Roku XDS Week 1

Roku LogoWe’re a week into it with the Roku XDS. Let’s take a moment and review a few of my initial impressions of bringing Internet video into my living room.

NetFlix experience is quite good, but I find myself playing with my Instant Queue almost as much as I watch actual movies. The NetFlix recommendation engine is amazing, and it exposed me to several movies and documentaries that were right on target. Streaming NetFlix through the Roku is a pleasure.

Hulu Plus is definitely attractive, since I am a big fan of well-produced television shows. Something about a serialized story appeals to me in both comics and TV. However, adding another $7.99 monthly subscription on top of the NetFlix sub is going to get expensive fast.  At this point, NetFlix seems to have an adequate collection of TV shows, so I’ll stick with that for a while.

Adding custom channels is pretty easy, so I have updated the Roku XDS with Blip.tv and Revision3. Here the experience is rather uneven. The connection and content are fine, but some of the programming is barely a step above cable access. It’s too bad because I like the idea of watching long-tail TV shows.

That said, I am happy to watch iFanboy on Revision3 much more than I do on my laptop. Big improvement.

NetFlix LogoIt’s worth noting that this whole Roku and NetFlix upgrade traces back to the local movie theater raising prices last year. The ticket price of a first-run movie increased one week from $9 to $11. Just to be clear, I typically went to the movies on a Tuesday and the price increase was on regular 2D films. I can understand the price increase on 3D movies because there are special projectors, glasses, and good stuff like that.

It’s not like I couldn’t afford the $2, but it was kind of annoying that they skipped over $10 and went right to $11. Product pricing and perceived value is certainly a psychological game in every industry. In this case, the price jump bummed me out, and I was in the habit of seeing a new movie just about every week.

But I still need my movie fix…and good luck trying to find a local video rental store. Okay, we have a RedBox near us, but for whatever reason, I just never remember that when I am in movie mode.

So NetFlix on the Roku has filled the void left by regular movie theaters. It’s not quite the same, but the combined depth and variety of their library of movies, TV shows, and other content is truly impressive.

I’m looking forward to exploring more channels on the Roku, just to see what’s available. There are a few premium paid channels, and if the content is good and the price is right, I may give them a try.

Well, one week in and I am pretty happy with the Roku. I haven’t really explored it fully, nor have I tried plugging anything into the USB slot. Check back again for more Roku, NetFlix and other streaming reports.

More good readin’:

Write Less, Say More

As most copywriters will agree, it’s actually more difficult to write less than to write more. It’s easy to blabber on until you get around to making your point. That’s fairly easy.

Write tight. Now that’s hard.

This is especially true online. People aren’t necessarily looking to “read” your magical prose. They are looking to get to their destination content. They want you to help them get there with the least amount of clutter. Words — when abused — can be clutter.

Google is a company that is always trying to gain an extra edge in efficiency. Their famously austere homepage shows that they want nothing to stand in the way of your search.

Google gave Gmail a makeover. For those of you who are unfamiliar with their old homepage, they provided a side-by-side comparison. According to Google, they cut some 250 words from their copy. They are literally saying more by saying less. Or at least using fewer words.

It’s important to recognize when your reader actually wants more detail, particularly when they are trying to determine if your product or service is what they want. At that point, you need to give them the information they need to make a decision about your product or service.

Check out your own website. Could your copy go for a little nip/tuck? Is your otherwise smart, valuable service drowning in a sea of prose? If so, sharpen your pencils and start editing.

More reading:

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.

5 Reasons You’ll Be Using an EReader in 2 Years

sony-reader-prs505-b

Sony Reader PRS-505

Do you look at ereaders and ebooks and wonder “what’s the big deal?” Then you’re probably like a lot of people who understand the technology, but figure that printed books, laptops, and iPhones are good enough.

Yeah, hate to break it to you, but in about two years, you’ll be using an ereader. It won’t look like today’s Kindle or Nook, but it won’t be that different either. Ereaders are an inevitable next-step technology.

The W+P=W Top 5 Reasons You Will Be Using an EReader in Two Years

1. Prices will drop.
Paying $200 for a device like a Sony eReader when you can read a book for free? Crazy, right? Well, not so fast. Is the book you’re reading actually free or did someone pay for it already? That’s right, someone paid for the media, even if it’s in a public library. As for the device, let’s not judge future prices by today’s prices. If that were the case, nobody could afford a plasma or LCD television in their home. Early home entertainment systems are always expensive, until manufacturers can figure out a way to drive down costs.

Today’s ereaders are relatively cheap for new technology. Expect cheaper prices, starting this year. In two years, they’ll be selling them at garage sales. Tech always starts high and comes down.

