Navigating print v. digital prices, and should publishers push either print or digital?

Should publishers be agnostic about print v. digital delivery?

A lot of B2B publishers talk about trying to move their subscribers off of print. For some it’s almost an ideological thing, but typically they do this for a number of very practical reasons, including …

  • To save the cost of printing and mailing.
  • To avoid following print to its oft-foretold grave.
  • To take advantage of the things digital delivery can offer, like speed, the ability to collect more data, the “social sharing” options, etc.

My response has been …

  • If people want print, give them print and pass along the cost so that the publisher is agnostic about delivery method.
  • The “print is dying” mantra was mostly hype. Print is alive and well, although it will lose some share of the market.
  • Yes, digital delivery does have many advantages, and it’s wise to take advantage of them, but it should be the reader’s choice. Publishers shouldn’t force digital on people.

I’ve long thought that publishers should take a “we don’t care” attitude towards delivery methods. If people want the product on the iPad, we’ll deliver it on the iPad and include the costs in the iPad price. If people want it on paper, we’ll deliver it on paper and pass along those costs.

So the offer would be something like …

Basic price $20
iPad delivery Add $5
Print delivery Add $10

The idea would be to pass along the real cost of providing the content in different formats.

There’s a very simple problem with that model. It’s not how prices work.

The price of a thing is not based on some equation, based on the cost of goods and manufacturing plus a reasonable return on investment. That might work for electric utility rates, where we set up commissions to oversee regulated monopolies, but that’s not how price works in a free marketplace.

In the non-regulated world, the price of a thing is based on what people are willing to pay. Period.

It doesn’t matter why consumers prefer one thing to another. They might be completely wrong-headed about it — as they are with the cost of print.

Misconceptions about the actual cost of making books have plagued the book publishing industry for years. Consumers think, for example, that kindle prices should be far less than paperback prices, but in reality the cost of printing is a small portion of the cost of the book.

If we were to derive book prices from some sort of actual costs + reasonable return analysis, those costs would be very different from what consumers expect. Kindle prices would be closer to the cost of paperbacks.

But that’s not what consumers expect.

“Why are you charging so much for this kindle book? It’s just an electronic file! It hardly costs you anything?”

That very prevalent attitude is completely wrong, but it doesn’t matter that it’s wrong. It’s what the consumer thinks, and that influences what he’s willing to pay.

So, the price of print or digital delivery has to be based on what people are willing to pay for it, not on what it actually costs the publisher.

Publishers could try to educate consumers about actual costs so they can justify their prices, but that’s usually a bad idea. You’re trying to sell something, not to educate people about your problems — which they don’t care about in any event.

This means that real prices determined by the market will probably never line up with publisher costs. (There’s no real reason that they should.) And that means that publishers can’t be agnostic about delivery method — because the publisher will inevitably make more money in one format than in another.

Best practices for emails to mobile devices

More and more people are reading emails on smartphones. For some senders a majority of the recipients open their emails on mobile devices.

On the web, you can make a page “responsive” — which means that the server detects what kind of a device is asking for the page, and renders it accordingly. You can have one design for desktop, one for tablet, one for smartphone, etc.

That doesn’t work with email. People who talk about “responsive” email design are confused.

To design emails for mobile devices you have to choose a layout that will work for all email browsers on whatever kind of device. In short, that means keep it simple.

I’ve looked up a bunch of articles on the topic, and this, I think, is the best way to go. Follow these principles for your emails so they’ll display well on mobile devices.

  • Link to a “view this in a web browser” version
  • Use a single column layout
  • The width should be 580px or smaller
  • Use tables for positioning
  • Put your call to action near the top
  • Leave room around clickable text and objects to accommodate fat fingers
  • Don’t put links too close together
  • Consider small buttons (40 x 40 pixels with 10 pixels of padding) instead of text links for calls to action
  • Min. 14px for text and 22px for headlines
  • Break up the text more by using short paragraphs
  • Limit images to no more than 250px wide, and keep the file size small (less than 20k)
  • Always use alt tags on images
  • As with all e-mails, do not use css (except inline)

Of course that’s only half the battle. If you want your recipients to take the next step to a landing page, you also have to optimize that for mobile — and for m-commerce. That’s another matter.

