Cul-de-sac

May 2, 2011

In a very interesting interview Seth Godin talked about the publishing industry. He shared his ideas on the question where books might be headed. Seth recently launched a new project, trying to change the way books are sold and distributed. The Domino Project has already produced some successes.

One of the intriguing statements Seth made was about adding multimedia to books.

He called this a cul-de-sac.

In his view it will become a crying game. He compared the days publishers produced cd-roms with Vietnam. He mentioned several publishers going nearly broke.

In Seth’s opinion a book is written by one person and at some point the product is finished.

Multi Media projects are produced by lots of people. Being software projects they are never finished.

I found this quite interesting, even a bit alarming. I had the idea that adding multimedia would change the way we read. Maybe it’s not books as such that need a change, maybe it will be magazine like products. Maybe only textbooks will turn into multimedia.

Anyway: the interview is great. Take the time and listen.


Zoom In, Zoom Out

May 1, 2011

The Digital Revolution recently entered a new phase. The new screens in our hands offer new ways to read, browse, listen, watch and interact with content and with people. As people keep embracing these handheld devices, businesses are trying to catch up. Again.

Let’s look at the three sectors, usually considered to be at the center of these digital waves of change.

The smartphones and tablets are taking over all IT related industries. Computers basicly just left the building and are on the move. Software will turn into a service more rapidly soon, certainly when Office 365 will go out of public beta.

Telco’s are struggling. Landlines are out. Mobile became texting. Who could have imagined people writing on these things, since they were supposed to talk through them. The industry did not see smartphones coming. Their solution was to sell  internet bundles, but their customers started to use these bundles to acces free services. Why pay to call, if you can send a message for free?

Publishers are starting to realize they can no longer wait to change. Publishers have been neglecting All Things Digital too long. Change was something others would have to undertake, after the publishers themselves retired. A book is a book, you know. Yeah, and a newspaper a newspaper, right? A few years ago publishers had worries and money. Now it’s panic while they are almost broke.

In the midst of all these waves of change it is easy to focus too much on details. We tend to zoom in. But we need to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. The bigger picture in the world of business still is the simple fact that all links in the chain that do not add value, will disappear. Vanish. Evaporate. Fade out.

The middleman is under attack.

Take a look at your market. Zoom in on the chains. Which chain is only an intermediary?

Zoom out on the basic needs of customers. What is it they want?

Zoom in, zoom out!


Which Exit?

April 18, 2011

Myopia is all about forgetting the frames in our minds. We see what we want to see. We don’t see, what’s blocked out. We tend to think about ourselves and the things we think are important. We look from the inside out and we forget we have to look from the outside in.

Even when we are convinced of the existence of this phenomenon, we keep forgetting we suffer from myopia ourselves.

In trying to point my clients towards the rapid changes and shifts in the digital media landscape, I also forget to look at other changes. And these changes might be even more fundamental.

Let’s look at a few very recent ones:

  • In Finland a new party popped up this weekend and one of their main goals is to stop support of troubled countries like Greece, Ireland, Portugal.
  • The German Landesbanken have been lending enormous amounts of euros to these troubled countries.
  • If these already troubled countries fail, the Landesbanken will have quite a problem.
  • After Iceland, Greece, Ireland and Portugal, who will be next?

As always it is not technology itself, that will determine what will happen. It is what people want and people do. How will these crises affect the minds, ideas and plans of our clients, bosses, business partners?

As the picture tells us, we are already well on our way to the future.

But where is this road we’re on leading us?

What is our direction?

And if we don’t like that, which exit do we have to take?


The Price is Right

April 16, 2011

Before iPad was launched I started to think about the sort of ibooks that might form an extra attraction for possible ireaders. As my wife came up with the idea that iPad would become something to put on a table, I thought the old fashioned coffee table books would be a nice starting point. In every home I come, I see nice designed and well published books lying on coffee tables: 1 +1 = 3, right?

So I started touring publishers of books covering the arts, photography, design, architecture, history. I was rather stunned to notice these conversations turned out to be flashbacks.

I reexperienced earlier conversations during the rise of web 1.0 with record company management people.

There was, as we now are used to notice, ‘no real sense of urgency’. Of course it could be explained by the fact that all of these publishers were based in a very small country, called The Netherlands, but one would expect these professionals at least to be familiair with concepts like ‘desintermediation’, ‘e-books’, ‘Google’ or ‘ecommerce’. To my surprise they were not. And if they were, they were convinced that it would take years to develop and mature.

This year I started talks with museums to publish ibooks ourselves, without the publishers, since they were the ones that would be desintermediated. In preparation of making a shortlist for ibooks, I came upon art books, already available on iphone, iPad and iTouch. The price for a neat little handy booklet on Van Gogh was $ 1.99.  At least 50 or so well known painters were published as well for the same price.

This brings me to my point. As The Daily set the price for a daily on the iPad, this publisher set the price for nice, neat, little ibooks on painters.

