Apr 27

Another eReader Convert

Another day, another ereader convert.

Yup, another co-worker came to the office today to show off his Kindle. He admitted that my relentless raving for the Kindle pushed him over the edge. That, and he ran the numbers, and realized that he’s actually going to spend less on his reading materials. He’s a heavy reader of new non-fiction books, so the cost of shipping alone from Amazon and BN.com was apparently adding up.

He loves the Kindle and was showing it around the room. His favorite feature? His back no longer aches from lugging around books. Nice.

The falling cost of ebook readers is increasing the amount of content that you can get electronically. The improved capabilities coming from the Nook, Kindle, and the Apple iPad are inspiring content creators and even marketers to look at new ways to distribute content electronically. It’s a beautiful circle of ever-increasing growth for electronic publishing. It’s a lot like the early incarnations of websites in the 1990s, except on an accelerated timeline.

Like the early Internet — heck, like anything early in the development stage — the ebook and ereader market is going to experience explosive growth in many different directions. Some of them will be logical, especially in hindsight. Some directions will be surprising, and perhaps even illogical. Other directions will fizzle and be left to Net history and Wikipedia entries.

People jump on new technology like it’s supposed to be fully de-bugged and realized in the first or even second release. It’s never been that way. Consider the first cars or telephones or televisions or even the first computers. These devices evolved naturally, as engineers and users determined was features were valuable and which were unnecessary. It’ll be the same way with ereaders and ebooks. You can wait it out or you can jump in and be part of the virtual team that de-bugs and priortizes our future technology.

Today, one of my co-workers joined the revolution. One day, we’ll laugh about how primitive the Kindle is compared to our more advanced devices.

Apr 23

Nook – Now for Games

Nook with Chess

With all the buzz on the Apple iPad (for good reason) and the inevitable comparisons to Amazon’s Kindle, it’s easy to overlook the poor Nook.

Barnes & Nobles released the Nook amongst much fanfare, but failed to deliver enough units for the holiday season. It was a shame, really, when you consider that the Nook would have made an awesome last-minute gift.

Amazon may have won the hearts and wallets of online shoppers, but there are still lots of folks who like the traditional shopping experience. That’s the advantage that Barnes & Nobles will need to exploit more aggressively to differentiate themselves from the Kindle.

Just today, BN.com announced that the Nook now allows you to play some basic games like chess and Sudoku. Not to pick on the poor Nook because it is a dandy device. But chess and Sudoku in glorious black and white? Seriously? Is that your response to the iPad? What’s next? Pong?

Barnes & Nobles seems strangely intent on battling Apple on their turf (cool games) and Amazon on their turf (download ebooks). I’m no expert on bookselling, but I would imagine that they should be pounding the competition in places where they dominate — brick and mortar stores.

Barnes & Nobles is winning the real estate war. They claim to have 775 retail locations in the US and 636 bookstore locations. Sure, Apple has a handful of stores, but you’ll find that there are far more B&N locations. Amazon is strictly online.

Since it’s one of my favorite stores, I hope that Barnes and Nobles gets serious about making the next version of the Nook a serious mobile ereader with all the appropriate and logical features. And to do that, they need to exploit their unique value and killer app…their stores.

Apr 22

iPad vs Kindle – First Look

Apple iPad

Apple iPad

It’s nice. Really nice. The color pops, the screen is sharp, and you just don’t want to give it back.

Sure, I have a Kindle, and it’s a great ebook reader. And considering my initial assessment of the iPad, I think that the Kindle is still a better ereader.

But, wow. That iPad is just about better for everything else. Video, web browsing, games, apps. None of these are even available on my Kindle 2.0, which is looking a lot like old technology.

The iPad is really expensive. If you get the top-o-the line with 3G coverage, you’re dropping a ton of dough, even before you start paying for your phone service. Crazy as it seems, the Kindle suddenly downright inexpensive as compared to the iPad.

