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Joe Wikert
I'm Publishing President at Our Sunday Visitor (www.osv.com)
Interests: Hockey, baseball, football, science and technology
Recent Activity
Several smart people I follow have talked about reading a book called Loonshots, by Safi Bahcall, so I figured I better have a look. It's a great read that's loaded with interesting stories and provocative perspectives. I still have about 60 pages to go but I've already learned about how radar was almost completely overlooked as a breakthrough technology, why Pan Am is no more and how Polaroid met its demise. You might think you already know most, if not all, of these stories but I promise you the author presents new information you probably never previously heard or considered. The most intriguing part of the book is where he talks about The Moses Trap: [The Moses Trap is] when ideas advance only at the pleasure of a holy leader -- rather than the balanced exchange of ideas and feedback between soldiers in the field and creatives at the bench selecting loonshots on merit -- that is exactly when teams and companies get trapped. The leader raises his staff and parts the seas to make way for the chosen loonshot. The dangerous virtuous cycle spins faster and faster: loonshot feeds franchise feeds bigger, faster, more. The all-powerful leader begins acting for love of loonshots rather than strength of strategy. And then the wheel turns one too many times. Bahcall distinguishes between what he refers to as P-type and S-type loonshots. The former is product-based whereas the latter is strategy-based. The S-types are similar to the examples Clay Christensen refers to in my favorite business book, The Innovator's Dilemma, which is probably another reason why I've thoroughly enjoyed Loonshots. Continue reading
Posted May 5, 2019 at Joe Wikert's DisruptorFest
One answer is when you apply it in a completely different business segment. Thanks to my new favorite business podcast, Snacks Daily, I learned that the MoviePass all-you-can-watch model, which is circling the drain, is being embraced by the NY Mets in a new subscription campaign offering standing-room-only (SRO) access to almost every home game. That's brilliant. Why? For most MLB teams, revenue is not just about filling seats but also selling high-margin concessions. MoviePass is failing partially because the theaters are beholden to the movie studios. Bring the model to an entirely new business and it could flourish. In this case, there's almost no incremental cost in admitting a few thousand additional fans to the game; the same number of gate attendants are probably still required whether attendance is 20K or 23K. The likelihood of cannibalizing higher-priced seat tickets seems low so it looks like a smart way to bring more fans to the game as well as make money off over-priced sodas, hotdogs, hats, etc. It's interesting to think about other failed business models which might have potential in new categories. I expect other teams to follow the Mets' lead, even beyond MLB. Although many of those SRO fans will probably end up sneaking into an empty seat, is that really a bad thing? Empty seats are an embarrassment on a TV broadcast and this model should help reduce the number of vacancies, even though that's not the primary stated mission. It might also lead to more casual fans stopping by, taking in a few innings after dinner or before doing something else in the area. Very cool. Continue reading
Posted Mar 31, 2019 at Joe Wikert's DisruptorFest
More often than not, the best growth and disruption opportunities can be found in some of the most unexpected places. We get so hung up studying our direct competitors that we completely lose sight of a potential marketplace newcomer who isn't just out to protect the status quo. I find it's best to look beyond your obvious competitors and consider what's going on in adjacent markets. I recently had an opportunity to do just that and it resulted in me advocating and leading the due diligence for an equity stake in a very exciting startup. This particular startup, Biblezon, produces Android-powered tablets with models for adults and children. One of the cooler aspects of the latter is that there's no browser on the device, so you can safely give it to a child and never worry that they'll end up on an inappropriate website. Our company isn't in the hardware business but we do produce a lot of content every year and we have a rich, deep backlist of timeless material. Biblezon and their tablets represent an entirely new distribution channel, one that we can help develop. We're only in the very early stages of this partnership but I'm excited to see how we can work together, as adjacent businesses, to extend the reach of both organizations in the years ahead. Biblezon is definitely an adjacent business for me but it's not the only one I'm currently exploring strategic alliances and financial investments with. I'm fortunate to work in an organization where we recognize the fact that plenty of innovation and disruption happens outside our four walls. That's why it's so critical to look beyond the usual list of competitors for inspiration. What would a short list of adjacent businesses look like in your segment and what are you doing to explore ways of working with them? Continue reading
Posted Mar 17, 2019 at Joe Wikert's DisruptorFest
I'm about halfway through a terrific book called Subscribed, by Tien Tzuo. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in disrupting an existing business or creating a completely new one. The author was an early Salesforce employee and used to be their chief marketing officer as well as chief strategy officer, so he obviously knows a thing or two about subscription models. The overall premise covered in the book, where more customers are shifting from owning to renting products, isn't exactly new, but the author provides countless thought-provoking examples and visions of a subscription-based future. Here's a wonderful example: But just imagine what would happen at the next Apple keynote if Tim Cook announced a simple monthly Apple subscription plan that covered everything: network provider charges, automatic hardware upgrades, and add-on options for extra devices, music and video content, specialty software, gaming, etc. Not just an upgrade program, but Apple as a Service. If you dismiss this logic because you can't imagine your products or services in a SaaS-like subscription model, consider this: Here's the secret we use -- tease out the service-level agreement that sits behind the product [or service]. It works for everything. So instead of a refrigerator, it's the guarantee of free, cold food. Instead of a roof, maybe it's a guaranteed source of solar energy. Instead of excavators, it's the expeditious removal of a certain amount of dirt. There's an added dimension to consider here as well: the community engagement you have the opportunity to develop and lead. The author points out that, "loyal newspaper subscribers are willing to pay for enhanced experiences." My local paper, for example, is working hard to create an insider program featuring access to community-oriented products and services which serve as add-ons to the core subscription. Over time, it's easy to see where the original product simply becomes one of many elements of a more robust subscription. In short, you're forced to think more about the solution and experience while focusing less on the individual product. I hope you'll take the time to read Subscribed and consider how it affects your own business segment as well as the broader consumer experience. Continue reading