Publishers and for that matter museums will have a very, very hard time to beat this price.

But for consumers, all over the world, the price sure is right.


Gold Rush

April 14, 2011

My last post has been a while.

Again.

This time I wanted to take some time and think.

I was overwhelmed by the introduction of the Harry Potter newspaper, as Rupert Murdoch used to call it. Not because this bold move was unexpected, but because of the pricing strategy. A dollar a week is hard to beat. The Daily cornered the market. Who will enter next?

Market acceptance does not seem to be very positive. It’s hard to find trustworthy data and my first impressions are therefore just that and nothing more. But the general idea points towards the conclusion that The Daily is not a huge hit. Yet, one has to add.

However.

The price is still very, very hard to beat.

By claiming land on this new frontier in the Media Wild West, competitors are hindered or even prohibited to join the Gold Rush.

I’m afraid.


Game, Set and Match?

February 4, 2011

The Daily is a bold move in two ways.

First and foremost it’s price and the strategy behind it. Less than a dollar a week. Nobody expected this to happen. A dollar per issue was the general expectation. This price defines the game for tablet publishing and will be hard to ignore, because consumers will come to see it as the de facto standard. Mr. Murdoch just put another wall on his content, one might say.

The Daily is iPad only. My guess is that web access will dry up, at least after the two weeks of free trials. How this will play out, is hard to predict.

One can argue that this move is just one in a series of well planned and executed movements to work towards a model for paid content. Mr. Murdoch spoke many times on the unsustainable position of publishers when they keep giving away their product for free. And, at least in my humble opinion, right so. High Quality Content is difficult to produce and the makers of  creative works should be compensated.

But one can also argue that the web community will  find ways to hack the content anyway or that news is freely available on the web and therefore there is no need at all for paid dailies. And then there is the broad discussion on the nature of the web (open or closed) and even the predictions on the death of the web. Apps rule, so to speak.

We will see. The user will decide.

One very important rule in launching a new product or service, however comes to my mind. A client of mine always used to tell his people that a new thing has to be faster, better, easier and cheaper than the existing offerings. Seen from this perspective I think it will be Game, Set and Match.


Another Wake Up Call Today?

February 2, 2011

Well, it has been a little over a year that iPad was launched. Anticipated as the starting point for new and turbulent times, it certainly played out that way. The most optimistic forecast was it would sell some 3.000.000 units. It sold 5 times as much. Publishers of magazines and newspapers heralded the multi touch device in advance as the perfect moment for the introduction of paid content. Everyone rushed in, as always.

What observations did I make this year?

First of all, I would like to point out that iPad is only the first of many tablets. That’s a no brainer. There is no room for orders of microchips, screens or components  in the factories in Asia where these things are being made.  I expect many more multi millions of tablets rolling out of these factories the next few years.

The computer started to move away from the desk a while back with the laptop, the web book and the smartphone, but now it is definitely removed from it. The machine is in the living room, on the dining table, the couch and in the bedroom. On the lap, in your hands and even, I noticed, on the road. This has implications for usage, and therefore the design of information and content strategies. Most publishers and designers have not even started thinking about this shift. Let alone what it will mean.

After the initial hype, as always a central element in our industry, we, the people looked at the magazines produced for iPad and were not impressed. OK, you buy the first one, sure. But the second and third? Why should I pay for something new, that’s not new? It’s just a 1 – 1 copy of the paper thing!

The amount of apps sold is declining at enormous speed!

Advertisers pronto payed premium prices to reach the young, affluent and hip. But that’s over. Who is using this and how many exactly? Why pay more to these magazine companies?

Publishers discovered that producing content for iPad multiplied the cost of producing content or at least doubled the amount of time spent by their creative department. To ask for extra budgets in these still troubling economic times is not a very sound starting point for boardroom discussions.

And then there’s this small and often overlooked ‘problem’ of the middle man. The most stupifying thing of the last few months is the discovery and outcry by publishers that Apple wants to be compensated. I mean, think before you jump! Did you really expect this innovative company with this very clear vision on how to enter markets that have been sleeping and ignoring All Things Digital, to help you for nothing? Talk about myopia. Amazing.

Apple looked at markets, ready for innovation and full of sleeping  incumbents, before and took over in a split second. I mean, how could one make a dime in music with mp3, torrents, p2p, copycats? How could anyone think of entering the market for cellphones?

The key is probably that you have to be an outsider to come up with fresh thinking. Insiders look at this teutonic shift from their existing frames.

Apple knows that Content is King again. Look at what’s happening in social with al these people pointing towards and distributing remarkable content snippets! That’s why Apple named Flipboard as the most impressive app, I think.

Apple knows very well what is is doing. They have done it before. They will do it again. Someone like Mr. Murdoch understands this BTW. 

I must say I am eager to find out what his Harry Potter newspaper will do in the market. It is expected to launch today.