Sunday, December 28, 2008

GOOD -- brought to you by Starbucks
A few months ago I noticed a new newspaper available at Starbucks. It is quite small, free and is distributed right where one waits for coffee (at least in Madison, CT). The idea for this came from the website. The paper takes advertising, covers one topic and helps disseminate useful information all while you wait for your double tall nonfat dry cappuccino. I remember reading years ago that the articles in People Magazine were short enough to be read during a visit to the restroom -- perhaps the Good sheet fills up the time while waiting for your coffee. More details here:

Thursday, November 13, 2008


I read with interest about the new service that came out of Google's philanthropic arm. By culling data from the last 5 year's of searches and running it against reports for the Centers for Disease Control Reports, Google found that they were two weeks to ten days ahead of the CDC in learning about the outbreaks. I hope they call it "Floogle".

What a great use of "data exhuast". I think it also shows how important it is for publishers to see and understand how their customers construct queries on their databases. It can be such a great data set to mine for new products or to improve existing ones. 20 years ago while working in Washington DC, I used to file Freedom of Information Act requests at the Securities & Exchange Commission for all the other FOIA requests that had been filed. We found some great product ideas and market insight in those letters. The Internet makes the process a whole lot easier!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

No Free Launch

I attended the InfoCommerce Conference in Philadelphia this week and caught Ann Michael’s interesting session on launching products. She was joined by Michael Balsam , VP Products & Services, Onvia and Adam Bernacki, VP Sales & Marketing Leadership Directories.

Ann started out by remarking how change has affected product launches. Back in the day of books you had to be perfect because if a mistake was made it would live forever. This is not true in the Internet world – you can no longer afford to be perfect as you'll never get the product out the door. The panel addressed this phenomenon by reviewing its impact at several places along the development process.

Michael talked about how Onvia publishes 60+ million pages per year with all sorts of detail about government contracts. This information can help clients like Dell know a year ahead of time when and where a new school would be built. Dell can use information to help them size future markets

Onvia’s development process includes Strategic Planning, Market Needs & Satisfaction, and User Experience. Onvia tries to drive toward the most profitable opportunities. They then try and understand the current and potential competitive landscape. They profile and segment markets based on unmet needs and finally benchmark and measure key performance indicators over time. They strive toward designing offers that are intuitive and workflow compatible. This informs their go to market planning.

Mike also extolled the benefits of agile product development versus waterfall and making sure to work from the “market back”. Agile really fits the notion of not letting "perfect be the enemy of the good".

Adam Bernacki provided some background on Leadership Directories, known to many as the “publishers of the Yellow Books”. The Leadership Directories product is a “handcrafted” database with 70 editors/reporters covering 500,000 people. There are 5000 changes made every day.

As with Onvia, their process is also strategy driven. Here are a few of the measures they use:

1) Does the product support our strategic direction?

2) Does the product make money?
-Can you define success in absolute dollars and absolute time frame.

3)Is the product experimental enough?
-What does it teach us about our world, our market and our customers?

He shared their requirements for a measuring stick:
· Measure of commercial success should be both time-bound and absolutely clear in terms of sales achievements floors and ceiling targets
· New product has to produce 1-2% of our annualized sales in the 1st 12 months

Adam then walked us through a sales pipeline example with real numbers to show how truly ambitious this program really is. Net, net – 3200 sales hours or two people working full time for a year to achieve the goal!

These processes have led them to some great successes and some learning experiences.

The session finished with a lot of great questions as the publishers in the audience tried to gain insights on when to kill a product and how product use data is repurposed to create enhancements.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Selling Cookbooks by Giving Away Recipes

I'm an avid cook and am the person responsible for the grocery shopping and cooking at our house. An article entitled "A Plan to Sell Cookbooks: Give Away Recipes Online" in the Saturday New York Times caught my eye. Reporter Motoko Rich writes about a site called Cookster that draws on recipes from chefs like Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Mario Batali and a hundred or so others. Each recipe will appear on a page with a picture of the chef and links to places to buy the book. Users will be able to search the site using a multitude of criteria. Founder Will Schwalbe said the site will go live with 2,500 recipes and he hopes to expand it to 10,000.