Posted Mar 10, 2019 at Joe Wikert's DisruptorFest
The topic of artificial intelligence (AI) is generating a lot of buzz these days and it's often difficult separating fact from fiction. For example, what are the most interesting AI applications today and where is the technology heading tomorrow? I recently started reading a good book on the topic called Prediction Machines, by Ajay Agrawal, Joshua Gans, and Avi Goldfarb. Prediction Machines offers a solid overview of AI fundamentals while also providing plenty of real-world examples. One of my favorite examples is Grammarly, a tool to help improve written communication. Here's how the authors describe the service: Grammarly achieved these corrections both by examining a corpus of documents that skilled editors had corrected and by learning from the feedback of users who accepted or rejected the suggestions. In both cases, Grammarly predicted what a human editor would do. It goes beyond the mechanical application of grammar rules to also assess whether deviations from perfect grammar are preferred by human readers. Years ago there were a few grammar-checker software products that tried to solve the problem the old-fashioned way, with brute force. They certainly helped fix a lot of grammatical errors but they often didn't produce the results you'd get from a good human editor. I'm using the free Grammarly service, both as a standalone app and as a Chrome plug-in, so this article was made better thanks to Grammarly. I'm also going to let Grammarly have a look at some of the documents I write at work. There's a danger in all of this. Google has dumbed us down, making us over-reliant on their search and map services, for example. I spend less time thinking about the best route and instead simply plug the address into Waze and let it tell me. The same thing could happen with Grammarly where my writing skills decline as I get lazy and rely on the service to fix my errors. My plan is to stop and think about each correction Grammarly recommends and do my best to avoid making the same mistake again but we'll see... I hope you'll try out the Grammarly service as well. If you're interested in where AI is heading, be sure to read Prediction Machines and think about how this rapidly changing technology is likely to impact your business and your job. Continue reading
Posted Feb 24, 2019 at Joe Wikert's DisruptorFest
Is it me or is Amazon's Alexa loaded with nothing but gimmicky skills? I like audio news streams as much as the next guy but where are all the amazing skills this platform should be offering by now? I wrote earlier about a use-case publishers and content consumers could get excited about but the capabilities I outlined then are still nowhere to be found. My various Alexa devices are great at streaming music. The Echo Show I got for Christmas sits on my nightstand and randomly shows photos from my collection. It's a rather pricey, over-engineered picture viewer and alarm clock though. A few months ago I bought an in-car Alexa device but soon realized it doesn't add much value beyond what I already get from my phone's podcast app paired via Bluetooth. Speaking of phones, the Alexa platform seems to be where the app stores were in the early days of both the iPhone and Android devices. Come to think of it, it's still pretty hard to find new, useful apps amidst all the clutter. If you're like most people, you have dozens of apps on your phone but you probably only use a few of them on any given day. At this point in the life of Alexa I thought we'd see at least one or two can't-live-without-it skills but I can't think of a single one. I'm still extremely bullish on voice UIs and I believe the future is bright for publishers who are willing to transform their content for delivery on them. That process becomes a lot easier as the text-to-speech services continue improving, btw, and I recommend we continue experimenting with skills and capabilities. I'm guilty of adding to the clutter as I'm working on a skill for an audio version of my website. Amazon makes it sounds simple enough but I ran into a snag about 10 minutes into the process. I've run out of time today but I'm going to see if I can troubleshoot and take my skill live soon. I encourage you to do the same; even if your new Alexa skill isn't a game-changer, it's important to immerse yourself in the process and stay on top of this important platform. Continue reading
Posted Feb 17, 2019 at Joe Wikert's DisruptorFest
In the pre-ebook era we didn't have a lot of options for managing book highlights and excerpts. They generally lived on your shelf and if you didn't have that book with you, well, you were out of luck The 2007 launch of the Kindle platform dramatically expanded the capabilities for highlights and excerpts...sort of. You didn't have to carry all those books around anymore but your thoughts were pretty much trapped in the Amazon ecosystem. Not much has changed on this front over the past 10+ years but there are other tools that can unlock your book thoughts and notes. I'm talking about Evernote and how I use it to manage my book notes. When I start reading a book I immediately create a new note in Evernote with the book's title. I'm reading more print books than ebooks these days, but the same approach I'm about to describe can be used for either. When I find a page or section I want to highlight or create a note about, I simply use the camera option in Evernote on my phone, take a picture of that page and stick it in the book's Evernote entry. The result is a set of excerpts and notes that travel with me on all my devices. Better yet, I can share those notes with friends or colleagues. In fact, I'm using this solution right now to collaborate and share thoughts on a book I'm reading with one of my co-workers. Evernote has optical character recognition (OCR) built-in and I often take pictures of hand-written meeting notes to save digitally. Oddly enough, Evernote is almost always able to translate my awful handwriting but it often has a hard time recognizing printed words on a book page photo. It works better on the Mac than my Android phone but it's still hit and miss. The downside is that your book page photos often aren't searchable within Evernote and I'm hoping they fix this soon. Despite that issue, Evernote is a terrific tool for managing and sharing your book highlights, excerpts and notes. Continue reading
