BN vs Amazon for What’s Left of Books

As Borders closes, their discounts on books increase.

Books are dying. Actually, if you believe the pundits, almost all of print is dying.

As someone who used to work in print publishing, I see many friends looking for new jobs. So, yeah, I tend to agree with the pundits on this one. Books are dying, and I am not happy about it.

As Borders closes the book on their business as booksellers, you can’t help but wonder what’s next for the entire publishing business. As an author of four books (and a fifth one coming!), I am more than just a little concerned about the untimely but not entirely surprising demise of this significant retailer. Continue reading

Amazon’s Freemium Music Cloud

Amazon Cloud Player Locker UploaderIf nothing else, we now know for sure that server space and bandwidth has gotten cheap. So cheap, in fact, that they can’t give it away fast enough.

Amazon just announced their new music digital locker service, appropriately named Amazon Cloud Drive. If you already use Amazon, you get 5Gb of free storage space. And it’s not just storage space, you can actually upload your own personal music files and stream music to your device or desktop.

Are there other places where you can upload files for free? Sure, Dropbox.com and Google Docs have offered this kind of solution for a while. Services like these allow you ample space to FTP files to yourself or other people. It prettymuch eliminates the need for USB keys, which always seem to get lost or stolen.

Amazon goes one step further by adding a terrific music player and upload app that works on Mac and PC. If you don’t have it already, Amazon automatically downloads and installs Adobe Air, which is free and is useful for apps like TweetDeck. Best of all, it’s incredibly easy and fun, even for people who are fairly low tech.

Continue reading

B&N & Traditional Publishing Strike Back

As the Amazon juggernaut continues to steamroll over the retail world, it’s hard to imagine how traditional brick and mortar stores can compete. It’s especially dire in the print world where traditional bookstores are closing constantly.

The Kindle and iPad ereaders have become amazingly efficient resources for consuming media.

While things may seem dark, there’s still a glimmer of hope out there. Barnes & Nobles seems to be getting smarter and competing harder. I like this, I really do. (Although I must admit, I am a little underwhelmed by the Nook.)

B&N in Paramus, NJ

Tonight at the Barnes & Nobles in Paramus, NJ, they were hosting a celebrity signing event featuring Alton Brown, who was promoting his book Good Eats 2: The Middle Years. The parking lot was mobbed, as people were trying to get into the store. Just for reference, today is a Tuesday in October. It’s not a day typically associated with crazed shoppers.

For all that they can do (and they can do a LOT), Amazon really can’t match this kind of retail-location event hoopla. Think of it. People got up, left their desktop computers, and trekked over to a store. That’s motivation and calls to action. That’s real action, not just clicking a link.

There are other bookstores, including the Bookends store in Ridgewood, NJ that has been surviving on celebrity appearances. Recent book celebs have included Vince Neil of Motley Crue, Marlo Thomas, Lance Armstrong, Ozzy, and Al Gore to name a few. You’ll notice in both stores the big marquee names are celebrities and other famous people. That’s okay because those kinds of books have always fueled the book industry. Both stores also include “real” authors, at least how mainstream fiction readers would define a real author. It’s a nice marketing mix that sells product.

I don’t want to see retail whither and die. There’s still something nice about being able to go to a real, physical store and discovering something new and interesting. It’s useful to be able to make an actual purchase and not wait for delivery. And if you go to a bookstore, you can meet the author and get your book signed. Take that, Kindle!

And because I am a published author, I like the idea of real bookstores selling real books. It’s good for the book ecosystem and for my royalty checks. Speaking of, my royalty checks have gotten smaller. Would it kill you to buy one of my books?

iPad – Week 1

Apple iPad

Apple iPad

It’s been a week, and I do believe I am in love. Well, at least serious infatuation.

One week with the Apple iPad, and I’m wondering two things:

  1. How did I live without the iPad before this?
  2. Why is free WiFi still so hard to find?

Here’s what I love about the new iPad:

What I don’t love:

  • Screen that seems to pick up a little too many fingerprints
  • Shiny display that is difficult to read outside on a nice day
  • Bit too heavy and wide
  • Apps that still haven’t been reprogrammed from the iPhone to the iPad

The Amazon Kindle still holds a place in my backpack, just based on super-light portability. But the iPad sure does offer a lot more function and fun.

And this is just the first week. Not bad, Apple. Very impressed.

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.

LINKS – NOT NECESSARILY ENDORSEMENTS:

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.

5 Tipping Points for eReader Technology

I’m an early adopter. If you create a new website, I will visit it. Develop a new gadget, I will buy it. That’s what early adopters do. We go in early, check things out, invite you to join us, and then complain that it was better before you got here.

Anyway. I’ve been talking about ebook readers a lot recently, both here online and at work. People are really starting to get excited about ebook readers, especially around the holiday season.

Some people (including myself) are predicting that 2010 will be a big year for ereaders. It may not be the obvious tipping point where ereaders go mainstream, but the tipping will begin to, well, get tipsy.

Here’s what needs to happen before we see ebooks and ereaders become as mainstream as, say, iPods and TiVos. (That is, as mainstream as they will become relative to the people willing to voluntarily buy new and interesting technology.)

1. A profit model. Publishers are dipping their toes in the water, but it’s really hard for book publishers to rally behind a bestseller priced at $9.99 when they are used to selling them for $24.99. Sure, you can tell publishers that they are cutting out printing and distribution costs, but that’s a cost that they’ve already internalized as part of being in publishing. A real profit model will need to be fair not only to publishers and authors, but also to retailers. Right now the retailer (like Amazon) has inordinate power, but that will likely shift. Publishing is a business. Writing, for many authors, is a career. We need professionals to create consistently professional product. And for that, they need to make money. It’s great to buy books for $0.99, but it just doesn’t make economic sense to sell a book for that price. People have become accustomed to getting everything for free on the Internet, but books are going to have to find a way to be profitable in this “free world.”