The aim of the site is to sell more cookbooks. It is hoped that by giving recipes away as samples, people will buy the books. This business model has worked very well for Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray, neither of whom are participating. Not surprisingly Cookstr will be suppored by advertising revenues. In another nod to the Web 2.0 world, publishers said they hoped the site would draw attention not only to new books but also to old ones ( no mention of the long tail in the article!).

On the face of it, the idea shows some promise. If a cook likes a recipe they may come back and buy the book. It seems the real challenge is in getting attention on the web. The article mentions epicurious, foodnetwork and allrecipes as competing sites and I use them all. I wonder how Cookstr will break through the clutter. Just as with products for B2B professionals, you need to understand the workflow of your customer. When I go to cook something I'm looking for a recipe like pot roast. I don't start out thinking about how Bobby Flay or Emeril Lagasse make it. My guess is that Cookstr will have to spend heavily on recipe key words to break through and this may be a daunting task.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Whining about Wine
I was flipping through the Saturday New York Times and was intrigued by a full page ad from Wine Spectator that screamed FREE ACCESS in massive type. The pitch is to provide visitors to the website with free access until October 1st. The offer provides access to 200,000 wine ratings and tastings as well as access to newsletters and other content. In mousetype the limitations are barely visible to point out that "Free Access does not include use of site personalization tools or the ability to post comments on our Editors' Blogs". All in all a pretty standard online publishing offer of giving some content away for free in the hopes that you will become a subscriber.

I clicked through on the link and not surprisingly was confronted with an email capture box with another bit of fine print. This one disclosed that "By entering your e-mail address in the field above, you give permission to send occasional e-mails regarding promotional items that we feel might be of interest to you." I'm sure by accumulating lots of email addresses they'll be able to pay for a Saturday page ad in the NYT but their method seems a bit heavy handed in this day and age. There was no opt out of this page and I needed to validate the email address.

Interestingly when I ran a Google Search for "wine spectator" they came up first and second in the organic listing but their was no paid listing for them. The real surprise came when I looked at the third link from a site called Dr. Vino. It highlighted a website from author Robin Goldstein. He created a restaurant that did not exist and managed to win a "Wine Spectator Award of Excellence"! The only calls he got from WS where a message was left was from the ad sales people trying to convince him to buy an ad for $3000 +. Based on the article it seems that the Wine Spectator may be more of a paid listing directory business rather than an aficionado site. WS could also use some help on their web 2.0 and SEO/SEM strategies.

Wonder what would happen if someone created a Wikipedia/UGC site around wine? (If you know of one, pass it along).
SIIA in Paris II
While in Paris I was able to spend the better part of a Sunday wandering around the Louvre. I paid for one of those dorky headsets with an oversized Palm Pilot-like device swinging around my neck. Some of the content on the device was quite good -- the Masterpieces of the Louvre tour took you around to three of the museums signature pieces like the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace. That tour provided step by step instructions on how to maneuver around the museum and through the crowds. I was pretty impressed at this point and thought that Korean Air had scored a great coup by locking up the sponsorship of these devices for 1 million euros.

Imagine my disappointment when I found that the other tours were lacking in that level of detail. They only provided crude maps to direct you to the next piece of art. In some cases the art had been moved! It seemed that the museum had put all their effort into their A-List products and had skimped on the other less popular offerings. I'll grant the Louvre that keeping those devices updated in a whole bunch of languages must take a lot of work, but they should be consistent in the quality of their offerings. No one wants to see a bunch of tourists walking around in circles wearing those dorky headsets.

The other downside of the experience was realizing that the device offered no geospatial information. There was no "Where the hell am I" button which really comes in handy at a museum of this size. Moreover, most of the artwork had no information besides the little cards stuck to the wall - all written in French. BlueTooth enabled sets would be pretty handy that could broadcast when you get close or punch in a number on the screen.

All in all, the Louvre was a fascinating museum, however as an information provider they could do a lot more. They should also be considerate of their sponsors who pay to have their name on these products.