For everyday use, the Kindle is a great ereader. I didn’t realize how light and portable it was until I picked up the iPad. The iPad has clearly superior screen technology, but I guess that comes with dense, compact electronics that add an unusually uncomfortable weight. While reading a sample ebook (which looked much better than expected), my instinct was to rest it on a table, just to balance the weight. The Kindle, on the other hand, is pleasantly light. You hold it like a paperback novel. The iPad is like holding a textbook.

For me, of course, the iPad is a damn nice device for reading comics. The colors look amazing and digital comics are perfect for this platform.

It’s unlikely that my Kindle will be banished anytime soon, since I tend to read a lot. The e-ink technology means excellent sharpness and long battery life.

But for everyday, all-around fun, the super-cool, insanely useful iPad is the hands-down winner.

Apr 02

Twas the Night Before iPad

Apple iPad

Apple iPad

On the eve of iPad, the buzz is everywhere. Once again, Apple has managed to make themselves the topic of discussion. Every newspaper, magazine, blog, and website seems to have some sort of opinion on the iPad.

This week’s episode of Modern Family (a very funny show) even featured a major story line that included the iPad. Not just a mention, but a major, intrinsic part of the story. The iPad got some of the best product placement ever known to television.

Sure, it’s a great display of awesome or “insanely great” technology, but it’s much more than that. It’s a demonstration of how well Apple can connect with their target audience. This is a brilliant marketing story unfolding in real time.

Apple is one of those rare companies that creates a culture that they feed with well-timed and well-conceived products. They know their audience, which happens to include the media. And they play to them.

Many books have been written about Steve Jobs, the marketing of the Macintosh, the iPhone, and soon the iPad. But these are real-time chronicles. What will be interesting is the hindsight perspective that we have 10, 15, 20 years from now. It’s a brilliant marketing case study that will help us understand why we were mesmerized and powerless to the siren call of Apple’s product line.

Sure, other companies are out there trying to steal the spotlight from Apple. But people aren’t that stupid. Apple has positioned itself as a trustworthy company that people just…well…like. It’s like a wedding, and the guests adore the beautiful bride. Even if she happens to be a tablet computer.

In the meantime, I look forward to reading the breathless first reviews from people who stand in line all night to get the first iPads. It’s all good cheery fun that dovetails with the improving economy and the coming of Spring.

And, at least for a little while, it’s nice to be part of the Apple geek club.

LINKS: Not necessarily endorsements:

Feb 27

Apple’s 10 Billion…eBooks?

Apple iTunes Store Sells 10 Billion Songs

Ten billion. That’s how many songs have been legally downloaded from Apple’s iTunes Store.

This is what that looks like: 10,000,000,000

If it look impressive, that’s because it is. And it is significant because it may represent a small victory in the war over digital piracy. Apple has made it easy and affordable to buy music (something the record industry didn’t do themselves). As a result, people have paid money for stuff that they can easily steal.

If you own an iPod, iPhone or some other Apple device, you know that the Apple iTunes Store is really, really easy to use. Plus, they sell more than just music. You can get movies and TV shows as well.

As the iPad comes out, Apple will begin to roll out ebooks, newspapers, magazines, and other new media content. It’s going to be a broad range of materials, many of which will be purchased by the download. (Currently there is no subscription model.)

From a content perspective, this is a huge opportunity. People have grown used to getting content for free on websites. Few websites have managed to get money out of their visitors. Marvel Digital and Disney Digital have online subscription models, but those are premiere brands with highly exclusive content resources and characters.

As the iPad hits the streets, Apple is going to be working hard to get you to pay for content. Amazon already gets people to pay for ebooks and blogs on the Kindle, so there is a segment of the population prepared to pay for content.

No, don’t get me wrong. I am not looking forward to paying for stuff that I am getting free today, but that’s how it goes. Only so many websites and publishers can survive on the freemium model. Eventually someone is going to have to pay.

Sure, there will always be people who figure out a way to get stuff for free. In fact, many pirates don’t rip DVDs and MP3s because they want the media. They do it because they enjoy the challenge of cracking the code or beating the system. (And DRM doesn’t seem to work.)

