best of toc 3e Analysis and Ideas about the future of publishing full pdf pdf
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Chapter 1. Introduction
2012 was quite a year for change in the publishing industry. Throughout the year we useo provide insightful analysis of the latest industry developments. And since ours is a community site, the articles we publish aren’t just from the TOC team; we also feature perspectives from many of the top innovators and publishing experts. It wasn’t easy, but we hand-picked the most noteworthy articles from 2012 for inclusion in this Best of TOC collection. We think you’ll agree that the more than 60 pieces featured here represent some of the most thought- provoking dialog from the past year. We’ve arranged the articles by category, so whether you’re most interested in marketing, revenue models, production or innovation in general you’ll find something to get your creative juices flowing. And since we’re all about fostering community at TOC we hope this collection will encourage you to add your voice to the discussion. Since each of these articles is taken from our website you can add your comments by searching for the headline on
How Agile Methodologies Can Help PublishersB EO
Kristen McLean ( ) believes many of the same techniques can also be applied to content development and publishing workflows. She explains why in the following interview.
What is an agile methodology?
Kristen McLean: An agile methodology is a series of strategies for
managing projects and processes that emphasize quick creative cycles, flat self-organizing working groups, the breaking down of complex tasks into smaller achievable goals, and the presumption that you don’t always know what the finished product will be when you begin the process.
These types of methodologies work particularly well in any situation where you are trying to produce a creative product to meet a market that is evolving — like a new piece of software when the core concept needs proof from the user to evolve — or where there needs to be a very direct and engaged relationship between the producers and users of a particular product or service.
Agile methodologies emerged out of the software development community in the 1970s, but began to really codify in the 1990s with the rise of several types of “lightweight” methods such as , and
. These were all rolled up under the umbrella
of agile in 2001, when a group of developers came together to create the
, which set the core principles forthis type of working philosophy.
Since then, agile has been applied outside of software development to many different kinds of systems management. Most promote development, teamwork, collaboration, and process adaptability throughout the life-cycle of the project. At the end of the day, it’s about getting something out there that we can test and learn from.
How do agile methodologies apply to publishing?
Kristen McLean: In relation to publishing, we’re really talking about two things: agile content development and agile workflow
Agile content development is the idea that we may be able to apply these methodologies to creating content in a very different way than we are traditionally used to. This could mean anything from serialized book content to frequent releases of digital content, like book-related websites, apps, games and more. The discussion of how agile might be applied to traditional book content is just beginning, and I think there’s an open-ended question about how it might intersect with the deeply personal — and not always quick — process of writing a book.
I don’t believe some of our greatest works could have been written in an agile framework (think Hemingway, Roth, or Franzen), but I also believe agile might lend itself to certain kinds of book content, like serial fiction (romance, YA, mystery) and some kinds of non-fiction. The real question has to do with
and understanding the leading edge between knowing your audience and crowdsourcing your material.
Publishing houses have been inherently hierarchical because they’ve been organized around a manufacturing process wherein a book’s creation has been treated as though it’s on an assembly line. The publisher and editor have typically been the arbiters of content, and as a whole, publishers have not really cultivated a direct relationship with end users. Publishers make. Users buy/read/share, etc.
Publishers need to adapt to a radically different way of working. For example, here’s a few ways agile strategies could help with the adaptation of a publishing workflow:
Create flat, flexible teams of four to five super-talented individuals with a collective skill set — including editorial, marketing, publicity, production, digital/design, and business — all working together from the moment of acquisition (or maybe before). These teams would need to be completely fluent in XHTML and would work under the supervision of a managing publisher whose job would be to create the proper environment and remove impediments so the team could do its job. An original creative voice and unique point of view will always be important in great writing, but those of us who produce books as trade objects (and package the content in them) have to stop assuming we know what the market wants and start talking to the market as frequently as possible. Use forward-facing data and feedback to project future sales. Stop using past sales as the exclusive way to project future sales. The market is moving too fast for that, and we all know there is a diminishing return for the same old, same old.
[This interview was edited and condensed.]