Monday, September 15, 2008

SIIA in Paris I
Early this summer I was invited to speak at GFII’s “Summer School “ program in Paris. The GFII is sort of the French equivalent of the SIIA. I was told I’d be the only English speaker so I thought it made sense to try out Rosetta Stone to pick up some language skills. I was impressed first by their pricing model as it had a perfect option for me – a three month software as a service model. For my $150 I could use all three levels of the product. This was a much better deal than buying the $495 version of CD-ROMS.

Although I did not make it as far as I would have liked in the program, it was impressive software that tracked my progress and presented the material in a pretty intuitive interface. But there were a few drawbacks and limitations that could have increased the utility of the product:

  • Profiling & Market Segmentation – Although I signed up as an individual, I think they should have asked if if my use was going to be primarily business or leisure. This approach could have them tweak the coursework based on my needs.

  • Scoring -- The product would have been enhanced if I could see how I'm doing compared to others that purchased the product when I did.

  • Social Networking -- Why not allow students to converse and discuss the product or have a way for students to get help from others?

All in all, a good product that could use a few tweaks.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A Different Take on Orphaned Works -- Orphaned Brands!

I received a press release last week from the team at CoreBrand. They focus on brand power and strength and its impact on a company's value. They wrote to tout a new service call Brandvault that will allow marketers to purchase or license once popular but now defunct corporate and product names. Names include Shearson, Allied Signal, Breakfast Mate and Handi-Wrap.

The company claims that "BrandVault offers marketers a turnkey collection of 120 out of use brand names that have been revived and newly trademarked in a wide range of consumer product categories, all ready for re-launch."

“This is a rare opportunity to acquire a classic brand that has been pushed aside through a merger, or some other quirk of business, yet retains tremendous brand equity,” said James Gregory, CEO, CoreBrand “The astronomical cost of creating a name from scratch includes; research, name development, and legal research, just to get to the point of having a name without any value. Those steps can be eliminated. These names exist and they are already legally protected through the trademark office.”

While I think this is a clever business that has been thoughtfully constructed, I'm not sure if I would use this if I were a brand manager. It has the same feel of company that went public via a shell corporation rather than going out in a traditional manner. I also think it could serve to confuse the public like when the sock puppet went to work for someone else after the bubble burst.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Part 2
The June 7th Economist has an article entitled Unbound about Book publishing in America. It highlights Amazon's impact on the industry through POD (Print on Demand) and the Kindle. There were a few key points that are worth noting:
  • Unlike digital music or video, digital books require consumers to change their consumption habits.
  • Textbooks is a growing category and it is helping to reduce costs by eliminating all the frictional expenses that occur along the value chain. The Economist points out that this could have a huge impact for Springer & Elsevier in terms of the $2.3 B college textbook-resale market. If the books are only available electronically, they become very hard to resell to the old college bookstore.
  • POD is now cheaper than standard print for runs of fewer than 1200 copies according to Steve DeForge of Ames On-Demand.

The last paragraph says it all and ties in with my last post: Publishing has only two indispensable participants: authors and readers and any technology that bring these two groups closer makes the whole industry more efficient. The pains is for those who have historically benefited from he distance between them.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Standing in between someone and the information they need...
is a sure way to lose a job. Jeff Jarvis, in his excellent blog Buzzmachine recently commented on the Justice Department’s antitrust settlement with the National Association of Realtors. He rails against the market inefficiency created as realtors monopolized listings. He goes on to point out that 6% commissions are a thing of the past as internet brokers will now be able to compete on a level playing field.

It brings to mind a comment that a b-school professor made to me years ago "Never stand between someone who needs information and the information itself as you'll soon find yourself out of a job". So far I can only think of examples that by and large support this theory. For example, when financial data became more ubiquitous, the role of stock brokers changed drastically. The same is true for travel agents thanks to websites like Expedia, and travelocity.

However, it is important to note that just because some inefficiency or monopolistic profits are squeezed out of a market does not mean that all those workers are out on the street. Markets have a way of segmenting themselves and the smart realtors (following in the steps of the stockbrokers and travel agents) will focus on higher net worth individuals, or corporate relocators or other high need/low time people to build their business. For the "down market", they may adopt the strategies of their internet competitors and use their strong brands to grow share.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

NOYS BOYS and other Acronyms
I've always been interested in language and acronyms in particular have intrigued me. Acronyms are quite prevalent in technical fields and often have the impact of creating a "language" that is only known to members of a particular community. When I worked for legal and tax publisher Commerce Clearing House, they published an internal directory of all the three and four letter acronmyms in use so sales, editorial, technology and fulfillment could all be on the same page, so to speak.

