The future of publishing has a busy schedule.
    Stay up to date with Tools of Change for Publishing events, publications, research and resources. Visit us at oreilly.com/toc.

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    April 25 2012

    As transmedia publishing evolves, experimentation is the name of the game

    This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


    Transmedia publishing is a phrase that means different things to different people. In this interview with Verane Pick (@veranepick), co-founder and artistic director at Counter Intelligence Media, we get an up-close look at what's involved in a transmedia operation and how they use the agile development approach to keep inventing new products.

    Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

    • Transmedia at the heart — Counter Intelligence Media is a transmedia publishing company and is working on finding new ways to tell stories in the digital world. [Discussed at the 00:42 mark.]
    • The rules have yet to be written — Transmedia is a rapidly evolving area and there's no "right" way of producing this rich content. Experimentation is the name of the game. [Discussed at 2:14.]
    • Does repurposed content have a role? — Whether it's a digital-first or repurposed content approach, the most important thing to do is first think about the medium and how you want to leverage it. [Discussed at 2:50.]
    • Using agile in practice — Counter Intelligence Media uses small, independent, highly collaborative teams to create their products. The agile model makes the most sense for them because of all the experimentation and the need to make many adjustments along the way. [Discussed at 6:59.]
    • App + ebooksApocalepsy 911 was an "MVP," or "minimum viable product" in the agile world, for Counter Intelligence Media and serves as the foundation for their larger platform. [Discussed at 9:43.]
    • Serial publishing — Pick likens their use of serial publishing to a set of Russian nested dolls where all the different layers must be properly aligned. [Discussed at 13:27.]
    • Gaming mechanisms to come — Game techniques will become one of the "engagement silos" in a future Counter Intelligence Media product. Stay tuned for more details ... [Discussed at 14:58.]

    You can view the entire interview in the following video.

    The future of publishing has a busy schedule.
    Stay up to date with Tools of Change for Publishing events, publications, research and resources. Visit us at oreilly.com/toc.

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    April 02 2012

    Books should be as easy to create as websites

    This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


    There are countless author and book production platforms to choose from these days. So why would you want to use a new one like PressBooks? In this TOC interview, I sat down with Hugh McGuire (@hughmcguire), co-author of "Book: A Futurist's Manifesto" and founder of PressBooks to help answer that question. I should point out that I'm a fan of the platform. In fact, that's one of the reasons we agreed to have Hugh create and produce "Book: A Futurist's Manifesto" on PressBooks.

    Highlights from the full video interview (below) include:

    • Start with a web first approach — HTML is a great starting point and allows you to go in a variety of directions for other formats. It's all about making it as easy to create a book as it is to create a website. [Discussed at the 1:30 mark.]
    • Built on WordPress — PressBooks leverages the CMS power of WordPress and will be familiar to a large audience of writers and editors. [Discussed at 3:18.]
    • Putting book content online — The web offers a great way to spread information, but ebooks are typically off that grid. PressBooks allows you to leverage social interactions for a book. [Discussed at 4:15.]
    • Digital first, POD second — Even though PressBooks is an obvious solution for digital publishing, it's not exclusive to that. In fact, "Book: A Futurist's Manifesto" will also be available via POD when the project is complete. [Discussed at 8:10.]
    • The value of "free" — "Book: A Futurist's Manifesto" is and will remain freely accessible on PressBooks. Will that ultimately cannibalize or help promote sales of the paid versions? [Discussed at 9:00.]

    You can view the entire interview in the following video.

    The future of publishing has a busy schedule.
    Stay up to date with Tools of Change for Publishing events, publications, research and resources. Visit us at oreilly.com/toc.

    Related:

    March 28 2012

    Context matters: Search can't replace a high-quality index

    This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


    I've never consulted an index in an ebook. From a digital content point of view, indexes seem to be an unnecessary relic of the print world. The problem with my logic is that I'm thinking of simply dropping a print index into an ebook, and that's as shortsighted as thinking the future of ebooks in general is nothing more than quick-and-dirty conversions of print books. In this TOC podcast interview, Kevin Broccoli, CEO of BIM Publishing Services, talks about how indexes can and should evolve in the digital world.

    Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

    • Why bother with e-indexes? — Searching for raw text strings completely removes context, which is one of the most valuable attributes of a good index. [Discussed at the 1:05 mark.]
    • Index mashups are part of the future — In the digital world you should be able to combine indexes from books on common topics in your library. That's exactly what IndexMasher sets out to do. [Discussed at 3:37.]
    • Indexes with links — It seems simple but almost nobody is doing it. And as Kevin notes, wouldn't it be nice for ebook retailers to offer something like this as part of the browsing experience? [Discussed at 6:24.]
    • Index as cross-selling tool — The index mashup could be designed to show live links to content you own but also include entries without links to content in ebooks you don't own. Those entries could offer a way to quickly buy the other books, right from within the index. [Discussed at 7:28.]
    • Making indexes more dynamic — The entry for "Anderson, Chris" in the "Poke The Box" index on IndexMasher shows a simple step in this direction by integrating a Google and Amazon search into the index. [Discussed at 9:42.]

    You can view the entire interview in the following video.

    Mini TOC Chicago — Being held April 9, Mini TOC Chicago is a one-day event focusing on Chicago's thriving publishing, tech, and bookish-arts community.

    Register to attend Mini TOC Chicago

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    March 26 2012

    The vision behind Yahoo's Cocktails platform and Livestand app

    This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


    New content distribution platforms are springing up all around us. Most are from startups struggling to gain market visibility. When a long-term player like Yahoo enters the market, though, it's important to give them thorough consideration. Late last year, Yahoo launched a multi-pronged platform called Cocktails, which they described as "a mix of HTML5, Node.JS, CSS3, JavaScript and a lot of ingenious, creative, mind-bending tricks from Yahoo's engineers." In this TOC podcast interview, Bruno Fernandez-Ruiz (@olympum), architect fellow and VP at Yahoo, shares the thinking that went into Cocktails as well as their Livestand app.

    Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

    • Cocktails & discoverability — Recommendations and delivering better, highly targeted content are keys to the Cocktails platform. [Discussed at the 1:20 mark.]
    • Livestand was built with Cocktails — What you see looks like a typical news app, but below the surface are loads of transformation and optimization tricks done via Cocktails that result in a terrific user experience. [Discussed at 2:02.]
    • We live in a "partially connected" world — One of the mistakes made by mobile app developers is the assumption that there's always a live connection to the web. Yahoo recognizes that's not always the case and built Cocktails with this issue in mind. [Discussed at 3:00.]
    • HTML5 as an alternative to native apps — Because Cocktails is built upon HTML5, publishers can experiment with it without feeling as locked into a platform as they would with native apps. [Discussed at 6:49.]
    • More than a presentation model — Livestand also lets publishers leverage Yahoo's advertising and personalization systems. [Discussed at 8:40.]
    • Open source will play a critical role — Mojito, a component of Cocktails, will be open sourced soon. The benefits are to have the community look at what Yahoo has created and help extend the platform further. [Discussed at 9:17.]
    • Formats will converge ... toward HTML5 — EPUB and mobi are tied to book formats whereas HTML5 allows for a much richer experience. As we rethink what a "book" can become, we'll probably want to lean more on HTML5 and not try to graft more HTML5-like functionality onto EPUB/mobi. [Discussed at 11:45.]

    You can view the entire interview in the following video.

    Click here for more information on the Yahoo Developer Network.

    Mini TOC Chicago — Being held April 9, Mini TOC Chicago is a one-day event focusing on Chicago's thriving publishing, tech, and bookish-arts community.

    Register to attend Mini TOC Chicago

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    March 21 2012

    No more book app sifting: PlayTales designed its bookstore within an app

    This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


    A quick look at the bestsellers on the iPad indicates that kids books are a hot area. PlayTales is one of the leaders in this space, and I recently got to speak with their marketing and PR manager, Anna Abraham. If you're not familiar with PlayTales, you'll want to check out their free bookstore iPad app in iTunes. In this interview, Abraham talks about what makes PlayTales unique and describes how they've embraced the opportunities in children's ebook publishing.

    Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

    • It all starts with discoverability — PlayTales is a store within an app. It's a one-stop option for parents, which helps them avoid the frustration of sifting through the app store. [Discussed at the 1:00 mark.]
    • Going beyond a single platform — Most publishers in this space are focused on iOS and little else. While the iPad is the dominant tablet platform (for now, at least), PlayTales is wisely investing in other platforms as well. [Discussed at 2:01.]
    • Most of their content is digital-first — Repurposing is tempting, but as PlayTales has found, a digital end-product is often best started from scratch. This approach also helps avoid some of the licensing and rights pitfalls that can come from reuse, especially when that existing content was contracted in the pre-digital era. [Discussed at 2:54.]
    • Exclusive vs. non-exclusive — You might be surprised to hear that PlayTales contracts with their authors on a non-exclusive basis. They believe they can earn an author's loyalty by being a great publishing partner. What a concept! [Discussed at 3:35.]
    • Impressive stats — With approximately 1.5 million book reads per month and 3-5K new downloads per day, PlayTales is already reaching a sizable audience. More importantly, approximately 19% of the people who download the free app become paying customers as well. [Discussed at 4:20.]

    You can view the entire interview in the following video.

    The future of publishing has a busy schedule.
    Stay up to date with Tools of Change for Publishing events, publications, research and resources. Visit us at oreilly.com/toc.

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    March 05 2012

    Unglue.it seeks to set ebooks free

    This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


    Gluejar president Eric Hellman (@gluejar) likes to ask people the question, "Have you ever given anybody a book?" Everyone's answer to that is "yes," and Gluejar's platform, Unglue.it, is an interesting model that sets ebooks free. Notice I didn't say the books themselves are free. Similar to the Kickstarter model, there's a minimum payment that must be made to the rights holder, but once that threshold is achieved, the ebook becomes freely distributable. This opens the door to all sorts of potential sponsorship deals as well as ways to give more visibility to slow-moving backlist titles.

    Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

    • It's not just for backlist — But the backlist is a logical starting point, especially those titles that may have already reached a sufficient revenue or profit level for the rights holder. And let's not forget that some "long tail" titles are generating little to no sales at all. [Discussed at the 3:32 mark.]
    • What's the licensing model for readers? — Unglue.it uses the Creative Commons license to give the reader the right to do a number of things with the econtent based on what options the rights holder selects. [Discussed at 4:15.]
    • Publishers have shown both interest and skepticism — Several projects are already underway despite the fact that many rights holders are content to let others be the guinea pigs with this platform. [Discussed at 6:40.]
    • Unglue.it could be a terrific solution for libraries — The economic model could be ideal for the library market as they navigate the transition from scarcity to a world of abundance. [Discussed at 7:26.]

    You can view the entire interview in the following video.

    The future of publishing has a busy schedule.
    Stay up to date with Tools of Change for Publishing events, publications, research and resources. Visit us at oreilly.com/toc.

    Related:

    February 29 2012

    Customized self-publishing is the future of textbooks

    This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


    The textbook publishing market is ripe for reinvention. Everyone complains about the high prices and low resale values. The conversion to digital should change all that, right? In this interview, I talk with John Conley, vice president of publishing and commercial print at Xerox. Conley has worked extensively in the textbook sector and shares his thoughts on where we are today and what's likely to change in the future.

    Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

    • Textbooks taking on less of a role in higher-ed — They may not completely disappear but textbooks will lose their spot as the primary teaching element in many courses. [Discussed at the 3:04 mark.]
    • The K-12 shift will take longer — Budgets, regulatory issues, etc., mean the transition from print to digital won't happen anytime soon. [Discussed at 3:30.]
    • "Customized self-publishing" is the future — It's all about instructors having access to a large repository of content that they can build their own custom solutions around. [Discussed at 4:43.]
    • Is $14.99 the e-textbook price of the future? — Apple took a page out of Amazon's playbook by introducing the first wave of iBooks Author-created textbooks at $14.99. Even the initial $9.99 price for most Kindle titles has crept up, thanks to the agency model, and $14.99 isn't likely to become the standard e-textbook price. [Discussed at 8:12.]
    • Native app vs. HTML5 or EPUB 3 — It's not so much about the platform architecture as it is about the content and how cost-effective that platform is. [Discussed at 17:10.]