Taking a Page Out of ESPN’s Playbook
By Joe Wikert
If you misse you owe it to yourself to go back and read it. ESPN is so much more than just a sports network and their brilliant strategy offers plenty of lessons for publishers. Here’s just one important indicator of their success: While the average network earns about 20 cents per subscriber each month ESPN is paid $5.13. That’s more than 25 times the average!
Pay for one, access all
Of course ESPN isn’t just one channel. It’s a family of channels (e.g., ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN Classic, etc.) If you’re a subscriber to any one of
hing onthe ESPN network on my tablet, even those channels I don’t get via cable.
Think about that for a moment. That would be like buying one ebook but getting access to the entire series it’s part of. That’s unheard of in book publishing. It’s also pretty unusual in network broadcasting but ESPN is ahead of its time. When I stream those channels on WatchESPN they’re commercial-free; a static logo appears during commercial breaks. That’s because ESPN hasn’t sold the advertising rights to the streaming broadcasts … yet. They’re willing to stream everything now, even without advertising income, to build a nice solid base to lure those advertisers to the table. Smart.
Building talent franchises
The article talks about he brought the concept to ESPN to see what they thought. Rather than watching Simmons go off on his own and create something that might compete with them they launched Grantland with him using their arm. When this scenario plays out in the publishing world it usually ends with the author taking the idea somewhere else, often to a self-publisher. It’s clear ESPN is willing to take more risks than the typical book publisher, even if it might lead to cannibalization. As the saying goes though, it’s better to eat your own young than to let someone else do it.
This article is loaded with plenty of interesting observations but my favorite quotes are the following:
I have friends who work at Google, and they are beating their chests. ESPN, they never feel like they are at the mountaintop. They’re always thinking they can do something bigger. He stresses ESPN’s multi-platform advantage: print, radio, broadcast television, cable television, Internet, mobile applications. To date there are no competitors who have assets in all those media.
I don’t think you’ll find a lot of hubris here. Or complacency. I don’t think there’s any sense oftrying to protect what we’ve got. We’re going to try new things.
Meanwhile, most book publishers today seem content with high growth rates (off small bases) for what’s nothing more than quick-and-dirty print-to-e conversions. There’s certainly not much happening in the multi-format, multi-channel world ESPN is pioneering.
What’s your opinion? Do we need to think more like ESPN? And can you name any publishers who are breaking away from the pack and creating some really innovative, multi-channel products?
Perceptive Media: Undoing the Limitations of Traditional Media
B indicates a clear desire for interactive engagement in
storytelling on the part of audiences. Researchers at the BBC are pioneering the concept of engagement and content personalization with their Perceptive Media experiment. The Next Web’s managing editor Martin Bryant took a look at Perceptive Media and its first incarnatiarlier this summer. :
Essentially, it’s media — either video or audio — that adapts itself based on information it knows about individual viewers. So, if you were watching a game show that you’d never seen before, it might show you an explanation of the rules in detail, while regular views are shown bonus, behind-the-scenes footage instead. … Other smart ideas behind Perceptive Media include the idea that TV hardware could automatically recognize who was watching and tailor the content of TV to them automatically.
I reached out to BBC R&D researcher o find out more about Perceptive Media and the potential for the concept. Our interview follows.
How does Perceptive Media work, and are there privacy concerns?
Ian Forrester: takes storytelling and narrative back to
something more aligned to a storyteller and audience around a fire. However, it uses broadcast and Internet technologies in combination to achieve a seamless narrative experience. Ourakes advantage of advanced web technologies [to adapt the content], but it’s only one of many ways we have identified. [Editor’s note: BBC writer Sarah Glenister wrote
about her experience working on the Breaking Out audio play experiment
] The path we took means there are no privacy or data protection issues.
Other paths may lean toward learning from what’s being customised (rather then personalised) using a more IP-based solution. The BBC has a rich history in this field, with the likes of , which I was the head of for many years. Big data is the trend right now, but in R&D, I’m more interested in implicit data that comes from us and everything we do.
What driving factors are pointing to the success of this kind of storytelling platform?