Posted Jan 13, 2019 at Joe Wikert's DisruptorFest
What's the most impactful business book you've ever read? Mine is Clayton Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma. I first read it many years ago and I figure now would be a good time to read it again. I must have given my original copy away, so I stopped by the used book store and picked up another for $8.99. What was so memorable about my first read of this classic? Christensen opened my eyes to think like a startup, an innovator and a disruptor. One of the key takeaways is that many innovators chip away at the low end of the market, causing entrenched market leaders to ignore them, figuring they can have that less profitable segment but they'll never truly compete with me in the more lucrative segment. By the time the leader realizes their mistake, the innovator has already stolen much of the market and is on their way toward total domination. OK, it doesn't always end that way but this book describes many examples of significant disruption by new market entrants. I've referred to this book countless times in my career and I'm confident the lessons it offers are as relevant today as they were when it was originally published. I'm looking forward to starting the reading journey again on this one and I hope you'll join me. I'll be sure to share my thoughts, as well as my preferred method of book highlighting in an upcoming article. (Hint: the highlighting approach involves Evernote...) Continue reading
Posted Jan 6, 2019 at Joe Wikert's DisruptorFest
If you're looking at this page and scratching your head it's probably because you're used to seeing my digital content strategies site. Although I'm still intrigued by the future of digital content I'm even more passionate about business management, personal development and leadership. The DisruptorFest name is inspired by the fact that disruptors are the people who are truly leading organizations into the future. They're not satisfied with the status quo; rather, they're laser focused on creating new markets, solving new problems or simply inventing new ways to solve old problems. Going forward, DisruptorFest will serve as a resource where I plan to share many of the lessons I've learned and continue to learn. Digital content directions and trends will still be a part of that, of course, but this shift provides more latitude for me to cover other topics as well. Here are just a few of the items I plan to feature in the coming weeks and months: The importance of life-long learning Empowerment Flat organizations Agile Fail forward fast Exercise and fitness Favorite books and excerpts Favorite podcasts The "Fest" in DisruptorFest means this is intended to serve as a community resource. I'd like to hear from you via article comments and/or email. Please be sure to share the lessons you've learned and the techniques you use as a disruptor in your world. Continue reading
Posted Dec 29, 2018 at Joe Wikert's DisruptorFest
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Despite my strong interest in the digital content marketplace, I still read quite a few print books every year. I also like to highlight excerpts for future reference. That works great in the ebook world as those highlights are always only a few taps away on my iPad but my print highlights are far less accessible, especially if I'm away from my physical bookshelf. I thought I found an interesting solution to the problem when I saw the umpteenth ad for ScanMarker Air in my Facebook feed. The promise was simple: A handy OCR device which looks like an oversized highlighter and wirelessly sends your scanned text to the device and app of your choice, all for about a hundred dollars. The device connects effortlessly to laptops, tablets and phones. The scanning and text conversion process is pretty good, although far from flawless. It's the limitations around where that text can be sent that has me scratching my head. The Mac app works great. Not only can you send the text to the ScanMarker app but I can instead send it directly to other apps like Evernote. That's a key feature but this functionality is missing from the iPad and Android versions of the ScanMarker app. The problem I've run into is that I don't always have my Mac with me when I'm reading a book. My phone is generally nearby, but that means I have to scan the excerpts into my ScanMarker phone app then copy-and-paste them in Evernote, an extra, clumsy step. I'm hoping the ScanMarker team updates their apps to support scanning directly into other tablet and phone apps. That seems iffy at best though as I noticed their Android app has only been downloaded a few thousand times and it hasn't been updated in months. If the user base remains small, early adopters like myself will end up with an orphaned product. If the ScanMarker team happens to see this review, I hope they consider a pretty simple use-case for future development: I'm sure most, if not all, ScanMarker customers are using it with books. If so, how about adding the ability to identify the title by scanning the ISBN? Further, allow me to configure my app so that anytime I scan a new ISBN the app create a new Evernote entry where all highlights go till I scan a new ISBN, for example. If I switch back to a book I started scanning earlier, let me switch the excerpt destination to the older Evernote entry when I re-scan the first book's ISBN. ScanMarker Air could become the device I was hoping for when I bought mine a week ago. If you're thinking about buying one, I recommend you wait until we see if TopScan, the company behind this device, adds much-needed functionality to this marginally functional product. Continue reading
Posted Aug 12, 2018 at Joe Wikert's DisruptorFest
Marcy and Adam, I wonder if we're trying to set the bar too high. For example, 25 years ago, if everyone felt that web-based video distribution and consumption required professional, studio-level quality, YouTube would have never been born. I'm not suggesting books can take the next step forward by inserting videos of mentos-in-coke-bottles videos; rather, we should ask ourselves what the expectations are for the target audience. I listen to a lot of podcasts these days. Some of them are obviously professionally produced but many of them are clearly done on the fly, with little thought given to post-production work. Most of these lower production quality ones have more of a genuine feel. Btw, this is the same reason I've never warmed up to audiobooks. They don't sound like a book does when I read it, probably because of the highly polished, professional voice talent. I'd probably like them better if they were produced via text-to-speech or with a more informal sounding speaker.