May 11, Tablets may move to business, start your freelance editing career

Who wants to carry two devices — if you’re not paid to do it

Last week I mentioned that tablet sales are flat, and most of the development work is moving to mobile.

That seems to be true for consumer use of tablets, but tablets are finding a niche in some business applications.

There’s an interesting discussion of tablets vs. smart phones on this page. The Tablet Story Isn’t Over — But It’s Changing

The big takeaway, in my opinion, is that smart phones may be the device of choice for consumers, while tablets find more use in business and sales.

For example, a hostess might take your reservation on a tablet, and then a waiter might take your order on another one. The visiting sales rep might store his powerpoint presentation on a tablet, and the foreman at a construction site might keep his plans on one.

So the tablet might find a very profitable niche, just not the one everybody thought.

When everybody wants to be a rock star …

If everybody wants to start a band, you shouldn’t start a band, or even learn to play an instrument. You should sell band equipment.

The self-publishing boom is creating lots and lots of people who need help with proofreading, cover design, formatting, marketing, and all sorts of other services.

So the smart move is not to imitate me and try to compete with all the other authors out there. The smart move is to provide services to all the wannabe authors.

Along those lines, see Self-Publishing Boom Boosts Freelance Editing Services

May 4, Congrats on your old-fashioned tablet app

All that work on the tablet app is looking pretty silly now

The iPad was supposed to change everything. Especially magazines. But now people are seriously wondering if the short-lived era of the tablet is over.

Three years ago, could you have imagined someone calling tablet development old news? We might be there.

Tablet sales have tanked, and smart phones are getting better all the time. They’re also getting larger. Google is pushing all websites to be mobile friendly, so design for the smart phone is only going to get better as resources are thrown that direction.

The tablet seems to be caught in a strange in-between world. During the early days of the alleged tablet revolution, people were redesigning for that size screen, but now … the desktop version of a site usually works well enough on the tablet, so design resources are turning to mobile.

How does this affect publishing?

In my opinion it’s not very nice to read on a smart phone, but a lot of people do. And as mobile designs get better, more and more will.

The smart phone is ridiculously convenient, and who wants to carry around a smartphone and a Kindle or tablet? People will be looking for ways to make reading on the smartphone work.

But even with a very large mobile phone, you can’t do much of a flashy magazine app on the thing.

Displaying a magazine on a tablet requires some rejiggering of the design, but displaying a magazine on a smart phone is going to require wholesale re-thinking.

This is going to be the next “spend lots of money here” temptation for magazine publishers. So … what should they do?

I thought most of the spending on tablet apps was a waste of time, and I think the surprisingly lame sales of magazine content on tablets shows that I was generally right. But I think optimizing content for smart phones is a good idea.

The secret is going to be keeping it simple, which means you can’t put a designer in charge. Designers will want to do cool things and make the product look artsy.

Artsy is fine, so long as it’s also function. But functional has to come first.

But this is just my guess. Only time will tell. Technology is changing so fast these days, maybe the smart phone will have an even shorter life than the tablet.

April 27, Apple watch silliness to come, and why is there so little revenue innovation in publishing?

Get ready for silliness about the Apple watch

The Apple Watch just came out, and that means Apple devotees will be oohing and aahing over them.

Something else will happen, too, because it happens every time there’s a new tech product or popular social media site.

Marketing experts will start telling us how the Apple watch is a great new opportunity for selling our products. Content experts will lecture us on how to deliver content to the thing. Social media mavens will hype the new opportunities.

Yes, of course it’s ridiculous that you would read much of anything on a watch, but … just wait. The silliness is inevitable.

There’s a portion of the publishing world that has a teenage-like compulsion to run headlong into every fad. And since this is an Apple product, doubly so.

I’m anticipating LinkedIn articles on the 5 ways the Apple watch will revolutionize marketing / content / whatever.

Follow the money

Hampton Stephens quite reasonably asks Why is Media Business Innovation Dominated By Advertising?