Ian Forrester: As an R&D department, its very hard to say for the
broadcasting industry, and we have even less experience in the publishing industry. However, our research on people’s media habits tells us a lot about people in thetates. We use that research and what we have seen elsewhere to gauge market acceptance.
At the BBC, we don’t look at advertising, but every other company we’ve seen interested in this type technology/experience/media is thinking adverts and product placement.
In the early days, Perceptive Media is being applied to broadcast technology. What
potential applications for Perceptive Media doyou envision in the publishing industry? Ian Forrester: We have only scratched the surface and do not know what
else it can be adapted toward. In BBC R&D, we watch trends by looking at early innovators. It’s clear as day that ebook reading is taking off finally, and as it moves into the digital domain, why does the concept of a book have to be static? is tragic and feels like a massive step back. But Perceptive Media is undoing the limitations of broadcast. It certainly feels like we can overcome the limitations of publishing, too.
[This interview was lightly edited and condensed.]
Kindle Fire vs iPad: “Good Enough” Will Not Disrupt
With its recent release of the new Kindle Fire HD tablets, some have argued
. But how serious is the
threat? Are the two companies even playing the same game? I reached out to analyst , to get his take. Our short interview follows.
How disruptive is the Kindle Fire to the low- end tablet market?
Horace Dediu: The problem I see with the Kindle is that the fuel to make it
an increasingly better product that can become a general purpose computer that is hired to do most of what we hire computers to do is not there. I mean, that profitability to invest in new input methods, new ways of interacting and new platforms can’t be obtained from a retailer’s margin.
Also, there is a cycle time problem in that the company does not want to orphan its devices since they should “pay themselves off” as console systems do today. That means the company is not motivated to move its users to newer and “better” solutions that constantly improve. The assumption (implicit) in Kindle is that the product is “good enough” as it is and should be used for many years to come. That’s not a way to ensure improvements necessary to disrupt the computing world. Lastly, the Amazon brand will have a difficult time reaching six billion consumers. Retail is a notoriously difficult business to expand internationally. Digital retail is not much easier than brick-and-mortar. You can see how slow expansion of different media has been for iTunes.
Is Amazon a threat to Apple?
Horace Dediu: Amazon is asymmetric in many ways to Apple. Asymmetry
can always be a threat because the success of one player is not necessarily to the pain of another. Thus, the “threat” is unfelt, and therefore it’s less likely that there is a response in kind. However, it’s important to couple the asymmetry with a trajectory of improvement where the threat goes from unfelt to clear and present. That’s where I’m having a hard time putting Amazon on a path that crosses Apple’s fundamental success. I’d say it’s something to watch carefully but not yet something that requires a change in strategy. I would add one more footnote: Apple TV is a business that matches Kindle perfectly in strategy. Apple TV is a “cheap” piece of hardware that is designed to encourage content consumption. It is something Apple is doing with very modest success but is not abandoning. Apple is exploring this business model.
What role do you see Apple playing in the future of publishing — and what current trends do you identify as driving factors?
Horace Dediu: I think Apple will put in a greater effort at the K-12 and
higher ed levels. I think the education market resonates strongly with them, and they will develop more product strategy there. The main reason is that there are more decision makers and less concentration of channel power.
[This interview was lightly edited and condensed.]
Don’t Build Social — Thoughts on Reinventingthe Wheel
By Travis Alber
For the publishing community, social reading has been the hot topic of the year. Since 2008, in fact, social features have spread like wildfire. No publishing conference is complete without a panel discussion on what’s possible. No bundle of Ignite presentations passes muster without a nod to the possibilities created by social features. I understand why: in-content discussion is exciting, especially as we approach the possibility of real-time interaction. Granted, I’m biased. Running a social yself, I think all this interest is great. The web should take advantage of new paradigms! Social discussion
layers are the future! However, there is one important point that all the
myriad new projects are ignoring: unless it’s a core feature, most companies shouldn’t build social. That’s right. Unless social discussion features are the thing you’re selling, don’t build it from scratch. What’s core? Your unique value proposition. Are you a bookstore or a social network? A school or a social network? A writing community or a social network? A content creator or a social network? The distinction is often lost on a highly-motivated team trying to be all things to all users. For all these examples, the social network is just an aspect of the business. It is an important piece of the experience, but most of the time it’s not worth the incredible investment in time and manpower to build it from scratch.