A few recent sightings got me thinking about these constructions. For example, I received a vacation response from someone at Google, the subject line had OOO (Out Of Office). I also read some reviews of the swag bag at the All Things Digital Conference and learned that SWAG = Stuff We All Get.

With a 7 year old in the house, we've come up with our own lexicon for everday words and happenings. Here are a few of my favorites:

RB = Roast Beef
BOYS = Both On Your Side. This occurs during raucous badminton matches where both shuttlecocks wind up on one side of the net.
NOYS = None On Your Side. See above
OOB = Out Of Bounds

Of course when guests come over they have no idea what in the heck we are talking about until we indoctrinate them into our badminton fraternity. Then they know the language and can join the community.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Social Networking for the St. Elmos’ Fire Crowd
My 25th prep school reunion was this weekend at Choate in Wallingford, CT. Being a glutton for punishment I agreed to be one of the reunion chairs for the event reasoning that since I plan a lot of events for SIIA, there should be some skill overlap. Luckily there was. We made extensive use of email to help in the recruiting efforts and used blogs, Photobucket , Skype and FaceBook to supplement. Unlike the information industry crowd, there has not been as much acceptance out in the general populace yet. We got about 25 classmates to join Facebook and through that process found out that some of my classmates are in the info industry!
I’m hoping that a lot of the photos taken will make it up to Facebook or Photobucket to help lay the groundwork for our 30th reunion.

Our approach stands in sharp contrast to the graduating 6th formers (seniors) that I got to meet a few weeks ago. Every one of them is on FaceBook now and as one student pointed out was that they are “only one wall post away” from contacting each other in the future. This will certainly come in handy for them 25 years from now when they have to find each other.

P.S. Thanks no Nancy Kho for the St. Elmo’s Fire reference – I sent her a link to the photos last week.
CCC on May Day
Copyright Clearance Center, an SIIA member, recently held a one day conference on Copyright. Once there I saw the schedule and got a little worried – they had schedule four ninety minute panel discussions on the topic. I’m thinking that is way too long and people will be nodding off. SIIA runs lots of conferences and we’ve moved to much shorter sessions , never venturing beyond 60 minutes. To my surprise and delight – they were all terrific. CCC matched the right speakers with the right audience. The people in attendance, including Keith Kupferschmid and Ken Wasch from SIIA live and breath the topic and were quite passionate about their opinions. They touched on copyright in print, music and video.

The highlight for me was hearing recording artist Suzanne Vega talk about her experience with the global remixing of “Tom’s Diner”. This tune was remixed by a variety of artists. Once they reached some level of popularity they’d contact her or her legal team for permission. For the first and most popular remix, she wisely paid a flat fee for global rights to the version and she now receives all royalties whenever this version is played. She has pretty much approved every request except when someone wanted to use it in a porn soundtrack – she advised them that there were probably better songs they could choose from.
NY Times Incline or Decline?
I recently attended Incisive Media’s ePublishing Innovation Forum in London. It is put on by the same team that bring the industry the iconic London Online conference. They put on a good conference with some really great speakers. Vin Crosbie, a media consultant presented some information about the decline in newspapers, specifically citing the decline in readership at the New York Times.

The question I raised was how looking at only one metric is misleading. Sure, people are not consuming as many dead trees as they used to. Where I live in CT I can only receive the Times for home delivery on the weekends. However, I receive the excellent DealBook newsletter every morning, plus emails containing the top news headlines every day. On the home pages I maintain there are links to NYT headlines as well as a variety of RSS feeds from the auto sections, food sections and from freakonomics. (I also download a crossword from time to time). The implications for advertising are quite significant.

