Thursday, May 31, 2012

Digital Marketing Is Marketing

Digital publishing is not just about pouring the physical book into a digital container, or even about redesigning the content so it digitally stands on its heads, does a twirl and explodes in a sea of multi media. It is about revisiting everything from its creation and acquisition to its death, which in digital, could mean eternity. One of the latest areas to raise the noise levels within the market, is concerning how to market in the digital age. This is not just about marketing digital works, but all works be they physical, digital or hybrid. Here again the various sectors and genre are diverging often in different directions and at different speeds and what is clear today is that there is not one shoe that will fit all.

Today, the haystack of available works is getting bigger by the day. Not only do we have the book in print, but conceivably every book ever published and every aspiring work now being published directly by anyone wishing to express themselves. How do we find that needle in this haystack? How do we validate it? How do we value it?

Marketing a book in a mass market environment was often down to throwing money at the wall and hoping some sticks. Yes there was often some great marketing promotions and creative materials, but at the end of the day it often came down to that old retail adage, ‘if it ain’t on the shelf, you can’t sell it.’ The internet changed that and created the virtual shelf. Now the problem was not getting it onto the shelf, but making it visible on the shelf, getting it to the top of the pile and ensuring that it was suitably tagged to respond to searches. Customers also wanted to touch , feel and value inside the cover. Customers suddenly became known on the internet and their habits and likes were trackable, making direct marketing and upselling feasible. However, the customers were owned by the retailers and the publishers were somewhat kept at arms length so remained blind and locked into a mass market. Now we have social marketing, which differs from mass and direct as it is viral and can have a life of its own. It allows everyone to be known. 

We now have three marketing tectonic plates colliding each with different drivers, audience focus and potential results today and tomorrow.

The point that readers are often very eclectic can’t be forgotten. Not only do they often read a wide range of material, but they often do so in a inconsistent manner. We often look for different material according the role we are playing at the time or the need we are seeking to satisfy. The teacher will look for, validate and value course material differently from theirown leisure reading – same person, different roles. The student will look for, validate and value the same course material differently – same material, different role and values. These different perspectives of need and value are what makes marketing difficult and the ‘one shoe’ approach often unrewarding to the one person that matters – the buyer.  

The latest buzz word is ‘discoverability’. It as if we believe that correctly tagging and referencing material will make it discoverable and therefore a success. Suddenly, many believe everything will become simpler through technology  As we all discovered, merely piling money into schemes such as  Adwords may have got us to the top of the pile but didn’t guarantee a sale. Getting ‘liked’ in Facebook may give us a recommendation, but actually says little other that it was like for some reason. A Twitter recommendation is limited by its characters and often is like scattering gains into the wind. A lot of the social networking marketing appears to be more about ‘mass recognition’ than mass validation. Perhaps that is the answer, if we can get enough people to say they like it we all believe it has real value?

It would appear that the bottomline is that there is no right or wrong way to market a work. Like all marketing it is about understanding your audience, how to reach that audience, how to ‘connect’ with that audience, how you measure performance and ultimately where the money is today.  The challenge is how do you organise yourself to do this allowing the core to remain whilst experimenting and measuring the different approaches?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Waterstones: Kissing Their Customers Goodbye

Today we read the opinions of many in the trade and business press on the surprise move by James Daunt to let Amazon in to Waterstones through the front door. It is interesting to note that many state the obvious and then pull back to cover the bases just in case it’s a move that may win. Many talk about the so called capitulation over digital and hand over of that business to Amazon. Many cover the usual hypocrisy of some statements made about Amazon before Daunt’s cathartic moment, when the lights came on and he became a believer.
Irrespective of all the noise, the one fact that one can’t get away from, is that Waterstones is not just handing over their digital futures in terms of sales but more importantly the very thing that drives them - their customers. It’s no surprise to be told that book readers like a mix of physical and digital and that they are often eclectic in their reading taste, but to build a strategy on retaining the physical business at the expense of the digital is at best questionable at worst naive. However, the real issue is about customers, today, tomorrow and for ever. 