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Why are ebooks still stuck in the print-under-glass model? Why haven't we seen anything new and exciting in the digital book transformation process? Those are questions I've been asking myself a lot lately. Ebooks are convenient in that you can carry an entire library on a phone or tablet. They're also more readily available for browsing or purchase, right from the comfort of home. But the reading experience features nothing more than a digital version of the print edition. I've spent a lot of time evaluating content transformation platforms over the past several years in the hopes that I'll discover the path forward from today's world of dumb books on smart devices. I'm disappointed to say we're at roughly the same stage as we were at more than 10 years ago when the Kindle first hit the scene. The problem? Scalability. There are countless books which could be greatly enriched by leveraging technology. Everything from the simple insertion of video to the addition of more interactive elements would turn a static experience into a much more memorable (and probably more effective) experience. These enrichment platforms are becoming easier to use, enabling drag-and-drop functionality so you don't have to be a programmer to create a rich user experience. However, the cost of creating these next-gen products is typically more than what the publisher invested in the creation of the original print product. Think about that for a minute. As a publisher, you have a pretty good sense of the ROI for your next new title. Most of the variables involved operate within a fairly tight range (e.g., author advance, editing expense, manufacturing cost, sell-in level, etc.) Even the total sales, and therefore resulting revenue, are fairly predictable, within a given range. All this predictability provides the publisher with a P&L model without a lot of surprises. Now think about asking a publisher to spend two or three times that initial product investment to create an enriched version of the same title. The product development expenses are higher, and may even result in cost overruns due to the newness of the approach. More importantly, the resulting revenue projection is a total shot in the dark. Until the publisher has created enough of these new products, they have no idea what sort of sales range to project. Scalability should lead to better efficiencies. We saw this with ebooks; an ebook can be created today at a fraction of what publishers used to pay for the service 5-10 years ago. The same thing needs to happen with enriched content. Vendors need to have a path to a model where the transformation cost is less than half the original print/ebook product cost. If they're unable to get there, they might as well abandon ship and get into a different business. Continue reading
Posted May 20, 2018 at Joe Wikert's DisruptorFest
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I haven't attended or presented at a major publishing event since TOC ceased operation in 2013. Over these past five years I've returned to my roots on a couple of fronts. First, as a former software developer, it was fun heading up strategy and business development for a small software company which specializes in helping print publishers make the leap to digital. For the past couple of years though, I've been blessed to work with and lead a team of publishing professionals, similar to the various publisher roles I've previously held at places such as Macmillan, John Wiley & Sons and O'Reilly Media. These two recent roles have enabled me to step back and look at the future of content development and distribution in a whole new light. The rapid pace of technology has also brought a number of new capabilities and services to the forefront, some of which simply didn't exist in 2013 (e.g., Alexa). Many of you know that the last major digital publishing event, Digital Book World (DBW), recently changed hands and is now owned by Score Publishing. I've had the pleasure of speaking with Score's CEO, Bradley Metrock, and I'm inspired by the energy and vision he brings to the table for DBW. That's why I'm excited to announce that I'll be both speaking at DBW 2018 in October as well as moderating the New Media Book World track there. My DBW session, "How Audio Will Unlock Value", connects a number of topics I've written about on my website and will cover each of the following, for starters: Siri, Alexa, et al, are just scratching the surface The importance of richly tagged content Playlists, both personal and crowdsourced, show how curation becomes at least as important as creation Voice UIs lead to the most powerful adviser and mentor you'll (n)ever meet I'm looking forward to this session and track, but more importantly, I'm excited to reconnect with many members of the community I haven't crossed paths with since 2013. I hope you're planning to attend DBW 2018 so that we can continue the conversation in Nashville this October. (P.S. -- In case you're wondering, no, I'm not on the DBW payroll -- I simply remain a fan of these important industry gatherings and I want to help spread the word and serve as an agent of change, same as I did in the TOC days.) Continue reading
Posted Feb 18, 2018 at Joe Wikert's DisruptorFest
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What do you think about the KodakOne and KodakCoin strategies? If Wall Street is any indication, these might represent the long-awaited turnaround the tired Kodak brand desperately needs to regain relevance. Then again, the resulting Kodak stock surge might be nothing more than a short-term blip once the Bitcoin buzz settles down again. I tend to think the long-term effects of KodakOne and KodakCoin will fall somewhere between those two extremes. I'm more interested, however, in what the underlying blockchain technology could bring to the broader opportunities in content reuse and content syndication. Some have speculated that blockchain could help solve the content piracy issue. I disagree. I'm not convinced publishers are really suffering from piracy, so this is a solution in search of a problem. But what about content reuse and the ability to truly unlock the full value of any piece of content? Today there are a variety of platforms and services acting as content clearinghouses who manage rights and payments. It's always seemed like a highly inefficient part of the business, requiring too much manual intervention. Think instead of a blockchain-powered content bazaar where creators offer their IP to anyone and are assured they're receiving their fair share of all reuse revenue. The content remix model that's been predicted for so long could become a reality with blockchain at its heart. This isn't just for written content, btw. Think audio and video as well. It lends itself to a true remix marketplace as well as a frictionless syndication model: Just set your terms and let the open market determine what's valuable and what's not. Remixes could be built on earlier remixes, all with a reliable audit trail and accounting built in. This model would also generate a wealth of rich, useful data; the key question is whether the platform developer makes this data widely accessible or hides it from the community. So even though blockchain might not be Kodak's salvation, it has the potential of becoming a game-changer for more effective content discovery, distribution and reuse. Continue reading