Every industry needs to innovate, especially when things are changing — and the media landscape has been changing pretty dramatically for decades. With little sign of slowing down.

Still, revenue innovation among publishers is predominantly about new ways to do advertising.

… among the most significant new media ventures, where one would expect the most innovation to be occurring, there is very little experimentation with business models that don’t involve advertising. The lesson that most media startups seem to have taken from the evisceration of advertising-supported journalism over the past two decades is that more innovation is needed . . . in advertising.

How about a very simple explanation. People who sell advertising are usually paid on commission. People who sell subscriptions are not.

From the perspective of the publishing company, revenue is revenue, whether it comes from advertising, subscriptions, ancillary sales, events, or whatever. So if all the innovation is coming from the advertising side, maybe it has everything to do with poorly configured incentives and very little to do with sound publishing judgment.

April 20, Five ways free can go wrong

In Will new app Rook be a useful pawn in the publishing game? Anna Baddeley says this.

Experiencing something for nothing, or next to nothing, can be the start of a fruitful relationship between consumer and producer.

Yes, it can. Sometimes. But in my experience, “free” is a dangerous thing that can easily misfire. “Free” can be a useful part of your marketing strategy, but you have to be careful with it. It can go wrong in many ways. Here are five.

1. It’s free because it has no value

Remember when a cup of coffee was 50 cents? Then Starbucks decided that coffee should be $1.50, and people said, “Gee, okay. I guess it must be better then.”

Now we’re paying more for coffee everywhere.

Obviously there’s more to the story than that. Starbucks stores are very nice places, and a lot of people think their coffee is better. But there’s still an underlying message in the Starbucks story, which is that a large component of price is expectation.

Raise expectations, raise your price. And vice versa.

Given that, what happens when you give something away for free? Some people will think it has less value.

There are ways to make a free offer that get around that problem, but it is something you need to consider.

2. Free gets you the wrong customers

I don’t read Sports Illustrated. It doesn’t interest me. But if somebody is handing them out on the street, I’ll take one.

That’s good, right? Sports Illustrated might possibly hook me and I might subscribe. They’re reaching someone they wouldn’t otherwise have reached.

It’s at least possible that I’ll subscribe, but it’s also possible that I’ll toss it in the trash, which, aside from being a wasted copy, broadcasts “no value” to other people. And what if I post a negative review online, or make fun of the writing, or ….

I don’t mean to diss Sports Illustrated. I’m sure it’s a very good publication. The point is that it’s not a good publication for me, and there are risks in getting it into the hands of the wrong people.

3. Free offers clutter up your list with unqualified prospects

Imagine that you want to start a business selling NBA jerseys. The Sports Illustrated subscriber list might be good group for you.

Unless I’m on it.

Many publishing models rely on their ability to monetize their customer names — by renting lists, by cross- and up-selling to the people on the list, or by selling access to their customers to advertisers.

If it’s too easy to get on the list, the list loses value. Or, IOW, free offers get less qualified prospects.

4. Customers you get with free offers are less likely to be brand ambassadors

A good customer has a lot more value than the revenue you get from that customer. A good customer can give you feedback on your product or service, and can even promote your brand to friends, colleagues, or on online reviews.

An unqualified prospect who got your product for free is less likely to give you a good review.

Someone who doesn’t like tea isn’t going to buy tea, but if it’s being given away for free they might take it just to try it. Do you want that person reviewing your tea on Amazon, or telling his friends what he thought of it?

Self-published authors struggle with this issue when they consider offering their books for free on Amazon. It might be a way to introduce new people to the author’s work, or it might be a way to attract unqualified people and get bad reviews. IOW, a person who wouldn’t buy a book in a particular genre might download it for free, not like it and give the book a bad name.

5. Some “free” people are just cheap

Some people simply love to get things for free. It’s like a game. It’s not that they like the things, or value them. They just like to get a good deal.

These people are not interested in buying any of your products. Not only are they cluttering up your lists, but you’re wasting marketing resources to try to get them to buy.

The bottom line is that free can work for you or against you. It breaks down barriers and can get your foot in the door, but sometimes barriers are a good thing. You might even say that another word for “barrier” is “qualification.”

