Category Archives: Authors

What is the success of a concurrent book / mobile app publishing strategy?

Craig Ramsay's Mobile Apps

What is unique about your publishing? Do you have a game changer?

Successful publishing has always thrived on unique stories

One thing I learned early on in my publishing career was that sales success relies on having great and compelling stories to tell, and that without a great and compelling story to communicate to your prospects, the media and the booksellers, you might as well not publish.

Better still: if you’ve got a “game changer” you can share, and you can focus all your marketing and sales resources on it, you will be the golden boy/girl of your division or business unit. That’s because you provide the sales and marketing teams with “uniqueness”, which makes their lives easier, and their work gratifying.

Here is a story about uniqueness in todays fast changing digital publishing world.

Technology in the gym 

Ipods, iPhones and smartphones are very popular in the gym. Most fitness enthusiasts take their device into the gym with them.

When you’re dazed and confused  

Now, imagine your typical gym person: they are on their third or fourth visit to the gym in two weeks; they’ve had their induction from the gym supervisor, and they are still feeling a bit insecure about the equipment and the right and wrong exercises they ought to be performing. They’re feeling a bit lost and they want advice and tips about exercises, sequences, sets and repetitions. They look around but it’s intimidating: other fitness zealots are busy with their own workouts, and the trainer is doing an new induction, so he’s not available.

A exercise book on the bedside table

Our gym newbie has an exercise book at home, which sits beside the bed, which they’ve studied several times, before going to sleep. However, when our fitness newbie is in the gym the next day, they are overwhelmed by the extent of the equipment and the choice, and they don’t know where to start, what piece of equipment to use, how to use it properly, nor what exercise to do next.

Books in the gym – not cool!

Our exercise fanatic doesn’t want to take their book into the gym, because they don’t want to appear foolish or stupid – after all, this is muscle building, not a book club! So, books in the gym are not cool!

So the book stays at home, but our user is trying to remember the exercises he / she needs to perform and is thinking “I wish I could remember which “biceps” and “triceps” exercises there were in the book”  and “what what did the trainer say was the best technique for the bench press exercise?”

When a desire becomes a reality 

Well, that customer desire for more nomadic and personalised mobile instruction in the gym is now a reality.

In a series of apps we’ve developed with our Partners Moseley Road and personal fitness coach Craig Ramsay, we’ve done something pretty smart. We’re taking the content from the Muscle Anatomy series and we’ve re-engineered it for the small screen. But we’re not simply following the structure of the books. We’re splitting the content into different apps. That’s because we don’t think an app should duplicate a book. If it did, it would simply overwhelm the user with too much information on a small device. Instead we craft the app for a purpose. In the case of the muscle building anatomy title, that purpose is be a fast and simple “aide memoire” for use in the gym, providing what the user needs “in a blink”.

The game changer 

But the best is still to come: the apps we’ve engineered from the muscle building anatomy title provide something the book does not: they allow the user to hone in on the specific muscles they would like to target, and provide specific exercises designed for that muscle group. So when our users are the gym and they want an exercise for their biceps and triceps, they can navigate straight from the “muscles” menu and locate the best exercises for those muscles in a blink. That’s something extra, that the book does not do, but which the app is perfectly suited for.

Do you have a unique publishing story for your sales and marketing teams? 

If this is the kind of story you would like to be able to talk about on the cover of your books (“this book includes an app for you to take into the gym”), and it’s the sort of story your marketing and sales teams would like to be able to tell the media and booksellers, and you see it as a way to build strength in your brand, and differentiate from your competition, we’d love to hear about your experience, challenges and successes in the world of concurrent app / book publishing. Write a comment below or, if you’d rather, use the contact form

Where do publishers need to invest now to be future ready?


Where do publishers need to invest now to be future ready?

Where do publishers need to invest now to be future ready? Photo credit seanmcmenemy Flickr

I’ve been prompted by Korash Sanjideh, the Creative Industries iNET Broker, to think about a series of workshops that would strengthen the regions publishing brands and safeguard their future in the post digital age.

The Truth: Digital revenues will not be enough to compensate shortfalls 

Dan Franklin, Random House’s digital editor, says that the publishing industry is looking “into a void . . . heading into the unknown”.