With ereaders like the Kindle, Nook, and iPad, publishers are going to have to figure out a way to get people to buy digital books and magazines. Free is not a sustainable business model for most publishers. As the music industry will attest, it’s not going to be easy, but it is possible to get people to pay for media.

Price them right, make them easy to get, and maybe in a few years I’ll be blogging about how there were 10 billion ebooks sold on the Apple store.


Feb 02

iPad – What It Is, What It Isn’t

The Apple iPad has polarized technogeeks, industry professionals, and average consumers. This new electronic device has sparked debates about what it is, what it isn’t and what it should be.

Once again, let’s just break it down and give it a quick analysis.

What iPad Is:
Apple iPad is a consumer entertainment device
. It will have built-in multimedia capabilities that will allow you to use it to watch movies, check email, surf the Inter-web, and read short ebooks. It’ll be a pretty nifty device that will also allow you to play certain video games and apps that have already appeared in the iTunes App Store.

That, and maybe a few other things. For about $499 – $899, this limited-use device will give you some entertainment and maybe some other ephemeral enjoyment. Simply put, the iPad is a device marketed to play certain types of content.

But the techno-knows are experiencing some level of angst that the new iPad has not — and probably will not — solve world hunger, peace, or even cancer. (In the first few weeks, however, even the geekiest of guys may find that it attracts chicks. Temporarily.)

Tech experts have been going on and on and on about what the iPad doesn’t do. And for the most part, they’re right. The iPad isn’t a panacea to all problems. (Note: Look up the word “panacea.” It’s a rather cool and satisfying word.)

So I have compiled an additional list of things that the iPad “is not.”

What iPad Isn’t:

  • Chick-fil-A sandwich
  • Kindle 2
  • Panacea to all problems (don’t you wish you looked up that word already?)
  • Pair of tube socks
  • Toaster oven
  • An actual apple
  • Device to bend the time-space continuum
  • Whipped cream
  • Monkey
  • 1970 Mercury Cougar

You see? The iPad is something. And it’s also not a lot of other things. Feel better now?

Cheer up. Apple is brilliantly marketing iPad as something that they will manufacture and sell to people who want that something. This may irritate people who feel like the “something” that Apple makes should have been “something else” with some “other somethings” built into the “thing.”

Or “something” like that.

Jan 27

iPad – Content, Marketing & Comics

Steve Jobs presents the iPad

Steve Jobs presents the iPad

If you’re a Macintosh fan or a Steve Jobs zombie (Jobzie?) today was like Christmas. Maybe even better. Today, as if you didn’t know already, Apple finally announced the long-awaited tablet device “iPad.”

If you follow this blog, you know that I primarily talk about content, interactive media, and marketing. Oh yeah, and occasionally comic books. So let’s talk about what the iPad means for each of my favorite topics:

