Books Are Losing Relevancy
Google and Amazon are both pushing to sell ebooks directly aggressively. An article in the NYT mentions a new device Amazon will offer for reading ebooks, but I don't think the problem with books and ebooks is that they need a better reader.
Google now allows you to embed book pasages directly in web pages.
The big problem is that the web is quickly becoming more interactive and diverse and useful, making books irrelevant for all but true enthusiasts, desperate people seeking a manifesto for life change, or those who read as an escape.
The larger a book becomes, the less likely it is to be relevant to any individual, and the less value each word has. People who may disagree with some concepts in your book may agree with pieces that they would be willing to cite if they could only find it. But they will never cite your information unless they can find it.
No matter what people believe, in almost every case someone has already shared the same belief. Format it in small sharable chunks with good findability and people will cite it.
A while ago I wrote a post about making information easy to consume. Recently Thomas Crampton interviewed Cory Doctorow about how to build blog readership, and that 6 minute interview is far more useful than my article was. See for yourself:
Attention Deficit Disorder
Most people with significant social and/or economic influence have (an equivalent of) attention deficit disorder, caused by an interruption-driven life cluttered with too much content and too little time.
People may want to consume relevant bits. Cognitive dissidents. Summaries that let us dive deeper if we want to. Little chunks of information that change how we perceive the world around us.
Rarely is something that is fully polished, comprehensive, and dated what we need. More likely it is easier to learn by stepping into a process and learning one piece at a time, starting with your interests, then expanding as we run into additional problems. Even with blog posts, people justifiably complain about my writing blog posts in spurts, and using links that are not descriptive enough to merit a click-through.
Leveraging the Web
Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. Writers should use the web for what it is worth. Break books into pieces, read and write daily, cite sources, go back and polish the best pieces and package them, but try to keep each idea as sharp as possible.
Knowing how to create a useful information product is not enough to maximize profits. A big flaw with my ebook is that it has soooo much information in it, but it is hard to show the value of it because it is a single item. You can't tell how much stuff was waded through to write it, that it is mentally and emotionally draining to revise, and it doesn't help that most Internet marketing ebooks are lead generation devices or affiliate marketing tools. Someone could sell much less and look like they were selling more, just by using better packaging.
The Inevitable Death of No & Low Value Networks
Just like chunks of content are getting broken down into smaller bits, so will content creation companies. Choice and technology are disintermediating most of the gatekeepers. You and I don't need publishers for distribution, and the fear associated with that is the real reason why the US DoJ recently whored itself out to telecom companies. Many people in positions of power abuse copyright and are afraid of open markets. From the Fake Steve blog:
[TV] was a wonderful system. For you [TV Networks] anyway. Except that it had one huge flaw. Which is that for you guys, the middlemen, to get rich, you needed to fuck over the people at both ends of the value chain -- the consumers who had no choice in what they watched and spent years being fed mountains of dog shit, and the producers of content who were at your mercy and had to negotiate with this tiny number of networks who operated, let's be honest here, as a kind of cartel.
Artists Become Publishers
If I target an idea to a market and people tell me it is garbage then so much for that idea. If early feedback looks promising then it is time to dig deeper, do more research, read more, and write more. Invest where your interests align with the interest of others.
John Andrews recently made another brilliant post talking about how artists need to become publishers:
You “artists” out there generating content will have to learn to publish if you want to participate in the Internet economy. Maybe that’s why Google spends so much trying to help the Internet advance… because it helps Google disintermediate the middlemen. When will Google bring us fast quantities of ISP-free, wireless bandwidth?
One day there will be no more middlemen. And then, Google will squeeze you for more profits. After all, growth needs to come from somewhere, right? When all the middlemen are gone, what’s left? You are. For every producer there are hundreds of consumers hungry for more. Will Google offer rewards for you to procreate? Of course it will. It has to. It’s Google’s destiny to manage the creative class.
Everyone is Selling
Bob Massa recently shot short videos of a thousand year old marketplace, showing locals in India trying to sell him a donkey
Contrary to popular belief, selling is not about tricking people into buying what they don't want. Yes, there are liars and thieves but that is not selling. That is lying and stealing.
Selling is about getting people to trust you enough to tell you their needs or desires and you satisfying those needs or desires. It is not always easy but it’s certainly not complicated.
The Key is to Not Look Like You are Selling
If markets keep getting more competitive and artists become publishers then I think publishers need to start becoming artists. Almost anything you want to consume has free samples available online. Some are copyright violations, others are free marketing, and some are both.
Here is Dane Cook on why it is so hard to win an argument against a woman:
You don't need to leave your computer to go to a concert, so if you do go you are going for the energy and the experience.
Even purely online things can look much richer than plain text. Here is Dan Thies's example of how to implement dynamic linking. Notice it includes graphics, and how those graphics enhance the value of his post. Want free research on how personalization and universal search change how we interact with search results? If people are giving away that kind of value for free how do you compete?
Becoming an Artist
I think publishers have to stop being publishers and start becoming artists, marketing their product as art, hitting the same touchpoints art hit.
When breaking news from a friend (or a friend of a friend) is freely available in real time and virtually everything is a commodity people buy
- the buying experience and sense of connection the buyer has with the artist, including any sense of community or empathy offered
- recommendations from friends or other trusted sources
- the story behind the product or service
- your experience and expertise
- the trust and goodwill you built up through sharing information, personal interaction, and the above points
Even when we are not buying we are still paying with attention. Familiarity and attention are early steps in sales. The WSJ wrote about how Disney kept a low-fi feel to Marié Digby's YouTube videos. She mixes in a few of her own original songs with old classics that have been viewed MILLIONS of times prior to dropping her first album. It is much easier to launch if you start off with a large fanbase.
Why it Helps to View Marketing as an Art
People are lazy and selfish. Especially anonymous people. If you try to replicate the links of an older competitor using the same techniques, many of the webmasters who linked at them will ignore you, even if your content is better than the stuff they are already linking at.
In all honesty, profit margins come more from perception than reality. If you are going to stay profitable you have to see the wave coming in and stay out in front of it, especially because as marketing techniques get abused they stop working. I am doing things today that I know I would not be profitable in a few years if I didn't go out of my way to lay the foundation to make them look and feel exceptionally legitimate today. The only differences between legitimacy and illegitimacy are trust, familiarity, and perception.
The Short Side of Web Publishing
This post is not to suggest that the web is a utopia that is better than all other sources of information, but more that it is cheaper, faster, easier, and provides something that is good enough to satisfy most demands for free.
The web has downsides to it, like promoting hyped up information pollution as a form of marketing. But the reality of it is that everyone is short on time. And few deeply understand the publishing dynamics of search, so when people get screwed by finding bad information on the web or make bad decisions because of ideas they discovered over the web they will likely blame themselves for it.
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