Services, APIs, and the Complex Web
We’ve seen this happen again and again on the web. If you’ve ever heard of
, you’re familiar with the evolution of customer
service on the web. Ten years ago companies built their own threaded bulletin board systems (and managed the resultant torrent of spam), so that they could “manage the user relationship.” There were some benefits — you could customize the environment completely, for example. But it took the greater portion of a week to build, and a lot of work to maintain. Today that kind of support can be up and running in an hour with third party solutions. Just ask forward thinking companies like , who have embraced these services.
The same can be said of newsletters. For years newsletters were hand-coded (or text-only) and sent from corporate email accounts. Unsubscribing was difficult. Getting email accounts blacklisted (because they looked like spam) was common. Today everyone uses , or a similar service. Even if you hire an agency to design and manage a system, they’re likely white-labelling and reselling a service like this to you. Companies no longer build a newsletter service. Now you just use an API to integrate your newsletter signup form with a third-party database. Design your newsletter using one of their templates, and let them do all the heavy lifting for email management, bounces, unsubscribes, and usage stats.
There are other examples. Who stores video and builds their own player? Instead we upload it tustomize the settings, and let the service tell you who watched it, handle storing the heavy files, push player upgrades frequently, etc. Even web hosting itself has become a service that people sign up for - in many cases setting a project up on AWS ( , essentially cloud computing) is faster and easier than acquiring a real hardware server and configuring from scratch.
The rise of these third-party solutions are a testament to maturity and complexity of our digital world. Specialization makes systems more stable and dependable. Sure, any time you partner with a service there are risks. But I’ve seen so many publishing projects with social features miss their launch deadline or trash their social features before launch because they found they couldn’t get it built, that it’s hard to watch them spin their wheels over a center of your business.
Publishing focus and third-party opportunity
This move to third-party social solutions should start happening with all the education, journalism, authoring platforms, writing communities and publishing projects currently in development. Although it sounds simple to just add discussion into content, the devil is in the details. Obviously the front end — the process of adding a comment — takes some work, and the estimation for that is fairly straightforward. But what about the paradigm that people use to connect? Are they following people in a Twitter paradigm, or is it a group-based, reciprocal model, like Facebook? Who can delete comments? What can you manage with your administrator dashboard? Are servers ready to scale with peak activity? What kind of stats can you get on how your audience is interacting with your content? Most of these issues don’t relate to the core business.
In the end, it comes down to the project definition. Is it a bookstore or a social network? I’m guessing nine times out of ten it’s a bookstore first, with additional social features. Focus on controlling the content and making the sale, be unique via curation and selection, and add the rest of the social features in using APIs and third party solutions. Then tweak the experience based on what those third-party services can tell you. That way you have the freedom to experiment and tweak the social options you offer your users, but still focus on your core offering. Everybody wins.
Startups and Publishers: It Ain’t Easy
By Hugh McGuire
Any startup company trying to work with book publishers will tell you tales of woe and frustration. Big publishers and small publishers (I’ve worked with both) pose different sets of problems for startups, but the end result is a disconnect.
If you sell a product publishers don’t want, who is to “blame”?
Start-ups tend to blame “slow-moving legacy publishers” … but blame lies as much on startups misunderstanding of publisher needs as on publishers being slow. This is a classic “customer development” problem for startups. The reason things don’t work is not that “publishers are too dumb to see how they should change, and choose me to help them,” but rather that the pains publishers are suffering, and solutions startups are offering, are probably not well matched, for a few kinds of reasons:
a) the pain startups are trying to solve is not acute enough for the publishers (yet?)
b) the cost (in time or dollars) to adopt startup solutions is too high (for now?) c) startups are trying to solve the wrong pain (for today?)
d) startups are addressing their products at the wrong customers
Solutions to solve future problems
In my particular case, I’ve recognized that the pitch ends up being something like:
Eventually you’ll need to embrace solutions like PressBooks because solutions like PressBookswill radically transform this market flooding the publishing market with more books than you ever imagined …
That is … we (and others like us) are trying to solve for publishers problems that we are helping create, and which aren’t quite here yet on a scale that is visible to the day-to-day operations of a publishing company. (Certainly these big/catastrophic problems are coming, and soon … but still, it’s a future problem, not a present problem).
