Friday, November 28, 2008

What is the future for books?

I was waiting in the airport terminal the other day and decided that it was the right time for a new book. I was already reading one, but needed a fresh one to get me through yet another flight.

Now, I don't think I'm cheap, but for normal reading books (novels or history books) I try and set myself a AUD$30.00 limit. Now I think that is reasonable. With the price of CDs and DVDs plummeting in the face of more and more online content, when I buy a physical object I am demanding a lot more of it because I can just get it online otherwise.

So, when I found a book that I like - an Australian book published and (hopefully) printed in Australia - only to find it cost $37.95 I was shocked to say the least. The book, The Land of Plenty, by Mark Davis and published by Melbourne University Press, is $36.95 direct from the publisher, and $36.99 from Angus and Robertson so it wasn't just the airport book shop trying to get one over me.

Sure, this book probably caters for a niche market, and the costs of such a small run probably don't allow for any discounts, but surely there must be a cheaper alternative and I know there is.

E-book readers have been around for a while now but the average price is still sitting somewhere between US$300-500, so they are not cheap. But the fact of the matter is that from a publishers point of view the e-book should be a fairly compelling avenue to pursue. The value of a publishers work is in the IP the works contain and the traditional paperback has only been a means for distribution.

The difficulty in e-book readers is that they are trying to specialise with EInk display screens that are much more easy on the eyes than traditional back-lit laptops or PDAs. Because of this specialising, easy-on-the-eyes e-book readers have been held into a fairly niche market.

But, the technology is only ever one part of the equation. If the boffins at DELL, ASUS or HP were given enough incentive I'm sure they could create a pretty good easy-on-the-eyes screen mode on a normal tablet PC or PDA. Another reason for the limited e-book market is the ever-present rights management.

Amazon have been able to manage publishers IP through a DRM format of text and uses a direct Internet link from Amazon to the Amazon Kindle therefore assisting to make sure the text doesn't fly off online in the middle of the night. Other e-book providers have also created their own DRM formats, but as we have seen through the Walmart MP3 DRM fiasco customers are becoming more and more wary of DRM supported formats because of their tendency to disappear.

The only reason books have not gone the way of the DVD or CD is the fact that no-body apart from Google and a few universities could be bothered flipping so many pages over a scanner to digitise the books and as yet the hackers haven't decided to infiltrate publishers to get digital versions of new release books.

So what does this all mean? For me it means that as with the dodo and soon the CD and DVD, the paperback is destined to become extinct because the case for costs savings in publishing is too compelling for publishers. But, as with audio and visual arts, the global management of IP in a digital world has meant that e-books are being published at a snails pace.

I am hoping that when publishers and authors come around the the post-copyright era and embrace creative commons and digitised books we will be able to download books that we want to read for a fraction of the paperback cost whilst saving one more tree in the tropics.

Check-list for a post paperback world:

* Integrated PDA/phone/e-book back-lit/Eink reading panel
* Non-DRM file format
* International IP agreement (Creative Commons?)
* Value-added services (audio/video integration, authors blogs, hyperlinked bibliography ...)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Wordle - fun with words

Above is a word cloud based on my Delicious links. So there is probably some scientific study to show that words displayed as above provide quicker snapshots of information than any other method - then again maybe there isn't.

Anyhoo, me being equally left and right brained I like pictures as much as facts and figures. A word cloud such as this is a great way for people like me to get across a topic in a short amount of time.

The one I created above used, which I was directed to when I saw this blog post by Deepak Singh, that used the word cloud as a speak-bio outlining the Deepak's interests via his delicious links.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fail ad #003 - email marketing at its worst

Thanks to CEO of Socialtext, Eugene Lee, and his Twitter post for pointing out this Fail Ad that Zoli Edros has blogged about on Cloud Ave.

People received the above email ad in the USA which, when reading just looks like a badly worded spammy email, but when you find out the actual email subject line was ...

"If you want to keep your job, use Spoke"

... it is just plain bad.

This arrived via Twitter - the public soap box that kills brand reputation quicker than you can say "This subject line cost me my job". Here's how it goes: bad ad goes out to the public > Someone points it out on Twitter for being crap > their followers (we're talking in the hundreds) tell their followers (hundreds multiplied by hundreds) and step three > your brand reputation tanks.

I agree, you need a killer subject line to entice people to waste two minutes reading ANOTHER email, but the subject line needs to also inspire confidence. There's a reason all your viagra/debt/gambling spam starts with "big", "win", "huge", "now", "rich" - it's a simple formula that even the worst spammers know about.

So, Spoke, I would strongly suggest that you call up one of your customers that do email marketing for a living and get few pointers on how to actually write a proper subject line.

UPDATE: 14/11/2008

OK, So after sleeping on this post I think it may be a little harsh. Email marketing is a tough gig, so while I still think it's a very bad subject line, maybe the best criticism is some constructive feedback. Here's a few alternative subject lines that would also have worked:

"Be accurate in uncertain times - use Spoke"
"Uncertainty brings change - keep up with Spoke"
"Improve your targeting even in a changing market"

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

No more hiding election activities

Well, if ever there was a sign that the people of the USA are taking back control of the election process, then I think the Internet has shown us that sign. Here are just a few of the many websites tracking the election process:

Google election results

Twitter #votereport

And, plenty more...

Crikey live blog
YouTube video your vote
Intrade prediction market election predition

And for even more, look at the Read Write Web post.

Monday, November 3, 2008

How will social networks ride out the storm?

News from China (subscription required) is that the music sharing website has shut down due to venture capitalists pulling funding because of the global financial crisis(GFC).

A survey also conducted in China has found that due to the GFC the most likely websites to fail are online video sharing websites, social networking service websites, life search websites, and Webpage game websites.

This brings me back to a previous post I wrote in the fall out of the initial Wall Street bank collapses. I questioned whether online social networks (OSNs) were a valuable place for people affected by the initial financial impacts. I found that there was considerable silence from employees affected by the bank collapses.

Without any psychological training I guess there are two schools of handling trauma, either bottle it up and get on by yourself, or share your experiences with others to confront your situation.

If the latter situation were to occur OSNs would be a perfect medium for coping with the GFC. But, it is looking like the venture capitalists are banking on the former situation and that those affected by the GFC will more likely revert to traditional methods of coping with trauma.

And I can't blame the VCs. While OSNs have been around in some form or another since the day dot for the Internet, the current incarnation of OSNs in the forms of Facebook, MySpace and the plethora Ning and KickApps networks are in their juvenile stages. The more I have researched social networks the more I have found that currently to the majority they are a novelty, something to share holiday photos and play games with.

I have found that there are two types of groups that have successfully formed strong and committed forms of OSNs: groups of people that have common strongly held beliefs and groups of technologically savvy people that may not have strongly held beliefs but are comfortable in trialling new technologies. While these two groups fuel the hype cycle and get plenty of media coverage, they are only a vocal minority.

This is the market in which the VCs are playing, and when times are tough, playing with a minority doesn't work. The old cash cows are needed to ride out the hard times.

So for me, I have to agree that OSNs have not permeated into the fabric of society - yet. The majority of the population has not had the fundamental shift in mindset that is required for someone to spill their deepest held thoughts into the public world via OSNs and the like.

I think that there are enough OSNs and community groups to keep the development of online culture growing, however if the worst economic predictions come true, I don't think that there will be enough momentum for OSNs to become the hives of conversation that they might well have been if we were a few more years down the track.