2. Color screens. This, of all the complaints about ereader, is the one I hear the most. When people check out my Kindle, they are immediately impressed with the eInk technology. It’s a reflective medium, so it’s easier to read then people would expect. But they fall back on, “I’ll get one when they come out in color.” The reality is that people read in black and white, not color. But color capabilities will be a major tipping point for a lot of people. Even though they’ll actually be reading the actual words in black and white, people want color.

3. An Apple solution. Apple knows user experience. If they make something, we trust that even the first version will have a quality user experience. Many of us are willing to pay a premium for that. So the day that Steve Jobs tell us “one more thing” and presents an ereader solution, lots of people will rush out and buy one. Amazon has done such a great job with the Kindle that it actually looks like a product that Apple would create. That, no doubt, has been one of the reasons for the Kindle’s early success. So if and when Apple gets into this space, we’ll see more people take ereaders seriously as must-have devices.

4. Universal micropayments. Right now, payments are still being strangled by credit card fees. If you join PayPal, you get slightly lower fees, but it’s still a pretty expensive system. Closed ecosystems like Amazon and the iTunes store are enabling publishers and retailers to produce content and set very low point-of-purchase prices. But people want to compare prices and shop at their favorite stores. Universal micropayment solutions, like ewallets (remember those), will lower barriers to products that Amazon and iTunes can’t or won’t carry. This is an industry-wide challenge. But whoever solves it, will likely become very, very rich.

5. Brick and mortar retail. I like shopping online as much as the next guy. But not everyone wants to submit their credit cards over the tubes. Barnes & Nobles and Borders are already spinning plans to create physical transactions for virtual books. At Radio Shack, I saw them selling casual games on USB keys. That’s the kind of product someone wants to have in their hands, especially if they are buying a gift product. iTunes is nice for something that you buy and download yourself, but giving someone a gift in person is more satisfying if you can hand them something. The Barnes & Nobles near my house set up a beautiful kiosk to demonstrate the soon-to-be-available Nook. Since you can’t actually touch one until you buy it, the Kindle is a leap of faith, and so are the books that you put on it.

Are there other barriers to ebooks and ebook readers? Sure. Price, habit, and skepticism are among the top contenders. Heck, even having too many devices is an obvious barrier.

The move from printed books to electronic books is inevitable. It’s the tipping point that fascinates me.

USA Today – EBooks to Increase

usat_logo2Interesting article on eBooks and Amazon in USA Today.

Tension grows as publishers target Amazon Kindle pricing
http://www.usatoday.com/tech/products/2009-12-11-ebooks11_CV_N.htm

Forrester Research estimates that domestic consumers will buy 6 million e-readers in 2010, up from 3 million this year. “For the first time in history, consumers are realizing that reading books digitally can be a pleasurable experience,” Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps says. And that means “the sky’s the limit” for sales of e-readers and e-books.

There are quite a few similarities between the Kindle and the iPod in terms of fixed pricing. Consumers love the low price of MP3s in Apple’s iTunes Store. So Amazon has been copying that by selling new bestsellers at around $9.99, while the print version is about $25. Publishers are unhappy about this for many reasons, but it’s a trend that’s going to be difficult to prevent.

The big rumors are that Apple will eventually release a tablet computer that may even rival the reading quality of these ebook readers. If that happens, there’s going to be a pricing war to sell the cheapest books, magazines, and other content for ereaders. After all, once someone commits to one of these online stores (like iTunes), it’s probably difficult to get them to leave.

I do a lot of shopping on Amazon. It’s unlikely that I’d leave the Amazon experience to shop in the Sony store. If I had a Nook, I’d shop the BN.com online store, since it has a really terrific selection of books. And I’d definitely shop on iTunes, since I already buy most of my music there.

Some Links:

Follow Me on Your Kindle

Love Words + Pictures = Web, but don’t want to sit in front of your computer monitor anymore? Well, now you can get your W+P=W beamed magically to your Kindle!

Yes, that’s right ebook fans. You can now carry me in your backpack, your purse or even curl up with me in bed. Read about ereading on your favorite ereader!

But that’s not all, you’ll get geeky blog posts about emarketing, interactive content, and maybe even comic books. So what are you waiting for?

Go check out the Words+Pictures=Web Marketing Tech Kindle Edition and impress your friends with your high tech brainy marketing knowledge.

My Blog on Kindle

Will Amazon Add Prescriptions?

amazon_logo-1024As I begin to assemble my 2010 tech predictions (a silly, but fun tradition among bloggers and other media types), I find myself stopping frequently to shop. Well, not shop exactly, more like check Amazon to see if a product exists. Y’see Amazon has grown so all-encompassing that it’s become something of a reality check for products.

You can order almost any product from Amazon. Since Amazon runs something of an eBay-like reseller area, they can sell things that they don’t even stock in their warehouse. I actually sell a few things on Amazon, including back issues of comics and my books.

Amazon has a secure ecommerce network, lots of customers, and a strong trusted brand name. With a greater push for digital healthcare, many more people will be shopping for their prescriptions online.

Since so many traditional pharmacies have diverse retail stores (or anchor to retail locations), consumers are already comfortable with picking up prescriptions while they shop for other products. WalMart, CVS, and other stores have strong retail and online locations that sell prescriptions.

If you have an acute condition that requires an immediate prescription, shopping online may not be the best option. But for chronic conditions that require a regularly updated prescription, reordering from an online pharmacy makes sense.

So how long before you can buy your prescriptions on Amazon? Probably not long.