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Moving Books Online

A recent survey by The NPD Group reveals that 1 out of 3 consumers (37%) said they were "somewhat interested" or "very interested" in buying an electronic reader such as Amazon's Kindle or the Sony Reader.

Of the 40% who were not interested in owning an e-reader, 70% said they still prefer the look and feel of actual books.

Of the 37% who said they were interested in owning a device, the biggest appeal was the ability to buy and store multiple books (as well as some magazines and newspapers).

Consumers also said they liked the ability to download books from the Web instantaneously, and that e-readers are easier to carry than books.

Since it appears that Apple's mythical tablet Mac is headed to market, you have to wonder if Apple is about to wipe out the Kindle and the Sony Reader by providing a tool for reading books and accessing other multimedia.

Even more intriguing, rumors of another cool-looking tablet have surfaced and this one is powered by Google's Android. Google Books for mobile is already available for Android and iPhone users and they already have the publishing agreements in place to provide a mountain of content.

Migrating up to a third of books sales to online will be a huge story in the next couple of years and as these devices come online, book publishers will face many of the challenges that have beset the music industry for the past couple of decades.

Mine, Turning Pages Online?

Having conducted a lot of focus groups for print products, I can tell you that the desire for customized content has been a recurring theme from readers for many years. Time, Inc is planning to test a new product that provides customized content. The magazine called "Mine" combines reader-selected sections from eight publications. The magazine is free but the print edition is limited to the first 31,000 respondents, while an online version is available for another 200,000.

Online subscribers will get digital editions that look just like the printed version, but in a special format that allows virtual page turns with clicks. Editors will pre-select the stories that make it into every biweekly issue, and readers won't have the option of changing the picks from issue to issue. There are 56 editorial combinations.

This summer, MediaNews Group, publisher of The Denver Post, the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News and other newspapers, plans to experiment with its own reader-created publication, likely at its Daily News in Los Angeles.

Readers will be allowed to choose specific stories, or those by author, keyword or subject. The customized publication will be laid out like a newspaper and sent with targeted advertisements as a digital "PDF" file for printing at home or viewing on computers or mobile phones.

I’m a little skeptical of both these ventures for one reason; they are both trying to digitally replicate a print experience. I applaud the efforts to try something new, but the online experience is different and distinct from print. Users navigate online products very differently from print and have very different expectations for each channel.

I would love to see both provide customized content online that is a true online experience. I think this would be a better test of how to purpose content by channel. Logistically, it would be a headache. However in the end, I think you would have a cleaner and more valuable test.

Paradox of Choices (The State of Publishing)

In his 2004 book The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz argues that eliminating consumer choice can greatly reduce anxiety for shoppers. In short, he argues that there is a cost to an overabundance of choice. Consumers decide to not decide and do not put the effort into making a decision.

Last week, I witnessed a perfect illustration of this point. I accompanied three authors touring ten different metropolitan book stores to sign copies of their books. The number of books authored by the three ranged from three to over twenty.

It was amusing to watch all three authors try to find their books in the store. If the authors who know the product and the industry have to think and hunt for their books, how are readers supposed to find them? The sheer volume of choices and the number of titles available is mind boggling when you step back and take clear view of how books are merchandised and displayed.

Grocery store sets or layouts are somewhat consistent from store to store and chain to chain, but the array of choices and differences from book store to book store forces readers to make a lot of decisions.

Right now, the book industry is in a state of change and a lot of people of trying to understand their new reality. I think publishers will find success in decreasing complexity, costs, and causing readers/customers “mental fatigue.” Better promotion, merchandising and making it easier for readers to find a good read will make all the difference in the world.