Posted Jan 21, 2018 at Joe Wikert's DisruptorFest
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My daily hour+ commute to and from work enables me to take in a variety of podcasts, a bit of SiriusXM Radio and, more recently, some quality time with Google Assistant. The latter simply means I press and hold the home button on my Galaxy phone and say, "good morning." Google takes it from there, providing the local weather and news summaries from a variety of sources. OK, that's not exactly ground-breaking, but what fascinates me is where virtual personal assistants (VPAs) like Google Assistant are leading the publishing industry. Rather that the mostly one-way interactions I have with Google Assistant today, what if the dialogue looked more like this in the future?: Me: Good morning. Google Assistant: Good morning, Joe. The local temperature is... Me: Let's skip the news. What are the new and noteworthy books in my favorite categories? Google Assistant: There's a new biography about Leonardo da Vinci you'll want to know about. It's by Walter Isaacson, the author of the Steve Jobs book you liked so much. Would you like to hear the description? Me: Yes. Google Assistant: To write this biography Isaacson immersed himself in da Vinci’s 7,200 pages of notebooks, which these days are spread across the map... Me: Didn't da Vinci spend a number of years in Florence? Google Assistant: Yes, he was born nearby and spent 1466 through 1476 as an apprentice in the workshop of Andrea di Cion. You visited that part of Florence during the Italy vacation you and your wife Kelly took in September 2017. Me: Please send the ebook sample to my Google Play account. Google Assistant: OK, it's now in your library. Would you like me to read the sample to you? Me: Yes. That's more of a two-way conversation, encouraging more personalized discovery and consumption. But why does this have to be a solitary experience? Wouldn't it be cool if VPAs could become an extension of your social network, enabling you to experience and interact with content with others? For example, let's say I get a couple of minutes in to today's Marketplace podcast from NPR and I realize the topic is something my good friend Paul and I often talk about. Rather than listening to it alone, I'd like to see if Paul is available to join me. I ask Google Assistant to ping my friend with this audio greeting: "Hey Paul, it's Joe...I'm about to listen to a Marketplace episode I think we'd both enjoy. Care to join me?" He's got a few minutes, so he opts in and Google opens a three-way audio channel where the podcasts plays and Paul and I can pause it at any moment to share comments, all done via voice control. Each time one of us wants to say something to the other, the podcast pauses and the two of us are able to voice chat, comparing thoughts. When we're ready for it to start back up, we just tell Google to proceed. This would be a nice, new way to experience a podcast with others, but how about doing the same for longer-form content, like a lecture or even a class recording? No matter where you and your friends are physically, you could use VPAs to interact with the content as a group. If you haven't already done so, I encourage you to explore the world of Google Assistant, Alexa, et al. We're only scratching the surface of VPA potential today and these technologies can help us take the next steps in breaking free of the limitations with today's mostly container-based content model. Continue reading
Posted Oct 29, 2017 at Joe Wikert's DisruptorFest
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Yes, the grocery business is huge. And while it's one of several industries Amazon hasn't yet dominated, there's something way more significant about their acquisition of Whole Foods. This deal is about location, location, location. No, it's not just about having Amazon groceries in physical locations. This is about creating a more efficient gateway between consumers and Prime, ultimately driving more sales of all Prime-eligible products, not just groceries. The efficiencies result from Amazon delivering products to Whole Foods, not your doorstep. If you like free two-day delivery today, how do you feel about free same-day pick-up of all those same products tomorrow? Amazon is already heading towards that model today, but it becomes much more economical for them to do so when the local Whole Foods replaces your home as the delivery location. Rather than having to manage all those individual packages going to all those different destinations, yours and all your neighbors' products make one simple trip from Amazon's local DC to your nearby Whole Foods. Your 8AM order of two books, a bag of birdseed, running shoes from Zappos and a cordless drill is ready for pickup at Whole Foods by 3PM that same day, a convenient stop on your commute home. Oh, and because Amazon knows you're stopping by Whole Foods around 5:30 that evening, they'll gladly tell you about all the great dinner options you could whip up by adding on to your 8AM order. An added bonus is you no longer have to worry about that Amazon box being stolen off your front porch. You can still get two-day free delivery to your home, but you'll often prefer the shorter delivery window, and package safeguarding, available via the Whole Foods option. I, on the other hand, will have to wait a bit for this added benefit. Even though my hometown is about to open a new Ikea and a community eyesore, better known as Topgolf, Whole Foods still hasn't made it to Fishers, Indiana. Continue reading
Posted Jun 18, 2017 at Joe Wikert's DisruptorFest
Thanks for sharing some of your stats, Adam. It's important to note that an upsell of the sampled book is only one of the benefits of this model. What's also important is to establish a direct relationship with prospective customers, so acquiring their names and email addresses is a critical benefit as well. A publisher/author is then able to share other promotional campaigns with that audience, potentially leading to transactions that might have absolutely nothing to do with the originally-sampled title.