Where to next?
So, as a startup, you have to choose what direction to go in:
a) try to solve the pain that traditional publishers have right now, which is felt acutely enough
b) (in our case) try to expand the market by helping millions of new publishers exist … thereby helping create the problems traditional publishers will have to face in the coming years I like b) as a direction, but in the end it’s not so surprising that existing publishers aren’t falling all over themselves to embrace solutions for problems that aren’t quite here yet.
The risk of ceding the future to other players
Still, there is a case to be made that a publisher with a vision of the future you should be out-front of the changing market. As a fellow-traveller in startup frustration, Andrew Rhomberg at ays: Publishing has been — technically speaking — an amazingly stable industry for a very long time.
In defense of publishers: it is going through a transition from analogue to digital AND onlinefaster than any other media industry before it. But by not partnering, publishers are ceding influence over how this industry will be shaped.
And that’s the problem for both startups and publishers … most publishing startups are trying to solve problems that will come because of innovations in the future; most publishers are worried about solving the problems of a radically transforming industry right now.
e suggested creating a kind of Manhattan Project funded by publishers that would invest in new technologies, models and thinking.
It’s an admirable idea, though evidence from some such initiatives in publishing hasn’t been promising.
In the end, readers will drive the change
Change is coming though, there is no doubt, and we will know it is here when big numbers of readers start to choose new solutions over existing solutions (see: ebooks). These solutions will come from a mix of startups, of old publishers and new publishers, and crucially, from the big four tech giants: Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook (and possibly others). In the end, it’s readers who will choose the future, which will follow their eyes, minds and wallets. And for all of us — new players and old — our task now is to present readers with different kinds of futures, and see which ones stick.
It’s Time for a Publishing Incubator
By Travis Alber
Last June, over beer (generally a good place to start), I had a great conversation with entrepreneur about how startups are funded in publishing. There was a lot to discuss, a little to celebrate, a bit to complain about, and one fact that we arrived at beyond everything else. It’s a challenge to raise money for publishing ventures. Sure, raising funding is always difficult, but publishing presents a particular challenge. Publishing is “old media,” and it’s new to the technology game (especially in terms of startups focused on the consumer web). There isn’t a real precedent of cooperation between technology and publishing. And that makes it a challenge to find money to build new things.
Some of the issues come straight out of the investor community: Most investors are unfamiliar with publishing. Books seem traditional. I can’t tell you how many investors put their personal feelings into the equation and say things like, “Well, my spouse is in a book club, but I don’t read much so I’m probably not a good fit.” Ouch. Although personal experience figures in somewhat, their total unfamiliarity with the market stops them cold before we’ve even started.
Concerns about returns on investment. It’s true, we haven’t seen the huge acquisitions like Instagram. Or Yammer. Yet. Publishing is worth billions
- it has what everyone wants: content. So maybe the book industry doesn’t seem like a high growth market. One thing is certain, though, as the industry goes digital, those publishing billions are going to be spent on something. Clear exits will materialize. There’s always the ve a presentation at a TOC event about innovation and he chuckled about this specific question. He pointed out that at this point Google can pretty much build anything anyone can invent. That shouldn’t be your yardstick. The better question is, are the founders smart enough to offer good strategy, a unique experience, or a new market? If so, Google is much more likely to buy the company once the idea proves out, rather than build every single idea in the world. In short, that question is not a question.