    You can view the entire interview in the following video.

    Related:

    February 27 2012

    Story first, interactivity second

    This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


    Children's book apps are among the most popular products in the iTunes app store. Persian Cat Press recently released one called "The Gift," and it's turning a lot of heads. "The Gift" was written specifically for the iPad, so it's not a repurposed product that originated in print. In this interview with Jos Carlyle, Persian Cat Press creative director, we learn more about what goes into the creation of a successful children's book app.

    Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

    • Exciting times for multi-sensory content — The new opportunities touch screens like the iPad offer content producers are seemingly endless. [Discussed at the 1:00 mark.]
    • Story first, interactivity second — The story is written first, of course, but the app's interactivity can't be treated as a last-minute add-on. The reader's interaction must be carefully woven into the story so the two are seamless. [Discussed at 8:14.]
    • Multiple reading scenarios have to be considered — The app might be read by a parent to a child, or it might just be used by a child on his or her own. Various features are included to allow either option, but they have to be implemented in a manner that doesn't feel awkward or obtrusive. [Discussed at 9:00.]
    • Addressing the discoverability problem — Persian Cat Press has taken matters into their own hands. Besides networking with popular bloggers and reviewers, they've created a free app called Cat-Nav that reviews apps and helps make them more visible. [Discussed at 15:20.]
    • What's the "right" price? — It's unfortunate, but important, to realize that book apps are competing with other types of apps, and customers have been conditioned to expect cheaper pricing across the board. The result is a richer, more dynamic product than something similar in print but at a lower price than print ... at least for now. [Discussed at 16:50.]

    You can view the entire interview in the following video.


    Jos Carlyle will be speaking at TOC Bologna on March 18th . Registration is currently open, but the event is likely to sell out, so be sure to buy your ticket soon.


    Related:

    February 08 2012

    Tip for B&N: Don't just follow Amazon

    This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


    I follow dozens of publishing blogs and tweet streams, but there's one that always rises above the rest for me. Any time I see something from Joseph Esposito (@JosephJEsposito), president of Portable CEO consulting, I make sure I read it. He's a frequent contributor to the Scholarly Kitchen blog, and one of his recent articles there got me thinking about the need for better competition in the publishing industry. I sat down with Joe to discuss Amazon's dominance, what B&N should do to improve its position and much more.

    Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

    • "B&N needs an 'MCI solution'" — Amazon is the clear market leader and, as #2, B&N must avoid just following Amazon's lead and come up with a completely new and different product and content model. What B&N is doing with in-store Nook merchandising is great, but they've got to go much further. [Discussed at the 1:00 mark.]
    • Can B&N do anything to disrupt Amazon Prime? — Amazon and anyone else creating a Prime-like service will start to run into the same challenges Netflix has encountered. [Discussed at 4:07.]
    • Broad content repositories vs. narrow, vertical ones — Specific genres lend themselves more to this sort of offering, and each one could have a different pricing model. Safari Books Online is a great example. [Discussed at 5:52.]
    • Pay-for-performance is the only option — Amazon has publicly stated that the Kindle Owner's Lending Library program pays most publishers a flat fee. I strongly believe that's the wrong model, and Joe talks about why the flat fee probably won't be a viable long-term option. [Discussed at 6:45.]
    • Apps vs. HTML5/EPUB — Publishers are starting to figure out that platform-specific investments often aren't wise. Development costs for a single platform, even if that's iOS, are still high, so the future leads to more open, portable solutions. [Discussed at 8:26.]
    • DRM — Joe makes an excellent point when he notes that, "the pro-DRM stance that many publishers have is not really getting them anywhere." [Discussed at 11:05.]
    • Discoverability & recommendations — Discoverability will continue to get worse before it improves, but better integration with the social graph can provide a way forward. [Discussed at 15:06.]