It’s an uncomfortable truth, for most UK publishers revenue from their traditional revenue streams is tailing off and revenues from their lower priced digital products is not sufficient to compensate the shortfall in cash.

But publishing needn’t look into the void and a series of workshops that put the real dilemmas in publishing at the heart of the debate will help publishers be better informed and better equipped to refocus theirs businesses in the digital age.

Hence, a program of workshops designed to help publishers strengthen their businesses for the digital age will need to consider some of the following critical issues:

  1. The value chain. Has your position in the value chain been altered? Are the critical success factors that once defined you as pertinent as before? Are your specialist skills in editorial, print buying, time to market, content editing, content creation, manufacture, distribution and marketing as valuable as they once were? Read more on this question here
  2. Author needs. Are your authors or potential authors or subject experts still relying on you as an intermediary (connection to readers/users) or are they exploring their own direct relationships with readers via blogs and online social media? What bundles could you offer your authors to remain relevant?
  3. Content for social community. Beyond traditional authored content, what other ‘user generated content’ could you aggregate and leverage into your publishing model to provide discoverability for your online community of interest? This content needs to be relevant, social and sharable.
  4. Content affiliation. Which commercial stakeholders share content needs online? Are there any publishing partnerships to be forged with non-publishing companies seeking content for marketing and sales and to enhance their customers’ experience online? The budgets that brands are willing to spend on great content are significant and worth investigating. A high turnover of refreshed content is needed online.
  5. Relations with online distributors. How should you manage your relations with the large online distributors? How can you grow these relations whilst building direct-to-consumer relations?  Now that customers are identifiable, contactable and trackable online, publishers need to build their businesses around customer knowledge and proximity.

Cultural shift

Undoubtedly the biggest and most powerful change in publishing needs to be cultural. The cultural shift involves moving the focus in the business away from product (book or magazine) to consumer / reader.

From a focus on content to a focus on community 

So, if you’ve been a gardening publisher for 15 years, you need to reinvent yourself as the provider of gardening know-how, expertise and solutions to all stakeholders in the world of gardening.

Refocusing a publishing business in this way means no longer considering ones business to be publishing but rather to be a key player in the industry of gardening and building and maintaining a brand community around gardening. That means focusing the key assets (human, IP and technological) on the brand community development. The Harvard Business Review looks at getting brand community right in more detail.

Viewing the core activity through the lens of community is the route to longer life expectancy. Core transformation in the genes of the business creates a new and essential vibrancy that breaths new life into publishing teams, providing much needed vital energy and dynamism to build a stronger business future. I’ve reported on my own experience of driving and managing this kind transformation in publishing here

Publishing businesses that transition to community in this way will discover that they have many new revenue streams to embrace. It means that dependency on their eroding books sales vanishes and is replaced by a new range of opportunities.

Evolving the revenue drivers in publishing 

Andrew Davies, a friend and colleague at idio Platform provides a useful “ABCD revenue driver framework” which I’ve used on several occasions to help clients think through strategies for their publishing businesses. Briefly the framework looks like this:

Audience revenues: This category covers revenues that are a function of the audience size: purchase price and advertising and sponsorship revenues.

Brand revenues: This category denotes brand extensions such as events and new products in which the brand name is strong enough to develop new products in other categories. A publisher specialising in photography can develop, promote and manage photography field trips.

Content revenue: This is the opportunity for supplying the asset to other stakeholders. Magazines and book publishers can use their writers and their specialist knowledge to create branded content for other companies. Air France commissions Gallimard to do this in France.

Data revenue: As direct-to-consumer relationships increase, data becomes a more valuable asset for every publisher. This might be in the form of selling on marketing lists to interested brands, building insightful research from aggregate data, or selling through ancillary products to the current audience.

If I were to devise a program of workshops for publishers in the South West it would look something like this:

The focus would most likely be on implementation rather than idea generation because participants would need actionable takeaways.