Waterstones couldn’t tell you today who walked in their store, what they browsed, what the dithered on, what they bought and even if they had been in the store previously or bought at all in the past. Yes apart from their online business they are relatively clueless unless the customer has a loyalty card and uses it. Amazon will log,  what was bought, what wasn’t bought, what was bought with what, what was browsed, what pages were browsed and literally every aspect of the sale and every related salel. Reusing this information proactively is what the future is about and is what Waterstones is effectively handed over. They have consigned their business to mass marketing with a little direct marketing on the fringe – hardly a wise move or something any retailer should be even considering today. They may know who bought a Kindle and their first purchase but after then they may be kissing them goodbye. Is that giving the customer what they want or just na├»ve retailing strategy?
So the reality is that the deal is not just about digital, and online it about really knowing what your customers want and not what you think they want.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Waterstones Let The Fox Into The Chicken Hut

Today is a new dawn for UK Booksellling, as its premier retail chain Watersones, effectively handed over its digital if not its future to Amazon. We will read in the press how this is a logical move by Waterstones and is the dawn of a new ebook beginning under its new management, but some will now start to ask whether this is the end of the beginning, or in fact the beginning of the end? 
They first started their digital adventure with Sony. Sony themselves were bullish, gave Waterstone’s an exclusive window and spent heavy on advertising. It failed for many reasons; Sony didn’t have the content, the market wasn’t ready, the price wasn’t right, the stores couldn’t or didn’t want to sell digital, the eink devices by themselves were not the answer, etc. Waterstones then tried to accommodate all the eink ‘lookie likies’ and proceeded to badly merchandise the goods, failed to engage customers in store and as we previously wrote in our article ' Would You Buy an eBook Reader Off This Man?' , they made a hash of the opportunity. Now they have chosen to partner Amazon and their Kindle platform. 
We have to ask why they didn’t partner Barnes and Noble, not today but a couple of years ago, when a partnership could have been mutually beneficial. Imagine a situation today when you could have Microsoft, Barnes and Noble and Waterstones, all on the same team and remember Barnes and Noble and the Nook is virtually unknown outside of North America. Both Barnes and Noble and Waterstones could have kept their own customers and shared a Nook platform with a giant partner called Microsoft.
Imagine if they had chosen Kobo before everyone else did? Could they have done any better than WHS? They would have however chosen an international player and one with a heavy weight parent and importantly they could have probably retained their customers or at least limited the damage to digital.
What does Amazon have that Waterstones doesn’t have in the UK? A significant internet store that sells all books (used, rare,new), a growing publishing business, a self publishing business and growing affinity with authors, a customer mail list, demographics and data to die for, a viable audio book business in Audible, a successful internet book business in The Book Depository, an agreement with the major UK supermarket Tesco to sell Kindle,  a digital music offer, a digital on and off line film offer and now a High Street presence across 300 outlets and for what is probably ‘chump change’.
People have asked whether Amazon would open up physical stores, it doesn’t have to as long as stores such as Waterstones open their doors and let them in. Some would suggest that it is like letting the fox into the chicken hut and only time will tell what will happen. Maybe some will see it as a quiet reverse take-over without the exchange of shares and money. It will be interesting to watch how Waterstones shops now step up with renewed enthusiasm to sell themselves out of their digital future, give away their customers and even loose more physical sales. If Waterstones are unable to compete on price will the increased foot fall of folk coming in potentially once to buy a Kindle be enough to save all but a small number of their estate? 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Magic Town: A Place Where Stories Live?

Destination websites have always been attractive to those searching for that one place where they can find everything they want under one roof. The challenge is often to get competitors to collaborate and realise that working together often makes more sense than duplicating cost and effort. Often it needs a third party to pull the competitors together and present the range in a neutral and compelling place.