True, there are some people who get investment while working on publishing startups. The list above can be overcome if you’ve worked with those investors before. Or if you’re an Ivy-League ex-Googler that has had a successful exit, you have qualifications that will work in your favor. But that is a frightfully small portion of the people with boots on the ground, developing cool ideas. What about the technically savvy people who don’t meet those criteria (most of the people I know innovating in publishing today)? If in Amercia, those people go out and crash head- first into the arguments listed above, then spend a few years toiling in bootstrapped obscurity.
People have been thinking about this for awhile
(transcribe ). He put forth a bold vision of collaboration among publishers, each contributing to support innovation and enjoy in its technical fruits. He talked about goals — that survival for publishing is not a “goal” in itself, for example — and that innovation is one of the important pillars of publishing health. He used an example from the gas industry to illustrate how it pooled resources to innovate. He said:
I called the prospect of people not engaging with our content the publishing manifestation of asuper-threat. I’d argue (pretty strongly) that it represents a super-threat not just to publishing, but to the way we function as a country, an economy and as a part of a world order. We have a
responsibility to address this threat, not just so that we can make money, but because we’re theones with the ability to solve it. Other industries facing an uncertain future have banded together to form and fund superstructures.
The Gas Research Institute, for example, was authorized in 1976, at a time when the natural gas
industry was highly fragmented among producers, wholesalers and distributors. The latter oftenheld a local monopoly.
By 1981, GRI was spending $68.5 million on research and a total of $80.5 million on oversightand R&D. This represented about 0.2% of the wellhead price of gas that year, valued at the time at a bit more than $38 billion.
GRI undertook research and development in four areas…Funding, drawn from a surcharge on
sales as well as some government grants, accelerated to something north of $100 million in themid-1980s. If you look across all of publishing in the United States, it’s about a $40 billion business. Imagine what we could do if we could create and sustain an organization with $80 million a year in funding. It’s also likely that an industry-wide commitment to addressing engagement would garner
the external funding that most parties have been understandably reluctant to spend on narrowercauses.
A good point. A great plan. If show us that publishers can partner, then why not partner in innovation? Brian gives a number of concrete suggestions for areas to focus on. I’ve been mulling this over ever since he gave this presentation. Despite his guidelines and recommendations, it hasn’t happened yet. But there’s a way this idea fits neatly into startupland.
The publishing incubator
A similar solution already exists in the tech world: the incubator. If you’re not familiar with it, technology incubators accept applications from startups in small batches. If accepted, the startup gets between $20,000 - $100,000 (in exchange for around 5% equity), along with three months of office space, mentors, a chance to demo for investors, and a lot of help. Investors get early access to cutting-edge technology. Corporations are encouraged to come in and meet the startups at any point along the way.
multiple times a year. Imagine the amount of healthcare innovation going on right now. Education does this too. Incubator is one of many education-focused incubators from across the country — with a group of startups that has raised $10M post-graduation. And Turner Broadcasting just launched an incubator in NYC called . Since the products integrate with broadcast media, there is a major focus on mentorship from executives in the field, and a lot of discussion about how to work with big media conglomerates. Sounds a lot like what we need in publishing. Even publishing expertbout how he is struggling with how to distribute his TechFellow money to startups.
efforts. But those teams are usually small, and since they’re internal they don’t have the massive variation we see in incubators. One company isn’t going to move the needle for an entire industry in that way. We need an incubator for publishing technology. We need a group of investors and publishers that want to benefit from a pool of innovation, and encourage it grow. With this, publishers would contribute to and sponsor events, perhaps even influence the direction of future partners. Investors would raise the fund, and choose the most viable startups. Innovation and disruption might actually find a common ground, as new technologies could
this gets us there.