My Approach

I would develop a list of possible topics  and invite publishers to whittle down the list to three or four core subjects to be the focus of deeper debate and exploration. The list would most likely include the following topics:

  • eBooks marketplace / impact
  • New publishing paradigm
  • Marketing and sales
  • Getting and making use of data
  • Exploring revenue streams
  • Exploring paid subscription services
  • Reuse and recycle content
  • Build partnerships with Key retailers
  • Online community management
  • Develop new distribution channels

Putting detail around the topic and asking businesses in the target group to rate the topic for relevance on a scale of 1 to 5 would help shape a program of workshops relevant to the needs of the target group.

What other topics would you expect to see on a workshop list of this kind?


Positive signs for a bright future despite the decline in book retailing

Implementing change requires effort

After getting back from a long summer break and an extended digital fast, I was curious to know what changes and developments had occurred in publishing during my absence.

Three concurrent events helped me take stock of the current state of book publishing:

  1. The first was a wander through the book aisles of WH Smith in Exeter, which, as you might imagine, did little to provide me with a compulsive new vision for a brighter publishing future.
  2. The second event that captured my attention was a more compelling story from Michael Morpurgo’s on the creation of Penguin 75 years ago, on BBC R4. This was a more uplifting experience and a timely reminder that ideas and more ideas drive success in publishing.
  3. The third stimulus was the news on almost every industry blogger’s pages that Seth Godin pulled his ripcord and jettisoned his publisher Penguin in place of self-publishing. This, I pondered, might be the long awaited catalyst for change in our industry.

But what of these three events? Firstly, as you may have predicted if you know the stores, my amble down the aisles of WH Smith was not, as I mentioned, a trip through Publishing’s Gardens of Paradise. It felt more like a violent reminder of the biggest problem in book publishing today: swathes of poorly published titles stacked to the ceiling in lurid lollipop displays. Then, to add insult to injury, behind the floor-to-ceiling piles of “bestsellers”,  rack upon rack of poorly presented, slowly rotting backlist titles leaning in disarray on shelves that no self respecting shopper would care to browse.

How sad that the UK’s largest retail book chain has had such a detrimental effect on our publishing. Is it any wonder publishers see no alternative but to run headlong into poor list creation, snatching titles at auction that they can ill afford to pay for, just in order to jump on the bandwagon of celebrity publishing and try their luck at the lottery?

This type of distribution might work for the likes of the Guinness Book of World Records at Christmas but it’s questionable whether it works as the retail standard for publishing, 365 days a year? What lifebuoy can there be for an an industry as sick as this?  Is there any hope Tim Waterstone might buy back his flagship stores from HMV and restore sense and purpose to an ailing and butchered publishing and retail industry?

On a brighter note, Michael Morpurgo’s account of the creation of Penguin 75 years ago, on Radio 4, was a keen reminder of how successful book publishing is shaped by the initiatives of keen entrepreneurs who have vision and a sense of risk. The story on the radio happily coincide with a presentation Simon Jollands, my digital publishing partner, and I were giving about our new digitally enhanced e-book series. Our aim is to use high quality instructional content and compulsive functionality to bring engaging learning and interactivity to lifelong enthusiasts seeking to improve their proficiency in leisure pursuits (knots, gardening, golf etc..). Like Penguin, our series of digitally enhanced e-books fills the sort of gap Allen Lane spotted in the market as he was waiting for a train to take him from Exeter back to London. Like Allen, our aim is to supply a convenient and affordable series that revolutionises the existing.

Finally, news that Seth Godin has thrown down the gauntlet and decided to self publish was predictable but none the less exciting. I wholeheartedly endorse his decision to go independent and demonstrate new marketing practices. Sure, not all reputable authors are ready to follow but Seth’s insights into a failing industry and his leadership and teaching will spur many authors to move in that direction. With the right support, guidance and training, authors can successfully transition to an independent model. But happily, not all authors will feel a need to because some publisher (SIPs in the main) will themselves transition to provide the platform and the community for their to engage with their readers.

When Seth Godin addressed a group of independent publishers in May and shared his wisdom with them on the future role of special interest book publishing, he hit the proverbial nail on the head: the best way forward from here for niche publishers is curation, permission marketing and community leadership.

For me personally content curation of any sort is a victory. It reflects the way the industry is moving and it reinforces the change we, at Idio, are helping publishers and authors tool-up for.

On balance the barometer says book publishing is moving in the right direction. So let’s get on with it!