Free customers are not as qualified as paying customers, so they’re not as valuable to your business.

April 13, Publishing to a digitally distracted world

Digital Disruption and the Death of Storytelling says that Professor Douglas Rushkoff studies …

… people’s inability to connect with another person or an ideology … while they’re immersed in this era of multitasking and digital chaos.

How many times in the past week have you seen someone stumbling around with their face in a smartphone screen? How often are conversations interrupted by a text message, or an app update, or … something really serious, like a Candy Crush Saga message?

We’re told that successful content these days has to surf this sea of distraction. Digital experts lecture us on the shelf life of a tweet, or on how long you can keep someone’s attention online. The assumption seems to be that publishers should try to compete in that environment.

Why is that the right conclusion?

[Rushkoff] … researches how digital disruption interferes with social interactions and society’s value creation.

Value. What an old-fashioned word.

If value is what you’re after, do you want to be on stage with the wet t-shirt contests, the Onion parodies and the cat videos?

If you want to have a meaningful conversation with your market, why are you trying to do it in a place that doesn’t facilitate meaningful interactions?

“But,” you say, “that’s where the people are. We need to reach them.”

Maybe, but only if you find out that they’re truly your people. Are the people in distract-o-verse the market you’re trying to reach? It’s worth asking the question.

Even if they are your market, that doesn’t mean you have to try to reduce your content to that level. Find them there if you have to, but then move them off to a quiet place, away from the beeps and the noise, and ask them to pay attention for a while.

Yes, people really do that — even in the age of Twit-face-insta-mania.

If you want your publishing business to revolve around slideshows about Taylor Swift, then by all means swim in the ocean of distraction, and good luck to you. But if you want to publish meaningful stuff that requires attention and concentration, the trick is going to be finding people in the distractosphere, then inviting them to another place — another site, another device, another time, another format.

Marketers have been fine-tuning that process of finding and inviting, but it seems to me that the biggest challenge is the next piece, which is finding a way to get your target audience to calm down, step away from the crowd and curl up for a while with your content.

To prime your brain for the challenge, consider the way you consume content. You probably do different things at different times, on different devices.

Consider your own reaction when you click on a link expecting a serious article, and you get a ditsy slideshow. Or, in the alternative, consider how tedious a long article can seem when you’re not in the mood for serious thinking.

This is the challenge in the fragmented world we face. People have to be in the right place and state of mind for your type of content.

For myself, I can’t watch a 20-minute Youtube video at work (because I have a job), or on the train (because I don’t have a data plan on my iPad). I watch those on Sunday morning over tea, or when I’m on the elliptical.

During the week I scan headlines and give short articles a quick read. If I’m interested in something longer, I clip it to my Evernote and read it later — during lunch or on my commute.

But that’s just me. Your mileage may vary, and your market won’t be like either you or me.

Unfortunately, your market probably has subgroups that do things very differently. Some will prefer videos, while some will prefer to read on their kindle. And yes, some will prefer to read in print.

The answer to storytelling in the age of digital disruption is to move people from distract-o-verse into the place where they can stop, listen, and pay attention.

April 6, Keep your book covers simple

Help! My cover is awful

I usually discuss professional publishing on this blog, but I’m also interested in book publishing (self-publishing), so from time to time I’ll talk about that side of the publishing world.

I’ve published lots of books. You can see them on my Amazon page. Most of my books get pretty good reviews, but my sales are not doing very well. I have to assume that people like my writing, but I’m clearly doing something wrong on the promotional side of things.

There are lots of ways a self-published author can fail, but one of the biggest challenges is the cover.

I can write, but I’m simply not an artist. I can’t draw for beans, and I’d rather have somebody else pick my clothes for me. Don’t worry, I don’t wear the striped tie with the plaid shirt, but … I simply don’t have an artist’s eye.

And that’s only part of the challenge. It’s one thing to have a nice-looking cover, but people absolutely do judge books by their genre expectations. The cover has to fit what they think they’re getting in the story. E.g., a sword and sorcery book has to have a different cover than a political thriller.