This should exist now. I’ve been working on publishing startups for five years and I have yet to see it. Moreover, with so many publishers on the East Coast, New York City is the place to do it. New York has a healthy startup industry, access to publishers and publishing conferences, mentors and experts. My question is, who’s going to do something about it? Who’s with
The Slow Pace of eBook Innovation
Ebook vendors enjoy a closed loop ecosystem. They have millions of reader/customers who aresatisfied with EPUB 2 display capabilities and devices. Amazon readers, for example, are largely
content with the offerings in the proprietary Kindle store; they’re not lining up with torches andpitchforks to push for improvements. While publishers wait for eReader device manufacturers to add new features and EPUB 3 support, eBooksellers are just as happy to wait. The best way to promote EPUB 3 right now is to bypass it in favor of delivering ultra-innovative
books through the web and app-based distribution. When we can give eReader device makers a
compelling reason to bring eReaders into parity with apps and webkit browsers, they’ll put their
mouths where our money is. Until eBookstores know they’re losing sales to alternative/openchannels, they’re going to sit pretty, stall, and make money doing what they’re doing.
Who’s pushing for innovation in the ebook space? Publishers? No, they’re fairly content with quick-and-dirty p-to-e conversions and they’re risk averse when it comes to making big investments in richer content formats. Retailers? Nope. If retailers were motivated we’d see much broader adoption of EPUB 3 in the various readers and apps out there.
(e.g., Samsung) have no incentive to update all the existing devices. They’d prefer to force you into a new phone rather than give you a quick OS update with all the new features. This is one area that Apple really understands and gets right. When they come out with a new version of iOS they have it pushed out to as many customers as possible (assuming their devices can support it). Apple knows there’s so much sex appeal for each new device they don’t have to starve existing device owners from the new OS features. Will an ebook vendor ever follow Apple’s iOS model and lead the industry to a more accelerated pace of innovation? Or is Dave Bricker right that web delivery is the best way forward?
Putting a Value on Classic Content
By Robert Cottrell
Think of a newspaper or magazine as a mountain of data to which a thin new layer of topsoil gets added each day or each week. Everybody sees the new soil. But what’s underneath gets covered up and forgotten. Even the people who own the mountain don’t know much about the lower layers.
That wouldn’t matter if old content was bad content. But it’s not. Journalism, at least good journalism, dates much less than we are prone to think. You never hear anybody say, “I’m not going to listen to that record because it was released last year”, or, “I’m not going to watch that film because it came out last month”. Why are we so much less interested in journalism that’s a month or a year old? The answer is this: We’ve been on the receiving end of decades of salesmanship from the newspaper industry, telling us that today’s newspaper is essential, but yesterday’s newspaper is worthless. Look who’s talking. It’s been 50 years since newspapers had the main job of telling people what’s new that day. For decades they’ve been filling their pages with more and more timeless writing. The process is all but complete. Go back into the features pages of your favourite newspaper from a year ago, and you’ll find scarcely a piece that couldn’t appear just as easily today, with a few very minor changes. All this boils down to a simple proposition: old content is undervalued in the market, relative to new content. There are tens if not hundreds of thousands of articles in writers’ and publishers’ archives which are as good to read today as they were on the day they were published. Yet they are effectively valued by their owners at zero, written off, never to be seen again. I say all this with feeling because for the past five years I have been curating a recommendations sitecking out six to eight of the best pieces published online each day. The thought of all these thousands of pieces, every one a delight, lying dormant in archives, strikes me as deeply unfair to both writers and readers. I have my own ideas for exploiting this market failure. What puzzles me do almost none of them (the New Yorker is an honourable exception) make any serious attempt to organise, prioritise and monetise their archives? They, after all, are the owners of the mountains, and whatever treasures may lie buried within.
The answer is that they are too fixated on adding the daily or weekly layer of new topsoil. Some of them, I know from experience, see any serious effort to monetise their archive content as a form of competition with their new content. At most, they may have some “related content” algorithms, but those algorithms are only going to be as good as the database tagging, which is to say, not good at all.
So here’s my advice: Newspapers and magazines, make your next hire an archive editor. Mine that mountain of fantastic free content. It’s your history and your brand. Don’t just sit on it.
Reading Experience and Mobile Design
By Travis Alber
It’s all about user experience. Once you get past whether a book is available on a particular reading platform, the experience is the distinguishing factor. How do you jump back to the table of contents? How do you navigate to the next chapter? How do you leave notes? How does it feel? Is it slick? Clunky? Satisfying? Difficult? Worth the money? A few weeks ago, at omeone asked me how I approach new digital publishing projects. How to test or design them. Where to start. The easy answer: start by looking at mobile design. The way we design reading experiences and the way we’ve been designing mobile applications are similar. The two are converging.