Is it anyone’s job at the NY Times to profile me as a subscriber? Probably not yet but by looking at the self selected items above, you could deduce that I’m interested in business, economics, food and autos – and you’d be right. My NYT consumption may be less in terms of time spent than when I used to read the print from cover to cover. However, my consumption is now more valuable and targeted as there is less waste. Invariably the metrics will catch up with consumers like in the same way that the Nielsen’s are tracking TV, radio and beyond. This composite “metric” may show some growth in these properties if someone can figure out the arithmetic.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

I was in London last week for the ePublishing Innovation Forum and flew over on Virgin Atlantic. As you may know, Virgin Atlantic has those wonderful personal video screens that allow you to watch whatever you want along with the ability to pause, rewind and fast forward. While flying over I caught the first 50 minutes of a UK show called Torchwood. It is kind of like X Files on steroids. Alas, we were landing at Heathrow and I missed the ending.

Upon arrival I checked out the BBC website to see if I could watch it but they did not make it easy. However, I found out that the episodes can be purchased on iTunes in the states. I also learned that the show can be viewed on a BBC channel here in the US which I don't subscribe to.

What the heck does this have to do with content, you may ask? Well, I think it is an interesting parallel to a B2B business model where some of the content is given away for free (1 episode), then I have the option to buy by the drink for $1.99, and then finally I can cough up another $50 bucks a month to upgrade my cable to some super duper forced bundle.

I'll probably wind up buying the seasons from iTunes for $25 each and skip the cable upgrade. However, had it not been for that free sample, I would not have even heard of Torchwood an anagram of Doctor Who.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

My First Directory
The other day I was riding my bike and spotted a Schlitz beer can on the side of the road. Not really a remarkable occurrence except that it flashed me back about 30 years to when I used to collect beer cans. Schlitz was known for having cans in a variety of sizes from about 7 oz. to 24 oz. Those cans looked pretty cool on my shelves back then.

As my friends and I sourced these cans from road sides or cajoled our parents to buy them we learned about a book called the Beer Can Collector's Bible. It was published by Jack Martells in 1976 and it served as a directory to help us organize our collections.

Aside from a dictionary, thesaurus or encylopedia, this was the first bit of reference material I owned that was not for some scholarly pursuit. The biggest frustration, however, was that the publication lacked any information on price or value of the cans. It's amazing to think about how the market for collectibles and other items has changed with the advent of the Internet and marketplaces like EBAY. Collectors can communicate with each other to find the elusive item for their collection and get current market conditions.
Alas, my collection got put in the dumpster last year when my parent's sold their house. They did have someone take a look at the collection but there was not much worth selling. At least I still have my baseball cards!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

UGC for Lawyers
The New York Times ran an article on Sunday in the Novelties section entitled Lawyers Open Their File Cabinets for a Web Resource. The company that was profiled is called JD and they have built a service that "offers free access to a constantly expanding database of legal documents". Contributions include filings, decisions, forms and articles that are contributed by groups as varied as the Electronic Frontier Foundation to Morrison & Foerster.

This site assists researchers, members of the press and lawyers from smaller firms by providing a source for quality legal product. And, as with many user generated content schemes, offers the authors a wider audience to share their knowledge and grow their business and reputation. JD Supra also benefits by charging contributors $240 per year if they want to add links in their profiles to their e-mail addresses, Web sites and blogs. The site will also carry advertisements according to the article.

I've been of the opinion that user generated content in the B2B arena has been limited to markets where there is a high level of collaboration among community members -- like HR professionals or research librarians who share to help each other. Markets that have high degrees of competition are not as well suited for UGC because of issues like trade secrets, client confidentiality and the like. However, it appears that community members can self monitor what to share so that they can reap the "thought leader" benefits without enabling competitors.

Monday, April 28, 2008

SIIA Executive FaceTime Interview with Y.S. Chi of Elsevier
Last week Hal Espo, President of Contextual Connections interviwed Y.S. about a variety of topics. One of the most interesting for me was on the future of print. Y.S. pointed out that they realize that print is no longer the staring point for al research and that they are having to adjust their products accordingly.

It's not a surprise if you stop to think about it but it points out the danger and short sightedness of the simple maxims like "Print is dead". Sure, some print is dead but it really depends on how well you segment your market. For Elsevier it may be an age based segmentation based on roles/positions that will help them determine when print will die or migrate.