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Book samples are one of the most under-utilized tools in a publisher or author's marketing arsenal. Most consumers will not buy a book without at least flipping through it, so many download samples before making a purchase decision. But how many times have you downloaded a sample which was nothing more than the frontmatter and a bit of an introduction? I've run into that problem countless times and those samples didn't lead to me clicking the buy button. The problem with today's book sampling model is that it's just some random percentage of the first several pages of the book. The fact that this approach involves no curation means it's efficient but, unfortunately, it's also highly ineffective. Imagine how lame previews would be if movie producers used this same approach? You're sitting in the theater and the teasers for a few upcoming movies are nothing more than the first two minutes of each. That's not how it works with movies, of course, and it offers an important lesson for book publishers: Good samples require curation. We learned that lesson recently at OSV. Rob Eagar, founder of Wildfire Marketing, is an expert in a freemium model where curated samples are the key ingredient. These samples feature more of the valuable content nuggets and enable readers to get a better sense of what they can expect to find in the full book. You're not giving away all the book's key ingredients, but you're definitely providing readers with more value than they'll find in a typical ebook sample. These samples are delivered via email, so that means we're able to establish a direct relationship with prospective customers, a critical step for a B2C business model. Having access to those names and email addresses means we're able to build our B2C list and dramatically increase our up-/cross-sell activities. If you'd like to see what this looks like, click here to visit the OSV freemium landing page. You'll find the first several titles in our freemium campaign and more will be added in the coming months. We're delighted with the initial results and we're looking forward to building this out further as we add to our B2C capabilities. Continue reading
Posted Mar 19, 2017 at Joe Wikert's DisruptorFest
Mike, you ask a very important question: Is the audio book market large enough to support two formats? If your last point is correct and the higher quality experience is preferred, what does the market have to lose by testing my theory? These cheaper, amateur editions would simply die on the vine and publishers would stop creating them. I think you're more concerned that the cheaper, amateur editions would be the winner though. And if so, wouldn't that mean consumers really don't place a premium on professional voice talent?
Hi Mike. Would my option really put people out of work? I suspect there's some significant number of current audio customers who prefer the more polished, professional voice version. If so, they'd probably opt for the higher-priced, higher-production edition available today. It would be very interesting to do an a/b test of both editions though to see if one ends up outperforming the other. At the end of the day, I'm not convinced the market should limit itself to only one option simply to preserve voice talent jobs.
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The answer might surprise you… Amazon’s Kindle format dominates the ebook market today and it’s easy to assume that will remain the case going forward. Despite that fact, I see a number of trends indicating the digital book space could be ripe for disruption. Notice I use the term “digital book”, not “ebook.” That’s because the digital format with the most upside isn’t MOBI or EPUB. It’s audio. Amazon also dominates the audio book space, of course, thanks to their ownership of both Audible and Brilliance Audio. Amazon’s audio book subsidiaries are built around yesterday’s business model though, and I believe technology and consumer habits have evolved to the point where a new business model will emerge. Have you ever priced an audio book? Let’s use George Orwell’s 1984 as an example. Audible currently offers the audio version for $20.97 while Amazon sells the paperback for $11.42 and the Kindle edition for $9.99. There are exceptions, of course, but the audio format is typically the most expensive option. What might happen if audio editions were priced at or below the print or Kindle editions? The recent trends in ebook sales might be a good indicator here. As ebook prices have increased over time (thank you, agency model), print has experienced a resurgence and ebook sales have flattened and even declined for some genres. Next, consider the growing interest in podcasts, as described here. Two factors drive this trend shown above: convenience and laziness. Low-production YouTube videos have replaced how-to books on a variety of topics. It’s also a lot easier to watch or listen than read. I’m sure that last statement made quite a few of you bristle, but it’s true. Reading isn’t going away, but overall consumption could be dramatically increased if it weren’t for the painfully high price of your typical audio book. Why are prices so high? The obvious culprit tends to be the professional talent (and additional time) required to create the audio format. But is it really critical to limit recordings to either the author or voice professionals? If you want to continue charging those high prices the answer is probably “yes.” If you’re open to exploring other pricing models though, you’ll be inspired by the approach used by The Week. I recommend you subscribe or at least listen to a few of the podcasts created by The Week. You’ll quickly discover their editors and other staff members are the voice talent. The voices are clean and crisp, not robotic, and the finished product is terrific. Yes, these are free streams, but they give you a sense of what’s possible with a much lower investment. Technology is opening new doors here as well. Remember the monotone, computer-generated audio of the 90’s? Text-to-speech has improved quite a bit over the years and will only get better over time. If you’re still not convinced, scan this related article and be sure to listen to some of the audio samples; it’s virtually impossible to distinguish the human-generated