Mobile design patterns and best practices overlap with the way we design (or should design) reading experiences. It’s a simple concept that may seem unremarkable — that generic concepts in mobile design and user experience apply when putting together a reading system — but it’s actually at the heart of building something in publishing today. If this sounds technical, it isn’t. If you’ve used a smartphone to read email, a tablet to read magazines, or an e-reader to consume content, you’re experienced enough to have seen a number of mobile design patterns, even if you didn’t notice them. Consistent functionality, simple interfaces, polished graphics, and speedy responses: together these things are all part of mobile experience design. As the opportunity for reading long-form text explodes across different platforms, the reading systems (the way we navigate through the content), will draw from the lessons mobile UX designers have learned over the last decade, from things that had little to do with reading.
Five convergence points for mobile design & reading system design
1. Simplicity is really, really important
For people using a mobile device, connections are slow. Images need to load quickly. There isn’t space to explain (or use) 20 different features. People close apps before bothering with a FAQ. People are impatient. Knowing this, mobile UX designers are specific about what goals they design for, and they stick to those. Most mobile apps do just a few things, and they strive to do them well. That keeps apps very straightforward and simple.
Obviously simplicity has always been a sign of an optimal reading experience. Open and read, right? In fact, it’s best if most of the chrome around a book disappears, so readers can focus on the content. It’s natural that the most successful reading systems need to follow this principle of mobile design.
2. Everything takes place in the context of our lives
The first thing UX designers learn when working on a mobile project: people use phones while doing other things. They use them one-handed. They often use them when they are not at home. Design for sub-optimal conditions, because you never know if you have someone’s complete attention.
Reading also takes place within the contextual fabric of how we live our lives. People read books on the subway. At the doctor’s office. In coffee shops. Loud noises, phone calls, check-ins, and conversations all disrupt the experience, even with paper books. As long as we have an easy way to mark our place, a simple way to carry it with us, and a graceful way for features to fail until we can get back to optimal conditions (for example, in the way a reading service might need to reconnect to upload notes), reading systems will act like people expect them to: consistently.
3. No one will wait to read
One the biggest complaints when the original Kindle came out was the page refresh. It was a simple blink to swap out the content from one page to the next. People didn’t want to wait for the next page to load — they expected it to appear instantly.
The same is true of mobile. There are a number of design patterns created to notify the user that content is loading. Different loading bars and contextual messages are designed to manage people’s expectations in a world of high- speed internet, where most clicks bring content to them instantly. This is called latency, and it will drive users away. In both reading systems and mobile apps, latency needs to be under control.
4. Patterns matter create a uniform experience across applications. For
example, if you’re filling out a form in a mobile app, there are some best practices the designer has (hopefully) followed, like saving your data as you enter it (people typing with their thumbs don’t have a lot of patience if they have to do it twice), or preserving that data if an error message loads (for the same reason). Granted, these are good guidelines on the web too, but they are really of paramount importance in mobile. These best practices are used inside recommended patterns, so layouts must have optimal places for error messages, or easy ways to update content. You see those patterns repeated in the way lists and forms work across all your mobile apps. (I use patterns and
best practices loosely here, the exact definition of each is eternally debated
among UX professionals.) How does this relate to reading systems? On one level, the same applies to users adding notes or reading socially — respect the data because most people won’t enter it twice. But it also has a lot to do with design patterns for reading. The way a table of contents is treated, the way people move through books, the expectation that there will be a way to bookmark a section — these are all patterns.
Last month, at ve a presentation on
. In it he talks about how, if you need a screen of
instructions on how to use your reading app, it’s probably too complex. To avoid this, UX designers need to pay attention to user expectations and habits. Everything from page-turn options, to title visibility to a linkable table of contents, these rules are being created now, and they need to be followed consistently.
5. APIs will be the source of interactivity and real-time action