Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Media's Act II - Report from Digital Downtown

Media’s Act II at the Digital Downtown Conference at the CEA Lineshow in NY

Alan Brody, ViziPress (and the iBreakfast); Debbie Steirs, HarperStudio; Eric Frank, Flatworld Knowledge; Brad Inman,

Last week I joined 3 other publishers to talk about the next phase in publishing at a consumer electronics road show in New York. We did something unusual – we talked about the way media content needs to change – and we showed eye-opening examples.

Clearly, Consumer Electronics guys are mostly interested in TV and mobile apps. Reading is not their highest priority - but then you never where convergence is going take you.

So here we talked about eBooks, mobile reading devices, the digitization of books generally but, more importantly what the title of this panel was all about: the change in media – its Act II. How content is about to become something different because the Media has changed - and so have we.

This phrase, Media's Act II, came from Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt at the American Newspapers Association convention earlier this year. He informed the execs, nervously watching their papers edge out of existence, that they had done a great first Act in the 90’s by going online but now they needed an Act II.

So what was Act I? I argue that it was what we used to call, in an earlier era, “shovelware” – they shoveled the contents of a newspaper online and threw in a few bells and whistles – a little search, a little feedback, a slide or two and a place to click. But for the most part, you read just like you did in print but with the inconvenience of a monitor.

Shouldn’t the computer enhance the reading experience – either make it faster, better or something else? And now, with mobile (why we were at the Consumer Electronics space), something more suited for on-the-go reading?

We showed 4 new publishig models, each unique but each complimentary in a way that probably defined the 4 corners of this coming universe: We showed books that are way shorter (ViziPress), way richer (, way more social media involved (HarperStudio) and way more adaptable to higher educational needs (Flatworld Knowledge).
 is about taking you into the world of a book – using video, interviews, multimedia and so on. If you love Sherlock Holmes, you’re in heaven. They hope that every great author will bring you into this afterworld of their creative space. If you’re the kind of person who watches the extras on your movie DVDs then you’re going to want this for your favorite books. They even hope you will pay a little extra for the privilege and publishers are interested in - not just the book - but the book world.

ViziPress, my creation, is about visual condensations – a kind of visual "Cliff Notes" – of popular business books. If you are lacking in time we can tell you what a book is about in around 3 minutes - and do it in a profound a memorable way. We add music because it makes the process a lot more digestible (according to mysterious research) and we think their world will demand this for every book in existence. Interestingly, it doesn’t kill books - it excites interest in books that people may have otherwise ignored. It also helps that we can cite Albert Einstein as using visualization in all his theorizing (remember the one about riding next to a light beam?) and that we have the best-selling "What Would Google Do?" as an example of a visual summary.

HarperStudios is a new kind of publishing arm of HarperCollins – like Saturn was for GM but, we hope, with all the upside. Their idea is to create a new kind of relationship with authors and booksellers alike – something like the 360-degree relationship record labels are establishing now with their artists. They look for authors to share the burden on marketing - especially through social media and they actively seek out authors who have already developed major online followings (e.g. Gary Vaynerchck from the Wine Library). Instead of high advances and low royalties, they offer low advances and high royalties hoping the author is more motivated to make waves. And they don’t take returns, so they force the booksellers to be more judicious in how they order and place the books. All told, they represent the newer, leaner and more entrepreneurial style of publishing.

Flatworld Knowledge is a start-up comprised of savvy college textbook people who have similarly reinvented their space but with even more twists – they have added a kind of modified Wiki. They hire the top educators to create college textbooks, enable the professors to customize the books for their own courses and then they give it away online. What students pay for is the on demand version of the book - printed for them at the college bookstore - but at much, much lower prices than typical textbooks. They also sell multimedia course material. As their investor explained to me, they plan to take a declining $10bn industry and turn it into a high growth $1bn industry – with Flatworld leading the growth.

One thing is clear, the book as we know it – this final and only product of the writer’s creative process is about to become something quite different – an ongoing conversation delivered over many media and probably on the go…..

UPDATE Google is about to launch its version of news condensation with Flipper. Look out for this market to take off!

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