  • Content: Well, as I’ve said before, it all comes down to content. The best device in the world will only go so far on mediocre content. Touch screens are cool, but they need to be worth the extra cost.
    Positive: As usual, Apple fully delivers on the iPad. Right out of the gate, you’ll be able to tap into the iTunes store for eBooks, videos, games, and music. Plus there’s probably a lot more content on the way. You can buy the iPad knowing that Apple will provide plenty of content in full, brilliant multimedia and color.
    Negative: It’s hard not to compare the iPad to the Kindle when it comes to reading ebooks. At this point, it looks like Kindle’s e-ink has an advantage over the iPad’s screen. It’s just nicer to read books on a reflective surface, as opposed to an active matrix display. Sorry, color just isn’t that important for the enjoyment of text, particularly long-form prose.
  • Interactive media: We’re now in a society where we fully expect to be able to interact with a certain amount of media. And Apple doesn’t disappoint here. The iPad is packed with nifty new tech that will allow us to touch, drag, scale, and game. We are at the tip of the creative iceberg, and it’s exciting to just dream about the amazing applications that will take advantage of the iPad platform.
    Positive: What’s not to like? It’s going to revolutionize gaming and allow you to take your fun wherever you go. As a parent, I love portable movies and games. Apps are what made the iPhone special, and the same tech will work on the iPad. Nice.
    Negative: It looks like I may have to re-purchase movies that I have on DVD so they play on the iPad. Something tells me I will be buying a lot of stuff to feed my iPad.
  • Marketing: At the core, Apple is an electronics manufacturer, but somehow they have managed to position themselves miles above the rest of the industry. Their brand is huge. No other manufacturer can launch a product quite like Apple. Plus Steve Jobs knows how to give a presentation. If you’re a marketer, take a close look at your lame PowerPoint decks and ask yourself if you can somehow do better. (You can.) Apple’s marketing is a brilliant mix of art, science, and magic. This is what they should study in universities.
    Positive: Apple breaks many marketing rules, but somehow they make it work. We can all learn from them when it comes to branding and event marketing. Apple makes it look easy, even though they are probably working like mad in the days leading up to the event.
    Negative: What they do as marketers isn’t really taught in school. And try as they may, very few marketers can match their magic formula for generating excitement around product launches. But is this really a negative? Nah, it gives us marketers an achievement goal.
  • Comics: It’s hard to say how this will affect the comic book business. Comics are already being pirated and distributed through torrents. Up until now, people had to buy printed comics to get a decent experience. Sure, you could read a pirated comic on your computer monitor, but the mechanics were wrong. Monitors are horizontal, while comics are vertical. Marvel’s Digital Comics actually give a pretty good experience, but it still required you to be sitting in front of your computer. I work in front of a computer all day, so sitting at my desk to read is a bit unappealing. Printed comics are still my favorite way to read full-color comic books. But for how long?
    Positive: The iPad could make reading comics really exciting. I would love to read my monthly titles on a nice, clear tablet. I could store them on the device (as opposed to reading them in the cloud), that would free up a lot of space in my house. Set the right price, and I will pay for a digital subscription to my favorite comics. I’m ready, let’s go.
    Negative: The pirates are already killing comics the way they nearly killed music and movies. If piracy doesn’t stop, it won’t make economic sense to create comics. Easy file sharing and torrents could kill mainstream comics as we know them today. The iPad just gives the pirates a better platform for sharing files.

So that’s it. The ‘Net and the pundits are already buzzing about the iPad. I’m going to immerse myself in the excitement and optimism.

Merry Christmas, Apple fans.

Jan 21

Good Content in New Channels


Win the blue ribbon for creating good content.

As the tech world breathlessly awaits the new technological wonder by Apple, it’s worth taking a step back and recognizing what this is all about. Y’know, deep down.

It’s about Content. Content with a capital C. The kind of content that will make the Apple iPad tablet device worth buying.

Superior hardware is great. But without content, it’s going to get dull fast. And with faster processors and cheap RAM, dull happens at mind-boggling speed.

There is a tablet PC and ebook ereader war brimming on the horizon. Cheap laptop versus Netbook versus ereader. Kindle versus Nook versus Sony Reader versus Skiff.

But the excitement isn’t really about the hardware. It’s about the content experience the technology will bring. And here’s the really important point: We all know that this type of content already exists. We can close our eyes and imagine how cool it will actually be when we can buy it. It’s a Jetsons fantasy.

Every week Hollywood releases a new action-packed thriller dripping with special effects. Of course, these movies find a core audience, but they usually come and go fairly quickly. Many people avoid these movies because the plots simply string together the special effects. And yet, audiences came out in droves to watch Avatar. It had enough story to make the special effects relevant and necessary.

IMax, 3D, and special effects existed long before Avatar. It’s just that people heard that the story was good (it was) and the special effects were awesome (they were). So people not ordinarily inclined to run out to the theater and wear 3D glasses went to see Avatar.

So what’s this mean to you?

Well, if you’re a content creator, it could mean a lot. If you create good content, some of  it may find life on another device. People with a tablet will be looking for content, so you and your target audience have another opportunity to discover each other. Think of it as Content Meets Opportunity.