The Magic Town platform is being launched by Mindshapes with the aim of creating a compelling online site, where children aged from two to six can find interactive classic fairy tales and children’s ebooks. Mindshapes envisage that the parents of children do not want to spend all day trawling the app stores and web looking for suitable and engaging stories for their children and by offering a one stop shop they will capture the growing market. They have got the support of publishers such as Hachette, Penguin and Simon & Schuster and are reportedly in discussion with more. The Magic Town, will also be available on the iPad and is planning to operate on part free part subscription model with some 20 titles available free and subscription access to the full catalogue costing £7.99 a month, or £49.99 a year. They estimate that some 200 stories will be available on the platform in the first year.
Mindshapes was founded in 2010 and last year it raised £3.1m in a Series A funding to launch two destination hubs; Magic Town and Language City. Magic Town is accessible via an app and web browsers whilst Language City is browser only. The business model mix of free and subscription, is a logical and one that could resonate with busy parents who may be happy to subscribe to a single and  trusted service.

The challenges we see are not huge but are significant. The model is not one that is easy for publishers and especially ones which carry heavy development costs and hold potentially significant secondary rights. We are reminded of the Jesuit maxim, "Give me a child for his first seven years and I'll give you the man". The target age group is itself relatively small, some 3 years and where do their readers go then? Can they extend the offer or create a follow on offer as the children grow or that can be shared with their older siblings? Will the offer be extended to cover all books in the target age range or remain with just web and app offers and will that be enough to satisfy the needs of the parents? Finally will publishers embrace Mindshapes as just another digital ‘experiment’, or see it as a serious strategic channel and direction?   

We watch with interest at this venture into the world of Spotify for books.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Think Of Information As You Would Think Of Food

Every now and then we watch a TED conference and it makes us think differently. Examples we have shared are the likes of Larry Lessing on content creation, Parnav Mistry on intuitive technology and now JP Rangaswami. Rangaswami introduces the analogy of information as food and looks at it cultivation, preparation and importantly its consumption. If we are to avoid information obesity what do we need to do? Is there a diet plan for information? Will we need fact sheets summaries noting the ingredient levels?


‘ Information, if viewed from the point of view of food, is never a production issue. … It's a consumption issue, and we have to start thinking about how we create diets [and] exercise.’ (JP Rangaswami)

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Thoughts on a Smartphone Versus a Tablet

When we wrote last week about the new Samsung GS3we expressed our view that the smartphone platform is core to the future and although the tablet is ‘sexy’ looks great it is somewhat a half way house still looking for a home. We expected a kickback and received many in various forums.

Pew have now released research which claims that the smartphones are changing how people interact , search and engage with real time information on the move. There claims are about discovering places, arranging meetings, resolving debates, finding up to the minute sports scores, getting traffic updates and accessing live transport information. In other words smart phones are about connecting to the information world in real time and on demand. Smartphones have the added advantage of SMS and making calls. So are tablets transient like the iPod, or ‘must have’ media and games players and where will the divide fall and convergence happen. Do we really expect everyone to carry a smartphone and a tablet everywhere when there is a huge overlap in functionality and basically its coming down to size? Does Size really matter or is it an urban myth? How many tablets are 3G connected and fully switched on and how many are just WiFI connected?

We can all applaud the penetration Apple has made with their iPad and the lack of any real contender today, but is this more down to the Apple ‘gloss’ and spin than the real need. Others manufacturers have tried and failed to gain a foothold in the tablet marketplace and yet the same basic offers dominate the smartphone market and currently outstrip Apple’s iPhone. Does this make sense or has the Emperor merely got new clothes.

The Pew report doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know, but its still surprising how iPad users defend their device needs whilst phone users have little call to defend theirs.

Since Posting this piece i have been made aware of this interesting piece which is worth reading Technology Review,'Are Smart Phones Spreading Faster than Any Technology in Human History'

Friday, May 04, 2012

Want One - Samsung S3

Smartphones are at one end of the spectrum and PC Laptops at the other with tablets sitting in the middle. You must have a phone and you take it literally everywhere and it’s seamlessly connected 24 x 7. The PC Laptop is like a mothership and is the hub especially in business. We may be the only ones to question whether the tablet will really replace the others or whether its real threat still comes from the smartphone?