I have a decent sense for such things (at least I think I do) but some people have an absolute knack for that kind of stuff.

Here’s a person who does. Lessons from a great book jacket designer.

Genius comes in all forms, and Peter Mendelsund is supposed to be a book cover genius.

I may have done myself wrong by putting art on my covers. Here’s what Mendelsund says.

If in doubt, stick with typography. Make sure the typography is legible. Use your handwriting if your handwriting is decent. If not, use a font. Any tried-and-true standard face will do (Bodini, Baskerville, Garamond, Helvetica, Trade Gothic). Pick a pretty color for your background. Voila.

When you start to incorporate illustrations, photographs, etc. the amateurishness of the work begins to show. But there’s no need for any of that stuff. Many of the best book covers are simple as could be.

Or, in short, keep it simple.

How could I have missed such an obvious thing!

March 30, The genius app idea that will make you millions, don’t let Facebook steal your demographic data, and “trust, not traffic”

Combine SubscriptMe with Evernote …

I saw this from Subscription Content. SubscriptMe Takes the Hassle Out of Managing Subscriptions.

It’s awful to admit this, but I don’t have very many subscriptions. Managing the few I do have is not a big deal, so this new app doesn’t do much for me.

For a person who does have a lot of subscriptions, something like SubscriptMe may be a good idea.

Now … of course what they should do is combine this with a reader app so that the user can get all his subscriptions information as well as the content in one place. That would be a good service.

Here’s the idea. I think the genius company that decides to do it would (1) brand themselves as a forward-looking advocate for publishers and readers, and (2) create a new source of revenue.

As everybody in the subscription publishing industry knows, selling content on Apple and Amazon isn’t the greatest deal because those companies want to keep the customer information — and the customer. That undermines the publisher’s business model.

(Note: this is a problem for subscription publishers. Selling books is another matter.)

The trouble facing publishers is that magazine consumers expect to be able to access their subscriptions on any device. This creates conflicts and tough decisions for the publisher. It’s good for the consumer to let them get their subscriptions on iPad and Kindle, but it can be bad for the publisher because Apple and Amazon steal the customer.

As they wrestle with this decision, many publishers wonder if they should create dedicated apps for their content. This also has problems, including (1) putting the publisher in the technology business, and (2) the problem of “app fatigue.” Or, as a friend expressed to me one time, there’s a growing chorus of “No, I don’t want your stinkin’ app!”

Many consumers don’t want to have a Sports Illustrated app, a Kiplinger app, a Time app, a Better Homes and Gardens app, etc.

Large publishers could streamline this a bit by having one app that includes all their titles, but … consumers don’t know or care who the publisher is. A Hearst app, or a Time app, would mean nothing to them.

Rather, the consumer just wants a reader app. I.e., this is where I put all my stuff that I read.

Consider Evernote as a starting point. A user can clip articles from the web to read later in their Evernote app. They can forward an email, or a pdf, to their Evernote account and then read it on their iPad, on a desktop, or on their smart phone. There’s lots of things an Evernote reader can read in Evernote — except for subscription content!

Well … at least not directly. They can clip content into Evernote, but that’s asking the user to take extra steps, and it might not be in the publisher’s interest, because it’s easy to share content from Evernote.

Imagine if Evernote had a tab for “my subscriptions,” which used an API to connect to the publisher both for authentication and to pull in the latest content. To satisfy Apple’s app requirements, there would be no sales in the app. The sales would take place with the publisher, but the content would be available in Evernote.

This provides a great benefit to the consumer because he has one place to read all his stuff. He stores his SI login, his Kiplinger login, his Time login, etc., and he can get all his subscriptions — plus other things he likes to read — in one place. The terms of the sale are set with the publisher. All the app is doing is providing a place to get the content. It’s a super-charged reader app.

I pitched this idea to a guy at Evernote a little while ago. He liked the idea for a couple reasons. First, it would increase usage of Evernote because people would be using it for even more content. Second, it would give Evernote a lot of exposure, since publishers would be pushing their readers to them. Evernote would become the default app for access to subscription content.