If you’re a marketer, then you gain a new channel for sharing your brand benefits. People want to discover new products and services that make their lives better, easier, or more fulfilling. If you have a brand that does that, your audience will want to know more about it. They may even want to try it before they buy it. New channels mean new ways to connect with your target audience.

The iPod changed the way we interacted with music. And the iPhone changed the way we thought of applications. These devices became personal lifestyle extensions. So, yes, there’s good reason to be excited about Apple’s “big announcement.”

However. If you create lazy, uninspired content or you hype mediocre brands, please don’t bring it to this new device. Let’s not clutter brand new screens with irrelevant content or messaging. Nobody wants it or needs it.

And now, let the tablet wars begin!

Jan 01

10 Marketing Tech Predictions for 2010

2010-PredictionsI’m a total nut for tech predictions. Love ‘em. Not only does it get me excited about the future of technology, it warms my marketer’s heart. Every new tech channel represents a new way for marketers to communicate with their target audience. And for people to discover brands and solutions that they actually want.

Since I primarily write about tech trends that affect marketers, here are my:

The Words + Pictures = Web
10 Marketing | Tech Predictions for 2010

1. Widgets and Apps Will Explode
Yes, we saw a pretty big year for Apps, thanks to the iTunes store servicing the iPhone and iTouch. But with Android and Kindle and even HP having stores, we’re going to see a big, fast expansion of useful apps. And people will want these apps to synchronize across devices and platforms.
What it means for marketers: A lot. Brands that create useful apps will see adoption rates soar. It doesn’t matter if it’s branded. If people need something, they will use it. If it happens to keep your brand top of mind, well, then good for you.

2. Web Analytics Will Improve
Every marketing initiative needs to have some sort of measurable ROI. Without a strong analytic package, you can’t tell what works and what doesn’t. The tools that we use are probably (hopefully) going to get better now that Adobe owns Omniture. Even free packages like Google Analytics are getting better, which pushes paid solutions like WebTrend and Omniture to innovate to remain competitive. Expect to see better tools for measuring Flash.
What it means for marketers: Good news for marketers who like numbers. Now, you will have even more numbers.

3. Microsoft Will Strike Back
Signs of life are bubbling up again from Redmond. Microsoft took a beating from Google, which has reinvigorated their competitive spirit. Bing is turning out to be a pretty decent search engine, which is encouraging for search marketers.
What it means for marketers: Microsoft is serious about making money in search, so they are actively courting search marketers. We’re already seeing them push Google to release new features, which is good for everyone. If you are using search engine marketing (SEM) campaigns, you can expect more options from Bing. And from Google, who will continue to maintain their lead.

4. Tech Will Move Off the Desktop
In recent years, everything has been focused on the desktop. But powerful mobile tools have changed the way we interact with websites. The traditional desktop will survive 2010, but it won’t be the only way people interact with the web.
What it means for marketers: It means that every new device — from the Kindle to the television — is now a new channel to communicate with customers. Smart marketers will be putting messages everywhere.

5. Newspapers Will Slip Further
Okay, this one is almost a little mean. Like teasing the short fat kid in school for being, well, short and fat. But newspapers are going to slip even more rapidly than they did in 2009. In the end, it’s likely that we’ll end up with a few national papers (like USA Today), a few regional papers (like New York Times), and maybe a few weekly local papers.
What it means for marketers: It’s a mixed bag. If you have a good PR team, you can get a story on the wires and have it syndicate to a lot of readers. That’s very encouraging. But with fewer reporters and papers, it’s going to get harder to get some ink. With less print out there, it will get a little more challenging to communicate with older demographics.

6. Mobile Marketing Will Get Sophisticated
We’ve been marketing to mobile devices for years now. Some agencies are quite good at it, but sadly, many more are not. Most mobile marketing is pretty lame. This year we’ll see the good agencies roll out marketing campaigns that make full use of mobile devices. Right now, mobile marketing is still rather simple. Look for more sophisticated and personalized applications.
What it means to marketers: It means that mobile content and incentives will need to be formatted for multiple screens. Don’t expect users to wait for your massive homepage to load.