Samsung has overtaken Nokia to become the world's best-selling mobile phone maker and remains the biggest obsticle to the iPhone dominance today. Samsung have just announced their latest model the Galaxy S3.

The device will continue to be the Andriod flagsjhip with the screen increasing to an impressive 4.8 inches. When we measured that increase against the existing Galaxy 4.3 inches the 22% increase, coupled with its Super Amoled (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) display creates a definite Wow factor and just outsmarts the latest HTC One X. It leaves the 3.5 inch Apple iPhone 4S and the 4.3 inch Nokia's Lumia 900 looking somewhat small.

So is Samsung edging us towards the phone/tablet hybrid? Its first venture into that space, the Galaxy Note, has proved to be more popular than many had forecast and has given them a clear edge as they potentially converge. 

We would buy into such a convergence and probably in 2013 it will be a reality.

The Galaxy S3 will be weighed down with value added extras such as; face recognition technology, an 8 megapixel rear camera and a 1.9 megapixel front camera for video, S Voice which is described as a "natural language user interface" similar to Apple’s Siri technology and the S3 can connect to Samsung TV wirelessly . The S3 also has Google's Android Beam (which can exchange data such as business card details) and is capable of sending a 1GB file between two S3 phones in three minutes, or a 10MB file in two seconds by touching them together. It comes in a 15GB or 32GB version, but Samsung are promising a 64GB model soon.

The Galxay S3 will be available in Europe at the end of May and initially in pebble blue and marble white, so watch out for them on a train near you.

Want One!

LinkedIn Uploads Slideshare

LinkedIn and Slideshare
View more presentations from LinkedIn

The takeover and initial public offering (IPO) season appears to be in full swing in technology market and following Microsofts dive into Barnes and Noble we now have LinkedIn’s acquisition of Slideshare and Facebook’s share price for its upcoming IPO being set at at between $28 and $35 per share, which values the company at between $85bn-$95bn (£52bn-£59bn).

The Facebook IPO is now set to become the largest internet share offer topping Google's 2004 valuation of $23bn. News Corp must be kicking its heels that it got it so wrong with MySpace who were number one only a few years ago and are now slipping into obscurity.

LinkedIn is the biggest socil network for professionals and is the place to not only connect to your business network but to find people and jobs. It is like a gaint Roldex and who’s who of the business world, hosting discussion groups and connecting business people to business people. It not surprising that they have now acquired Slideshare for US$118.75m. Slideshare is what it says on the tin a place to share slides which as everyone knows are used everyday by business people and in business conferences. SlideShare users have uploaded more than nine million presentations and had nearly 29 million unique visitors last March.

So we now have the social giant Facebook which is reshaping how we share and communicate in communities and with friends and LinkedIn which is starting to reshape how business people connect, reconnect and expand their networks and knowledge. LinkedIn has still got some places to go and could still have some parts of the jigsaw to plug in but is clearly destined to grow further. An ex collegue said to me recently that he didn’t get LinkedIn until he lost his job and now he gets it 100%.

The new LinkedIn will now enable professionals to also discover people through their presentation content and that starts to open up significant avenues for further growth as well as becoming an effective store and archive of business content. Imagine if LinkedIn next bought the likes of Wattpad? 

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Translation On Demand

We have long awaited that intuitive voice interface which would gives us back our hands, capture our thoughts as we say them and offer audio play back in voice, pitch and speed that we can easily digest. An intuitive user interface not only changes how we digest information and media but also how it is constructed and served.

Watching my mother in law as she commands interfaces with her RNIB (Royal National Institute for Blind) installed software has long been a marvel. However it is daunting to watch and makes you realise that it isn’t just about the media content, but all the commands to access and control it.

We have seen the great strides taken by the like of Apple with its Siri voice recognition and command interface and we enjoy and often use our Google voice search facility on our smartphone. We have also seen and frequently use the Google translation facilities and although there is sometimes that odd error, the market has moved on significantly.