segments from the computer-generated ones. Despite all this, why would publishers have any interest in seeing lower prices for audio formats? Because it represents an enormous opportunity to break the stranglehold Amazon currently has on all digital formats. Imagine a world where publishers could establish a strong, direct-to-consumer (D2C) channel featuring audio. The D2C audio edition of 1984 could be computer-generated and sell for $9.99, the same price as the Kindle edition; but in this case, the publisher keeps 100% of the selling price, not whatever percentage they’re receiving from Amazon for the Kindle edition. Are you worried that consumers will buy one audio copy and share it with all their friends? If so, please don’t fall back into that digital rights management (DRM) trap that only reinforces Amazon’s dominance. Rather, create a simple mobile app where all the purchased audio files live. Most publishers don’t realize it, but the fact that a reader’s Kindle files are buried in their app is more of a file-sharing deterrent than DRM itself. If you don’t believe me, ask a few of your friends if they even know how to retrieve their ebook files from their Kindle app, for example. The opportunity here is huge, and not just for selling audio books directly. It’s a chance for publishers to forge a more meaningful, ongoing relationship with their customers. I’ve grown to love history books over the years, mostly ones about WWII and the civil war. I subscribe to a few publisher newsletters but I still sometimes overlook interesting new publications. Wouldn’t it be cool if audio samples of those new books could be sent directly to the app on my phone? I just set a few preferences and I’ll never miss another new title. Today most publishers sell transactionally, one book at a time, to nameless/faceless consumers. The model I’m describing isn’t ideal for all publishers, but for ones with genre depth it represents a new approach where they could better serve their customers as well as take more control over their own destiny. Continue reading
Posted Feb 12, 2017 at Joe Wikert's DisruptorFest
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As I’ve said before, the publishing industry needs to get beyond the current “print or digital” mindset and instead explore ways for one to complement the other. Plenty of industry stats show that most readers are comfortable with either format and many prefer the convenience of switching between the two (e.g., reading the news digital but mostly sticking with print books). After several years of going exclusively digital with books I have to admit I’ve been reading a few more print books lately as well. Sometimes it’s because the book was given to me and other times I simply opted for the format that was right in front of me at the store. What I’m finding though is that the reading experience would be better if we could narrow the gap between print and digital. Here’s a great example: As I continue reading The Content Trap I’m highlighting more and more passages. When I do that with an ebook I can quickly search and retrieve those highlights using my phone, my iPad or whatever device is handy. With print books, those highlights and notes are only accessible if the physical book is nearby. I’d love to see someone develop a service where I can take pictures of the print pages with my yellow highlights and allow me to upload them to a cloud service where they’ll be converted to a digital format. Since I’ve now got a nice library of both Kindle and Google Play ebooks, it would be even better if I could add those print highlights to my existing bookshelves. Oddly enough though, the Kindle platform doesn’t even allow me to do a full text search across my entire ebook library. The magnifying glass tool in the Kindle app merely searches titles and author names, not the book contents. Imagine how nice it would be if you could search the contents of your entire ebook library and, that same search could also include the highlights from the print books you’ve read? There would obviously have to be limits to the amount of highlighted or excerpted content you could convert with this type of service. Google, Amazon and Apple are uniquely positioned to offer that print-highlight-to-digital conversion since they already have all the content in their content management systems. As you upload those pictures of print pages with highlights they could quickly identify the source title, automatically adding the cover and metadata to the converted results. A social element could be integrated, enabling you to share some number of highlights with your friends and followers, powering better digital discovery of print content. How cool would that be? Your print reading experience could finally entire the digital and social worlds. Greedy publishers could quickly kill this concept, insisting on some sort of monthly fee or other upcharge for their content to be part of this solution. They’d probably argue that if a reader wants to create digital highlights they should buy the ebook as well as the print book. Good luck with that approach. I hope one or more of the major e-reading platforms offers this type of service soon. I’d lobby pretty hard to get the entire OSV library included in it, free for users, resulting in better discovery and incremental sales from reader friends and followers. Continue reading
Posted Jan 8, 2017 at Joe Wikert's DisruptorFest