7. Electronic Coupons Will Become Location Aware
Everybody loves a good discount. But if you forget your coupon at home, you may wait until the next trip to the store before you make a purchase. That’s a missed opportunity for brands. Many new devices have location-based software, so more marketers will figure out how to use this for offering coupons and incentives at just the right moment….like when they’re in close proximity to a store.
What it means for marketers: More sales and happier customers. Also, brick and mortar stores will star to win back customers from online shoppers.

8. Content Marketing Will Matter Again
Traditional media is slipping fast. That doesn’t mean people don’t need content. People want to know more about the product you sell, but also about how your product compares in the category. Content marketing will mean that your content must be fresh and vital for your target. Set it and forget it? Forget that. Write more content and make sure it’s formatted properly for the channel.
What it means for marketers: Make friends with a good copywriter. Try to tap them for ideas on how to update websites and other resources, so that your are providing proactive content for your audience.

9. Social Media Marketing Will Mature
Over the last few years, social media channels have become an effective way to connect people and products. But as the audience grows and diversifies, Facebook (and other social channels) will offer more mature and measurable ways to talk to targets. Banner ads? Sure, for certain awareness campaigns. But also look for more powerful fan-page types of services that give more flexibility and power to the brand.
What it means for marketers: Social media is probably going to get more expensive, but you’ll get more for your dollars.

10. New Hardware Will Change Brand Messaging
Kindles, iPhones, and the eagerly anticipated Apple tablet will give us new and interesting ways to tell people about our brands. But as the hardware becomes more powerful, it takes longer to figure out how to truly use it effectively. Initially, we just mash up existing technologies with new technologies (look it’s video…and now it’s on an iPhone!). New hardware will give us some immediate and measurable ways to deliver messages. But this year we’re going to peel back another layer to these devices, and discover new applications and opportunities.
What it means for marketers: Figure out how your message scales to new hardware before the competition figures it out first.

So there you go. Those are some of the tech trends that I believe will affect marketers in 2010. I’m sure I’ve missed a few things, but now you know what sort of stuff I’ll be working on this year.

Did I miss anything? Let me know your thoughts.

Dec 28

Kindle Sells Big for Holidays

Kindle DXAmazon’s announcement that they sold a lot of Kindle 2 ereaders comes as no surprise. The big news was that, according to Amazon, the Kindle was the best selling item ever on Amazon.com.

Okay, that’s big news for several reasons. For starters, the obvious is that the reading public seems ready for another tech toy, even if it’s kind of expensive and primarily a single-use device. It’s also big news for Barnes & Nobles, which seems to have missed a big opportunity by not being ready with their Nook ereader for this holiday season.

I went to the B&N store near my house and checked out the Nook. It was, as I expected, just like the Kindle. I mean, other than the somewhat minor difference in navigation (that little color strip at the bottom), it looked and felt like my Kindle. Except…well, except I couldn’t buy one on impulse. Ironically, I did leave purchasing a Sudoku book as a Christmas gift. Print, for my analog father.

Borders recently announced that they’d be selling ebooks. It’s sort of sad, though, since the Borders near my house is now going out of business. I’d purchased a lot of books from that store over the years and I’m sad to see them go, but Borders is starting to look like a casualty of a much larger war being waged among bigger, better armed opponents.

And, addressing the 800 pound gorilla in the room, everyone is talking about the eagerly anticipated Apple tablet. The tech press thinks that it will be dubbed the iSlate or iTablet, since Apple seems to own the domain name iTablet.com.

Anyway, if Apple actually enters the tablet PC market — and offers ebook reading software — this could have a significant effect on how we read and consume books. And if you read comics, a color tablet will quickly change how you buy and collect comic books. The aspect ratio of a vertical tablet will complement how current comic books are formatted.

If the iTablet is like a giant iPod Touch or iPhone, as some experts predict, it will be an amazing, game-changing device.

Lots of excitement out there. Sad to see Borders go. Looking forward to the iTablet. Hope the Barnes & Nobles near my house stays in business.