Now Google are introducing a Gmail facility which will automatically translate messages enabling users to get mail in other languages automatically translated into their own language. Users can choose to have messages in a language automatically translated in their language by selecting "Always Translate", or they can click for translation using a translate message option. They can also turn off translation for a language.

Many speech translations remain flat and generate a somewhat synthetic voice. However, experimental new software developed by Microsoft is now able not only to translate between 26 different languages and play back the speech in the user’s own voice, it does so complete with the inflections the user used when speaking in their own language. Microsoft have demonstrated the facility by using the software to read out and translating it to English, Italian and Madarin. Play the recording and read more at Technology Review.

Obviously users must first spend time training it to recognize and reproduce their voice. Once that's been accomplished, the software applies that user-specific speech model to a generic text-to-speech model for the desired output language. Individual sounds of the user's voice are selected from the training session, then strung together and appropriately altered, in order to create a natural-sounding translation.

So as we move take another huge step forward where language itself, whether text or speech, can be converted to play back in one’s own language and even one’s own voice. Text translation to your own language is an automatic feature and this technology starts to become mainstream. This starts to offer huge opportunities which were previously restricted and only achievable through translators. In theory, translation of text becomes a flick of a switch and speech translation is personalised. When we couple these developments to the vision of Pranav Mistry and the XRay specs we previously wrote about we start to envisage a very Brave New World. This is not just about how we interact with technology but also about how we construct our media to exploit it and add value to reach all.


Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Maybe Microsoft could have a Huge Role in Publishing?

The news that the lumbering giant Microsoft has once again entered the ebook world raised eyebrows, created much chatter and was certainly welcome at Barnes and Noble and especially with their investors. Leaving aside the obvious college and educational opportunities and their need to get back onto the mobile saddle and create something with their Nokia alliance, what could Microsoft do that would really make a difference and give them pole position in the hearts and minds of those in the digital world? The iPhone and iPad have catapulted Apple to the premier device position, Android has made Google more than just a search engine and Chrome has grown in the browser world. Microsoft must act or be relegated to playing in the lower divisions.

We thought about many angles, but the one which screams out to us is to their ability to leverage their dominant position in the ‘office’ product area. This could also defend it against the increasing ‘open source’ world pretenders and take it to a new level of ‘must have’.  Today Word, Excel, Powerpoint remain the de facto office and home document creation applications. However, they remain wedded to the past and exposed in the future. In reality, they haven’t developed significantly for over a decade and are in desperate need of more than a lick of paint.

So what would we do if we were Microsoft? Obviously they will do their best to be a white knight to publishing against the forces of evil but can the do much more? How would we secure their future? What would be the lead strategy that would pull-through other ‘publishing benefits? Simply competing on the OS platform isn’t going to do it. Lining up with Barnes and Noble is like going to support a mid table team – they may make it, they may win some games, but they are unlikely to dominate through Microsoft support alone. Nokia is a great partner, with a strong history of achievement, but they too are desperately looking for partners to shore up their future and have also made some bad calls over OS platforms which have cost them dear.

Our approach would be a return to the basics and play to their strengths. This would recognise that everyone today wants to express themselves and have a voice. If Office were to be able to output word documents in epub compliant tagged format to an open XML rich schema - that could make a difference. If it also offered content output rendered to HTML5,that too could make a difference. If it could ingest current word based documents and render them to ePub or HTML5 that could make a difference. If it offered collaborative editing at a premium within an XML construct that could make a difference. If the schemas were open and also able to be expanded and adapted that too could make a difference.

This would not negate Adobe’s role in complex constructs but would enable the feeds and the vast majority of works to circumvent conversion effort and be immediately publishable. It would enable the authoring and ultimately reading and it will engage a wide audience. Now take one step further and ensure any document that is exported is correctly rights tagged along with any inserted documents, pictures, audio, tables etc and we could be talking about the democratisation of publishing fro the author to the reader.

Some may say that we are dreaming but I bet we aren’t the only ones…