    You can view the entire interview in the following video.

    TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

    Register to attend TOC 2012

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    January 25 2012

    Coming soon to a location near you: The Amazon Store?

    This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


    Jason Calacanis (@jason), co-founder of Weblogs, Inc., and currently host of This Week in Startups is never afraid to voice his opinions. One of his recent articles entitled The Cult of Amazon Prime caught my eye because it paints such a vivid picture of Amazon's growing market dominance. I appreciate the leadership role Amazon has played over the years, but I'm also concerned about the dangers of one vendor controlling too much of the market. Calacanis agreed to discuss my concerns in this interview.

    Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

    • Does Amazon Prime spell the end of the local mall? — It won't happen immediately, and there will always be some need for in-person shopping, but Amazon Prime is already having an impact on the local shopping experience. [Discussed at the 00:40 mark.]
    • Serendipity is overrated — Jason makes a good point about how what you discover at a brick-and-mortar store is often what the vendor or its supplier want you to discover, and this experience can easily be recreated with the "people who bought X also bought Y" model. [Discussed at 2:40.]
    • Coming soon to a location near you: The Amazon Store? — Rather than continuing to use BestBuy and other stores for showrooming, Jason talks about the possibility of Amazon creating their own specialty retail presence where you could touch and feel big-ticket items and have them shipped to you the next day. [Discussed at 4:01.]
    • The instant gratification problem won't exist forever — Amazon has already implemented same-day shipping in some locations, and it's possible a resolution to the state sales tax issue Amazon is currently in the midst of could lead to broader same-day delivery service. [Discussed at 6:01.]
    • AmazonBasics is a preview of what's to come — We're all familiar with private label goods at the local grocery store. AmazonBasics is a similar program. Today, it only offers gadget accessories, but it could easily lead to Amazon toothpaste or breakfast cereal down the road. [Discussed at 7:22.]
    • Don't fear the controlling, manipulative market leader — I'm skeptical of this, but Jason believes that technology and other efficiencies make barriers to entry so low that a market leader who exploits its position will get knocked off by a new startup. [Discussed at 14:24.]
    • Walmart vs. Amazon: Who will compete with Amazon to keep them honest? — Jason believes Walmart is the only serious threat. [Discussed at 18:34.]

    You can view the entire interview in the following video.

    TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

    Register to attend TOC 2012

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    January 24 2012

    The five things you need to pay attention to at TOC 2012

    This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


    The 2012 edition of the Tools of Change for Publishing conference will open its doors on February 13 in New York City.

    Since we're in the home stretch, I rounded up TOC chairs Kat Meyer and Joe Wikert to discuss the major publishing trends and developments that are shaping the conference. Below, you'll find the five biggest takeaways from our chat. The associated audio podcast contains the full conversation.

    1. Publishing is rife with startups

    The publishing world is no longer solely the domain of big old organizations. There's a whole bunch of startups engaged in a variety of publishing experiments. TOC 2012 will feature notable upstarts in the Startup Showcase and throughout the conference program.

    2. You've got the data, now what do you do with it?

    Digital and data go hand-in-hand, and that means publishers — whether they know it or not — are running data-driven businesses. They need to learn how to gather, mine and use all those datasets to their advantage. The practical application of data will be an important theme at the conference.

    3. No more ugly ebooks

    Those quick and dirty digital conversions won't cut it anymore. Readers are committing to digital, and now they're rightfully demanding top-notch ebook / app experiences. It's time for publishers to meet that demand.

    4. Publishing is bigger than books

    Book people have something to learn from media people, and media people can learn from book people. Toss in film and music folks, and you've got a huge digital knowledge base that can be drawn from and adapted. This year at TOC, there's a concerted effort to expand "publishing" beyond its narrow and traditional definition.

    5. "Change/Forward/Fast" isn't just a catchy tagline

    Agile development began in the software world, but its core attributes of iteration and feedback also apply to publishing. Agile methodologies and applications will be discussed in a variety of TOC sessions.