2. eBook exclusives.
Why read a digitial book when a perfectly good print version is there on the shelf? Well, just wait until the book you really, really want to read is only available in ebook format. Or the book that you have to read for work or school. Yeah, it’s going to happen, and sooner than you want it to. As you may know, I have published comics in the past. Nothing big, but I did enough to realize that more than 50% of my costs were going to printing and shipping. It’s the same for mainstream publishers as well.

Soon, publishers will release certain books only in digital formats. It’s probably going to start with textbooks, since there are 37 million kids in US schools alone. And they don’t get to choose what they read, right?

3. Free channels will fade.
When was the last time you went to a music store to buy new music? Yeah, same here. If you have an iPod, you’ve probably used Apple’s iTunes store. I love the Amazon store for new music. Every other strip mall in America used to have a record shop. Not anymore.

Now, with bookstores fading into the sunset, you’re going to be forced to do some shopping online. But print books, still need to be shipped. If you buy from Amazon, that price is fixed at $3.99 (before free shipping incentives). And the costs of shipping keep going up, up, up. One day, the cost of shipping a book will be prohibitively high. So high, that it will not make sense to buy a print book over the Net. Meanwhile, the delivery cost of an ebook will tend to remain fairly constant at $0.

Oh, and one more thing about “channels.” You know, when I was a young one, nobody could imagine paying for television. People scoffed at the idea of paying for cable TV, especially when you could just pull up the antenna and get reception. And yet, now paying for cable television is just another bill. In the future an ebook reader will be another device that you keep around the house for your basic reading needs.

4. Picture better pictures.
Right now, the graphics on Kindle are perfect for text. Pictures? Nah-so-good. The images are barely passable and sometimes downright unreadable. Lame.

In fact, the ebook reader of tomorrow probably looks a lot like your laptop of today. Except the ereader of the future will almost certainly have a touch display. Better pictures, movie watching, and web browsing will all eventually be included in high-end ereaders. Asus today announced the DR-570, a color ereader. Brilliant color pictures and 122 hours of battery life, at least that’s what they are claiming.

5. Content creators will want ereaders.
You may not pay for content, including pictures, words, and videos. Radio is free. Television is free (even though you pay for the wire into your house). But someone, somewhere is paying for it. Writers and editors and production people all need to get paid.

So the people who actually create content, like publishers, and the people who pay them (the advertisers) are already lining up behind new technology. Content creators will push hard for ereaders, especially since it will give them a new way to aggregate their content. Yes, piracy will run rampant, but enough people are willing to pay for good content that it will drive down the cost of the devices.

More importantly, content creators will gain access to incredibly detailed statistical reports. Old media is saddled with old-style reporting. New media advertisers want details about user behavior. eReaders will bridge that gap and make the medium instantly useful and credible in the eyes of advertisers. They will bring their dollars to this new medium, making it possible for content publishers to pay the people who create the content.

So, yeah, those are my Top 5 reasons why you’ll be reading from an ebook reader in under two years. There are probably more, but I’ve got a hot date with my Kindle and my favorite blogs. (Yes, I read blogs on my Kindle.)

Top 5 Things I’ll Pay for on the Web

As the bad economy grinds on, there are massive shifts in all industries. Many good websites have been funded (in part) by advertising, venture capitalist funds, and subscription models.

But as these revenue channels evaporate (for some websites), we’re seeing a shift in the Net economy. Good services need to find a proper revenue stream. And…get ready, gang…some of these websites are going to eventually charge a fee.

Apple’s iTunes Store and Amazon’s Kindle 2 are slowly making it possible for certain sites to turn a profit on micro-payments. But those sites sell stuff. For other sites, we’ll see a greater emphasis on Freemium models.

It got me thinking about what I would be willing to pay for, so I compiled a list of:

Top 5 Things I’ll Pay for on the Web

1. Email.
Yes, I know email is free. But I would be willing right now to pay for GMail, if it promised greater security and features. They provide an awesome service, but we’re still computing in the cloud, which makes email particularly vulnerable. Think about how many emails you’re getting that could be giving tiny bits of financial, health, or security information away. I’d pay to upgrade to something that would offer a greater level of security and privacy.

2. Electronic Health Records.
The Obama administration has placed a strong emphasis on building up the infrastructure of our health system. With that is an even stronger focus on electronic medical records (EMR). Right now there are several companies offering free EMR tracking solutions, including Google, Microsoft, and some health insurers. They’re going to have to get paid from someone, and if they’re not charging YOU for YOUR information, where will they get their money? I’d pay for EMRs that hire good quality employees and conduct full background checks.