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A recent trip to a local brick-and-mortar bookstore helped me realize that even the best algorithms and email campaigns can’t replace in-person product discovery. I noticed a book called The Content Trap sitting face-out on the shelf and couldn’t resist picking it up. Great title. Intriguing outline. Normally I’d make a note to grab the ebook sample and consider buying it later. What I saw during my in-store flip test convinced me I shouldn’t wait. So, I made the unusual decision (for me) to buy the print copy, not the ebook. As I walked out of the store it dawned on me: Despite all the daily book recommendation emails I get from Amazon and elsewhere, this one never hit my radar till I walked through that store. Actually, maybe one of those emails actually did mention it, but I never noticed because I receive so many book promo messages that they’ve turned into nothing more than in-box white noise. This seems to indicate the email marketing model could benefit dramatically from an overhaul. If so, the vision shared in The Content Trap likely provides at least a portion of the new formula. It’s been awhile since I broke out a highlighter and started marking up a physical book. I’m only a few chapters into The Content Trap and I’ve already highlighted dozens of important passages. In fact, it ran my old highlighter dry so I had to buy a new one. This is one of those books that really makes you stop and think, so don’t assume you’ll be able to tear through it in an afternoon. Here are a few of the more fascinating segments I’ve read so far: The language for success in media, as in technology, is less and less about content and more and more about connections. It’s striking how many digital media managers still think in terms of product appeal to individual customers rather than in terms of managing and exploiting connections. This is even more surprising in view of the fact that media consumption has always been inherently social. Through its Marketplace, Amazon had shifted strategy from selling products to owning a platform. A similar “content versus platform” choice confronts many organizations today. Superior products are great, but strategies that exploit connections are better. Can we help readers to help each other? [That last question helped one publisher shift] from being important to being relevant, as one editor put it. Btw, those quotes are all packed into the first 30+ pages. I can’t wait to read the rest of this book. I also just started following the author, Bharat Anand, on Twitter and encourage you to do the same. This guy is brilliant. Do yourself a favor and buy this book immediately. You won’t regret it and you’ll be well armed with an entirely new way of thinking as 2017 begins. Continue reading
Posted Dec 11, 2016 at Joe Wikert's DisruptorFest
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At first I thought it was an SNL parody about ebooks for kids. We’re so addicted to info snacking, seemingly less able (and interested) in focusing on long form reading, so let’s create a new platform that helps foster even shorter attention spans for our kids. Amazon Rapids is nothing more than a series of text messages disguised as a new way of encouraging kids to read. Go ahead. Download the app, read the sample content and tell me whether you think it’s worth $2.99 a month to expose kids to these “short stories.” I wouldn’t recommend Rapids to kids even if it was offered for free. Anyone who knows me would agree that I’m an unabashed digital enthusiast. Nobody wants technology to help make reading more accessible and interesting than me. I’ve given countless presentations about how today’s ebooks are nothing more than “print under glass” and how we spend so much time reading “dumb content on smart devices.” With Rapids, Amazon now enables kids to read even dumber content on their smart devices. I really wish it were nothing more than an SNL skit but I think Amazon is serious about this one. Continue reading
Posted Nov 6, 2016 at Joe Wikert's DisruptorFest
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How are you helping consumers find the perfect book for their needs or interests? If you’re like most publishers, you offer a search function on your site. Visitors simply type in a topic and relevant titles from your catalog are displayed. This is pretty similar to how search works on Amazon. In both cases, book metadata is used to determine the best matches. So if the search phrase happens to be in a book’s title, description, etc., that title is likely to float to the top of the results. That’s great, but why not leverage the book contents, not simply its metadata, for the search process. Amazon’s Search Inside feature lets you do this, but only after you’ve selected a particular book. What if you’re a publisher with a deep catalog on religion and someone is looking for the book with the most in-depth coverage of Pope Francis? Metadata-only searches can help, but the full contents are the only way to truly measure topical depth, especially if you want to compare two similar titles to see which one has the most extensive coverage of the search phrase. Google Book Search (GBS) offers this sort of visibility but most publishers have a cap on the percentage of content visible to GBS users. That’s primarily because publishers want to prevent someone from reading the entire book without buying it. I believe the solution is to expose all the contents to a search tool and display results that only show snippets, not full pages. That’s exactly what we’re now offering on our bookstore website at Our Sunday Visitor. If you click on the Power Search link at the top of the page you’ll be taken to this new search tool. If I search for “Pope Francis” I get these results. The top title has 203 hits, so if I click “view 203 results” I can then take a close look at every occurrence of my search phrase in the highest ranked title. Note that this platform takes proximity into consideration, so if you have a multi-word search you can limit the results to just those instances where the words are closest to each other. At any point the user can click on the cover image to read title details or buy the book. Think about how powerful this tool is for publishers with deep lists on vertical topics (e.g., cooking, math, science, self-help, etc.). Instead of relying exclusively on the book description to make the sale, the contents are fully searchable and comparable across a list of related titles. We’re in the early experimentation phase with this platform. We’re planning to use a variety of ads that say something like, “find your next great read”; users who click on those ads will be taken to the search landing page where they can explore the full contents of our entire ebook catalog. This search platform is powered by the outstanding team at MarpX. If you’d like to experiment with this on your site, you’ll find contact info at the bottom of their home page. MarpX has been a wonderful partner for us and I highly recommend you explore their solution as well. I hope you’ll join us in this effort to move content search and discovery to the next level. Continue reading
Posted Oct 16, 2016 at Joe Wikert's DisruptorFest