    Again, those are just the takeaways from the interview. The podcast has much more on TOC's major themes and what you can expect to see. It also includes a "bold prediction" from Joe that, if realized, could completely change the way publishers handle mobile apps and ebooks.

    TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

    Register to attend TOC 2012

    Related:

    January 23 2012

    Children's ebooks and apps are big business on the iPad

    This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


    If you look at the top paid products in the "Books" category of the iTunes App store, you'll typically see that children's products dominate the list. Children's books and apps are big business on the iPad. This will, of course, be a core focus of next month's TOC Bologna. I thought it would be nice to preview that event by talking about the state of the market in this podcast interview with Neal Hoskins (@utzy), founder of WingedChariot.

    Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

    • Formats and size are a challenge for this content — Even though mobile devices are getting smaller, the current iPad screen size is smaller than the print edition of many children's books, leaving the print version as a more inviting option. [Discussed at the 1:52 mark.]
    • EPUB vs. App? — Publishers face the same dilemma here as they do in other genres. Am I better off simply porting content from print to an EPUB edition, or should I invest in custom app development, native to a particular platform? [Discussed at 6:02.]
    • Languages and multi-lingual layers — Digital platforms represent an enormous opportunity for WingedChariot to extend the multi-lingual reach of their products. One of their recent apps, My House, is a great example of how the user can easily switch between French and English through the touch of a button. [Discussed at 12:50.]
    • Nothing beats hands-on research — WingedChariot has done extensive research with children on what they like about devices, apps, etc. They've also published much of this research. Sample videos are here and here. [Discussed at 14:50.]
    • Three platforms for the mid-term future — Neal sees three companies/platforms vying for the future of this market: Google, Apple and ... Microsoft. It's interesting that he doesn't include Amazon in this list although Google is, of course, the platform behind the Amazon Kindle Fire. [Discussed at 17:50.]

    You can view the entire interview in the following video.


    Want to hear more about the children's book marketplace? Be sure to register now for TOC Bologna, which takes place on March 18th.

    TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

    Register to attend TOC 2012

    Related:


    January 16 2012

    The art of marrying content with mobile apps

    This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


    Publishers are often approached by mobile app developers looking to help them distribute their content in new ways. Most of those developers aren't all that familiar with the publishing industry and treat the results as just another app. KiwiTech is different. As founder and CTO Gurvinder Batra explains in this interview, KiwiTech uses its management team's extensive publishing industry experience to craft a better solution.

    Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

    • The KiwiTech founders are well versed in the publishing space — This is the same team that founded Aptara. That translates into them having a much better sense of the challenges of marrying content with mobile apps. [Discussed at the 00:33 mark.]
    • What's the future of iOS versus Android? — The phones are a good predictor of the tablet's future. So, while Android is overtaking iOS on phone market share, the large number of different handsets and configurations makes it particularly challenging for developers. Expect the same problem to arise with tablets. [Discussed at 6:22.]
    • Porting from iOS to Android is harder than it sounds — Many publishers think development costs for the second platform (e.g., Android) should cost about half of the development costs of the original one (e.g., iOS), but that logic is wrong. [Discussed at 7:45.]
    • Why choose native apps over EPUB? — While it's tempting to go with a platform-independent solution like EPUB, you lose the ability to tap into many of the device's core capabilities, such as sensors, for example. [Discussed at 15:43.]

    You can view the entire interview in the following video.

    TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

    Register to attend TOC 2012

    Related:


    January 09 2012

    A venture into self-publishing

    This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


    MindfireCover.jpgScott Berkun is a long-time O'Reilly author, but he decided to self-publish his latest book, "Mindfire." Similar to my earlier podcast interview with Dan Gillmor, I wanted to get Berkun's thoughts on his experience of having published both ways. Why did he venture into the world of self-publishing? Is he happy with the results, and will he ever work with a traditional publisher again? Those are a few of the questions he answers in this TOC interview.

    Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

    • Self-publishing was a learning opportunity — Some authors are curious to learn the finer aspects of what goes into making a book, and Scott quickly learned a lot with the "Mindfire" experience. [Discussed at the 1:05 mark.]
    • Blogging and book writing have always gone hand-in-hand for Scott — His blog is a wonderful sounding board and helps him shape whatever book he's currently working on, including the title, cover and more. [Discussed at 2:10.]
    • Self-publishing is both easy and hard — Technology makes it easy to publish almost anything these days; it's all the work that goes not only into the writing, but also into the editing, cover design, proofreading, indexing, marketing, etc., that makes it so challenging. [Discussed at 4:35.]
    • Self-publishing also requires self-promotion — Author platforms are more important today than ever before; it's true for traditional publishing, too, but even more so for self-published products. [Discussed at 8:25.]
    • The PR effort required was the biggest surprise — Berkun used a giveaway campaign to build momentum and extend his future reach. [Discussed at 9:54.]


    • How can traditional publishers avoid losing authors to self-publishing? — Berkun turns the question around and asks why this decision is an either/or. [Discussed at 17:14.]
    • The opportunity to learn from self-published authors — Editors often abandon their authors who test the self-publishing waters when what they should really be doing is talking more with them to learn what's working and what's not. [Discussed at 20:43.]

    Additionally, the 10 most common questions Berkun is asked about self-publishing can be found here, and our entire interview can be viewed in the following video.

    src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/nx17nuLqmnA" frameborder="0"<br /> allowfullscreen></p> <div><a href="http://www.toccon.com/toc2012?cmp=il-radar-tc12-scott-berkun-toc-podcast"><img src="http://radar.oreilly.com/toc11-148.png" /></a><a href="http://www.toccon.com/toc2012?cmp=il-radar-tc12-scott-berkun-toc-podcast"><strong>TOC NY 2012</strong></a> &mdash; O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.<br /> <br /> <a href="http://www.toccon.com/toc2012?cmp=il-radar-tc12-scott-berkun-toc-podcast"><strong>Register to attend TOC 2012</strong></a></div> <p><strong>Related:</strong></p> <ul> <li> <a href="http://radar.oreilly.com/2010/08/be-innovative-but-dont-use-tha.html">Be innovative, but don't use that word</a></li> <p><li> <a href="http://radar.oreilly.com/2011/03/future-of-publishers.html">Publishers: What are they good for?</a></li></p> <p><li> <a href="http://radar.oreilly.com/2011/11/agents-publishers-publishing.html">Do agent-publishers carry a conflict of interest?</a></li></p> <p><li> <a href="http://radar.oreilly.com/2011/12/five-lessons-publishing-2011-amazon-self-publishing-ereading-html5-drm-piracy.html">Five things we learned about publishing in 2011</a></li></p> <p><li> <a href="http://blogs.oreilly.com/cgi-bin/mt/mt-search.cgi?blog_id=57&tag=TOC%20Podcast&limit=20&IncludeBlogs=57">More TOC Podcasts</a></li><br /> </p></ul> <div class="feedflare"> <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/oreilly/radar/atom?a=4d-Q0C-oogI:i_1IDg2QObM:V_sGLiPBpWU"><img src="http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/oreilly/radar/atom?i=4d-Q0C-oogI:i_1IDg2QObM:V_sGLiPBpWU" border="0" /></a> <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/oreilly/radar/atom?a=4d-Q0C-oogI:i_1IDg2QObM:yIl2AUoC8zA"><img src="http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/oreilly/radar/atom?d=yIl2AUoC8zA" border="0" /></a> <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/oreilly/radar/atom?a=4d-Q0C-oogI:i_1IDg2QObM:JEwB19i1-c4"><img src="http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/oreilly/radar/atom?i=4d-Q0C-oogI:i_1IDg2QObM:JEwB19i1-c4" border="0" /></a> <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/oreilly/radar/atom?a=4d-Q0C-oogI:i_1IDg2QObM:7Q72WNTAKBA"><img src="http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/oreilly/radar/atom?d=7Q72WNTAKBA" border="0" /></a> <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/oreilly/radar/atom?a=4d-Q0C-oogI:i_1IDg2QObM:qj6IDK7rITs"><img src="http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/oreilly/radar/atom?d=qj6IDK7rITs" border="0" /></a> </div><img src="http://feeds.feedburner.com/~r/oreilly/radar/atom/~4/4d-Q0C-oogI" height="1" width="1" />