3. Reviews.
In the old days, professional journalists were hired to be product and movie review experts. There was an editorial system of checks and balances to ensure that newspapers and magazines were unbiased. Consumer Reports was famous for not accepting any advertising, so you had to pay for their reviews. Now, to be a reviewer, all you really need is an opinion and an email address. There are hundreds of sites hungry for content, so they accept submissions from reviewers with no experience. These reviews may be spot-on or they may be looking to build a personal network, reputation, or whatever. In my experience working in pop culture, I’ve found that SOME reviewers are frustrated creators, offering opinions on stuff they think they can do better. Not all, some. But it’s that minority voice…the one with an axe to grind…that can damage a creator’s career and reputation.  So I’d be willing to pay for reviews on a site where professional reviewers were (a) experienced, (b) unbiased, (c) well-rounded, (d) had editors, and (e) were paid for their professional opinions. Check out Johanna Draper Carlson’s article How to Review.

4. Cloud Computing & Software as a Service.
My trusty old G5 Mac is still running classic boxed software. But as the line begins to blur between the desktop and the web, we’re seeing better software options. Right now, Google, Microsoft, Zoho, OpenOffice, and a dozen other sites are sharpening their software solutions. Eventually, as things shake out, we’ll see some clear leaders. Personally, I enjoy having my Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac. It works, even when my Internet connection doesn’t. Google Gears is already offering a similar solution, but it’s just not as robust as I’d like. Some people find the deep tools on Word and Excel to be overkill for their needs. Not me. I use power tools and look forward to the features that some people deride as bloatware. To me, these improvements are essential for solving editing, analyzing, and other business challenges. I would pay if Microsoft, Zoho, Google, or anyone could offer me (a Mac user) a full software solution with a reliable bridge between the desktop and the web.

5. Content.
Right now, nearly everything I consume online is free. News, videos, professional development…all free. Pretty amazing, considering how much it costs to create good quality content. Eventually, this model will change. Maybe ads will pay for everything, which would be like the broadcast TV model. Or it will move premium, like the cable TV model. Either way, someone has to pay for the content I want to consume. For example, I go to CNet nearly every day for tech news. CNet is an essential part of my need to stay on top of tech trends, so I have a professional motivation for keeping up with their content. And given the choice of seeing my favorite sites go out of business or paying a small subscription fee…I’ll pay the subscription.

Of course, all of this excludes services and content I already pay for, including music on the iTunes store and books for my Kindle 2.

If the Internet moved to a pay for service model, what would you pay for?

Oh, and one more thing. I tried to come up with a Top 10 list. The most I could come up with was my Top 5. Tells ya something, right?

Interesting links…not necessarily endorsements:
Five tips on charging for content from Alan Murray of WSJ.com

How can newspapers help Google?

It’s the Content, People.

Newspapers Want Consumers To Pay For Online Content

Newspapers: Throw a Lifeline to Your Newsroom

It’s not just the Internet that is killing newspapers. Newspapers are killing themselves. As the newspaper dies, it struggles to remain profitable…causing an inevitable death spiral.

Right now, newspapers could hold on longer if they could throw a lifeline to their local news reporters. Instead, to save money, newspapers are buying content from news wires. Unfortunately most people can get the same articles for free online. Making me pay for something that I can get for free isn’t really a sustainable business model.

Let me give you an example with my own daily newspaper The Record. The Record has always been part of my life, and I do not want to see it go out of business.

But here’s how the content from today’s (March 23. 2009) newspaper breaks down. I counted each homegrown article and each wire story article on every page. The newspaper was very thin today (46 pages), so it was pretty easy.

My apologies for the lame graphic. I input all the data into a Zoho.com spreadsheet. It may give advanced chart design features, but I just couldn’t figure it out. I felt it was more important to share the data, which is embedded in this graph. Feel free to utilize the info in the Zoho chart or spreadsheet.

Newspapers Homegrown Articles vs Wire Stories - http://sheet.zoho.com

This is a visual representation of how much homegrown content (56 articles) versus news-wire content (57 articles) is featured in today’s paper. That’s a 50-50 split of original content versus syndicated content.

It’s pretty obvious from the graph that the A section is mostly pulled from sources that I can get for free…and in real time. That’s just not a good way to keep readers. The A section is all available instantly on Google News.

Moving to the B section, things start to change. In the Local section, MOST of the news is relevant to me, based on region. The paper uses some syndicated sources to enhance the local news.

Over in section C, we see more wire content popping up. This is the Entertainment section, so we have a mix of regional stories and  bunch of syndicated stuff that I can get just about anywhere.

Finally over in section D, we’re in Sports and Classifieds. All of the Classifieds are local, but none of it requires a reporter.

This isn’t exclusive to my local newspaper. As you read your daily newspaper, take notice of who is writing it. If it says “staff writer” it’s written in house. But if it says “Associated Press” then you can get that article (or one just like it) from Internet news sources.

Ironically, I was planning to write this post, and in today’s Record they printed a letter from a reader who wants more local news reporting.

Saving newspapers will require more than recycling wire stories. It’s about covering local events that matter to readers. And that means throwing a lifeline to the newsroom and paying reporters to create a product that people want to buy.


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