I thought it was a no-brainer, but they declined to pursue it because (I’m pretty sure this is the reason) they feared it would sour their relationship with Apple.

I can understand that, but I think they were catastrophizing. There’s nothing about this app concept that would violate Apple’s terms.

So, here’s the idea for you app developers out there. Create your own reader app, somewhat like Evernote, that provides a platform for free and paid information. You might consider partnering with SubscriptMe to handle that side of the business.

The developer of the app would charge the publisher a small fee for delivery of the content, which would cover the costs of keeping the technology up to date. This would get the publisher out of the technology business.

Such an app would be like Flipboard, but better. Like Evernote, but better. Like a dedicated reader app, but better.

So … what’s stopping you?

Facebook says “All your user data are belong to us”

(Search “all your bases are belong to us” if you don’t get the reference.)

Years ago, Amazon and Apple told publishers “all your subscribers are belong to us,” and naive publishers said, “uh, okay then.” Now Facebook is getting in on the act. Will publishers wise up?

I doubt it.

A couple weeks ago I mentioned this article, and how it should transform your ideas about content. What We Got Wrong About Books says that data about readers is valuable.

If you publish your content straight to Facebook, guess who’s getting that data?

Publishers — don’t be suckers yet again!

Build trust, not traffic

This is worth your time: Why You Should Be Building Trust, Not Traffic.

March 23, Social media mania, don’t believe statistics from advocates, and try fewer images in your emails

Is there at least one social media outlet that does not have a marketing angle?

Every time some new social media thing catches on, some marketing genius is going to tell you how you can use it for your product or service.

At a certain point it gets a little ridiculous. I just saw an article about using snapchat for marketing. Give me a break.

People don’t get on social media to shop. They’re trying to chat, or read about cats, or catch up with old high school friends or something like that. Each social media outlet will have a different focus, but generally speaking it’s about people, not about products. Hence the word “social.”

Most of these “marketing implications of social media” things seem like nonsense to me. Or, rather, they’re ways for young marketers to try to make a business case for their social media addiction.

Don’t fall for it.

Lies, damned lies and the push for mobile apps

“People spend 86 percent of their time on apps, therefore you need to build an app for your magazine!”

Have you ever heard something like that before? It makes about as much sense as this: “People spend 1/3 of their time sleeping, therefore you need to make a dream version of your magazine.”

How to Lie with Statistics was not supposed to be a guidebook!

Yes, people spend lots of time on apps — those apps being Facebook, Twitter, Angry Birds, Candy Crush Saga, etc. They are not reading news or other professional content!

Never try to base your publishing strategy on rolled-up stats about general internet behavior because the vast majority of internet behavior has nothing to do with publishing!

Don’t ask “how many pages are viewed on mobile?,” or “how much time is spent on mobile?,” or “how many people have a mobile device?” People who use such stats are trying to deceive you. Often they’re trying to get you to buy their app-making software or service.

Rather, ask questions like this.

  • “How many of my customers (and people like my customers) who read the kind of content I produce read it on a mobile device?”
  • “When my customers, or people like my customers, read on mobile devices, what kind of stuff do they read, and can I re-target my content to be like that?”

Those are the most important questions. After you’ve addressed those two (and only after you’ve addressed those two) ask this.

  • “When other people (who aren’t my customers) read content on mobile devices, what kind of stuff do they read, and can I re-target my content to be like that?”

The mobile-first, everything digital, “we love disruption” crowd will try to do this completely backwards. They’ll tell you to do new content for a new audience on a new platform.

Sure, do that. But do it last. First, only change one thing, e.g., new content to your current audience on your current platform, or your current content for your current audience on a new platform.

You can’t go to new people with new stuff in a place you’re not known and expect to do well.

Here’s an article that makes some similar points and is worth your time: News Media Should Drop Native Apps.

More images, fewer clicks?

Here’s an interesting study from Constant Contact. Study: More Images Means Less Clicks for Email Marketers. (Argh. It’s “Fewer,” people, not “Less.”)

… the Constant Contact study found that when an email has more than 3 images, the click-through rate greatly drops.