    January 05 2012

    Traditional vs self-publishing: Neither is the perfect solution

    This post is part of the TOC podcast series, which we'll be featuring here on Radar in the coming months. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


    Dan Gillmor (@dangillmor) is one of a growing number of authors who have published with both a traditional house as well as self-published. Like many others, he's decided neither is the perfect solution. In this video podcast, Dan talks about the pros and cons of both options. He offers valuable insight not only for authors trying to decide between traditional and self-publishing, but his thoughts are extremely important for everyone in publishing to hear as they think about their roles going forward.

    Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

    • Creative Commons licensing still trips up publishers — It's disappointing, but true, that some publishers simply refuse to deal with an author who wants to use the Creative Commons license. [Discussed at the 1:08 mark.]
    • Fear of Creative Commons is similar to a fear of being DRM free — Both of these tie back to "control," and far too many publishers feel they lose control when using Creative Commons or abandoning DRM. [Discussed at 4:10.]
    • There's a reason authors like to have publishers — Sometimes the lesson isn't learned until an author self-publishes, but there are tasks and services publishers perform that authors tend to take for granted. [Discussed at 5:58.]
    • Should traditional publishers venture into self-publishing? — Be careful to not open the floodgates completely. There's still a need to have certain guard rails in place. [Discussed at 11:30.]
    • Now is the time for experimentation — And yet, as Dan notes, "the traditional publishing industry is even more risk averse than it used to be." [Discussed at 13:58.]


    • Even a self-published project can be a hybrid — Dan's latest book, Mediactive, was self-published but involved at least one rights deal with a traditional publisher. [Discussed at 15:26.]
    • Errata and other minor updates should be easy to address — But they're not! Despite all our advancements in technology and product distribution, most retailers are still unable to deal with changes to an edition. [Discussed at 23:20.]

    You can view the entire interview in the following video.

    Related:

    January 03 2012

    Social is an integral part of tomorrow's reading experience

    This post is part of the TOC podcast series, which we'll be featuring here on Radar in the coming months. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.

    Book reading has always been considered a solitary activity, but maybe that's just because of the limitations of print. Social reading platforms are sprouting up all around us, and mobNotate is one of the more interesting ones. This TOC podcast features insight from mobNotate's founder, Ricky Wong (@kinwong), as well as their technical advisor, Sean Gerrish. They talk about where they are with the mobNotate platform, why social is an important part of tomorrow's reading experience and what it will look like.

    (Listen to this interview via the embedded player or download the MP3 file.)

    Key points from the full interview include :

    • Machine learning makes it happen — Related conversations are already happening on the web, but mobNotate ties them back to the text so you don't have to hunt them down. [Discussed at the 0:45 mark.]
    • Social reading is not an oxymoron — If social reading is implemented correctly it will feel like an on-topic conversation with a lot of really interesting people. If it's done poorly, of course, it's nothing more than a distraction. [Discussed at 1:38.]
    • Reader apps & devices don't lend themselves to content creation — And that's where a tool like mobNotate comes in, which makes it extremely easy to add your thoughts to the conversation. Think "tapping and swiping" rather than "typing" as well as "curation" rather than "creation." [Discussed at 6:41.]
    • Social isn't just for certain genres of content — There are different (and better ways) to implement social features on different types of content. [Discussed at 9:35.]
    • Community is an important part of the value proposition — Social features can help add to the value of your product and therefore help justify a higher price. [Discussed at 11:35.]


    • Social features can still result in a clean & simple reading environment — Sean's example here of Google "then and now" is a terrific analogy. Social reading functionality needs to be as important to the user experience as images and videos have become to search results. [Discussed at 15:00.]
    • The 80/20 rule applies here as well — A small percentage of users will likely create and curate the content that's used by the larger audience. [Discussed at 15:46.]

    You can listen to the entire interview here.

    TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb 13-15, 2012 in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

    Register to attend TOC 2012

    Related:


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