Tuesday, November 27, 2007

It's the book, not the paper that counts

I'd just like to give Michael Hyatt a virtual cookie for his resounding common sense in his latest post "Is It Really Books That We Love?"
I think books are similar. I don’t believe that people are as wedded to the technology as they think they are. What they love about books are the stories and the content. They remember how those words made them feel. They love the experience of reading and the places that takes them. The delivery mechanism just happens to be a book—granted a very sophisticated technology that hasn’t really changed in hundreds of years.

Spot on and bravo! It amuses me that this industry is so terrified by technology that we, by and large, haven't grasped the simple fact that we're in the content business. It's the way our users experience our content, not the way it gets to them, that is the important thing.

User experience - bring on the future

I find all of this user experience stuff really inspiring: http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2007/11/26/monday-inspiration-user-experience-of-the-future/

See, I’m not sure if it’s a left brain, right brain thing but something interesting happens when you take digital concepts, and make it analogue.

Take information architecture – if I’m mapping out an IA I’ll start with a list of content. I’ll break it down to the most minute level possible (which can take a running list spanning several days) and will then plonk each item on an index card. More precisely, because I don’t like being wasteful, I plonk it on about 1/3 of an index card.

I then shuffle and make little piles of “like content”. I then label the piles and do it again. And again. And again with lots of people until some sort of order and reason comes out.

It’s amazing how often the simplest, sanest IAs are created by card sorting. Sometimes they marry up to the experience you get from an xls and someone cutting and pasting cells, but not always.

So I say bring on these real world ways of representing digital information!

Monday, November 26, 2007

To DRM or not to DRM, that is the question

First, a disclosure: I’m one of those people that loves technology. I’m also an avid reader, and I don’t look on these passions as being a contradiction in terms. Call me strange – and many in the book biz do – but I firmly believe that digital mediums suit books beautifully.

I believe it so much that I frequently read my books in a digital format. About 50% of my reading for pleasure is in the form of ebooks. About 10% of my reading for pleasure is in the form of mss (usually in MS Word). So that only leaves about 40% for physical books… Which makes me somewhat unusual in the publishing industry.

As a person who reads a lot of ebooks AND works on the biz, I have a very delicate balancing act when it comes to DRM. When I’m reading? I HATES it.

Hate, hate, hate.

I abhor the fact that I can’t read my legally purchased ebook on my work laptop because I can’t get Microsoft Passport to validate my installation of MS Reader. And you know what? I’m a pretty tech savvy chick – if I can’t do it (and I think it’s probably that I have too many devices activated – I have two current personal computers, plus a PDA, and probably had my last machine and maybe even the one before THAT activated with the same account), then bet your arse other people can’t do it, too.

I have nightmares about the coming day when my beautifully catalogued library of ebooks will become useless because Microsoft stop supporting the format. Or because a format other than .lit becomes the mainstream.

I hate the fact that neither Sony Reader nor Kindle will ever be a good option for me, because I have such a huge investment in a different format.

And you know what else? If that day comes, I’m ready willing and able to crack the DRM on my ebook library so that I can continue to read my books…

Flip side? I understand why Publishers are so keen on this technology. We know it doesn’t work, we know that the main formats have long since been hacked. And yet, it’s really really tempting to do it anyway because up until now, we’ve been protecting by the very fact that books are an analogue product. Unless you work as a typesetter or in editorial or production at a mainstream publishing house, your only options for pirating a book have been either ridiculously labour intensive or just plain ridiculous. Witness the Harry Potter leak – someone went to LOTS of trouble to photograph that book pre-release; but did anyone actually read more than a handful of pages? So when you talk about putting a digital copy of the book out there WITH NO PROTECTION the hearts of publishing execs (and probably authors) around the world start palpitating.

But, I think the main reason that they are so keen on the idea of DRM is because NO ONE IN THE INDUSTRY ACTUALLY READS EBOOKS! ‘Cause I can assure you – in all my travels I’ve never met a single person who uses this stuff that thinks it’s a good idea. Most, like me, are happy enough to live with it so long as the files keep working. A few violently hate it. But most don’t have the tech savvy to work WITHIN DRM. And that is a very serious usability problem!

So that’s my challenge to the pointy heads out there with their encryption algorithms: make me a DRM that is as easy to use as a pirate version, and I’ll be a happy camper indeed.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Targetted content

I've been thinking a lot recently about hitting my users with relevant content at the right moment. And, yes -- I mean a marketing message. BUT! And this is a big but! When you hit the right person with the right info at the right time, it ceases to be marketing, and starts being useful info...

I'm lucky in that I work in the entertainment content business (books, specifically) and most of my users are THRILLED to give me their data because they want to know when the next book by their favourite author is released. That's perceived to be valuable information by most of my users.

An email or an SMS as the new book hits stores is useful - particularly if I send a 20% off voucher at the same time.

I'm super aware, though, that the moment I start sending information that isn't valuable, I start marketing to them... And from there it's a very short stroll to unwelcome spam.

So I've been thinking about how to get the balance right. For example, what about other authors they might like? If I know that they enjoy Kathy Reichs and Karin Slaughter, it's a fair bet that they generally enjoy reading forensic procedurals - crime novels that have a heavy forensic component. So they'd probably also enjoy reading Simon Beckett (for example)...

Of course, the more info I have about your reading preferences, the more useful the information I send can be. But how to do that without entering big brother territory and asking for everything down to and including your shoe size?