Monday, March 9, 2009

Kindle on iPhone a Call for Content Management?

The publishing industry used to look a lot like the broadcast television and music industries. A small group of publishing houses determined which author’s works would reach store shelves, just as record labels and broadcast networks decided what we would listen too or watch. While digital content distribution has begun to dramatically alter the business models for music and video, the model for publishing and consuming books has not appeared to change so dramatically.

Sure, there have been several attempts to publish books online, most notably Google’s Book Search project, but these efforts have generally not addressed the convenience factor and portability afforded by old fashioned books. Even with a laptop, reading an on online book hasn’t always been comfortable or easy.

Some of these issues were addressed with the first Amazon Kindle. Its design and use of e-ink were unique and compelling and its ease of browsing and purchasing books remains unmatched. Version 2 of the device should overcome earlier usability issues and arrives in a more compelling package. However, the market for $359 e-readers will probably still consist of truly committed book readers and gadget hounds with healthy bank accounts.

That’s why Amazon’s release of Kindle for iPhone really grabbed my attention. With ten’s of millions of iPhones already in use and millions more selling each quarter, it would seem like an instant mass market for e-books has just been created. Equally important, Kindle on iPhone and presumably, soon on other smart phones may produce a new publishing model more like the App Store than traditional book publishing.

This may provide authors with a better chance to reach their audience. Of course, that’s assuming Amazon and Apple behave more like a distribution channel for authors vs. an editorial board. It could also require authors to assume more responsibility for the development and marketing of their works. They might need to establish their own “editorial networks” to perform quality control and provide other resources once part of traditional publishing contracts. Social networking and collaboration tools could play an important role helping to establish and support these networks.

Web-enabled content management (ECM) tools could help speed the process of authoring and editing books particularly among collaborators working in different locations. The combination of online authoring, collaboration and research tools could go a long way towards replacing the safety net provided by the traditional publishing model while helping to eliminate some of the overhead costs associated with it.

These same networks could also become useful marketing tools for authors to promote their books. I suspect that many authors are already using content management tools to create and publish their work. Re-using these skills and their own content to increase awareness probably isn’t a foreign concept either. Putting a free chapter on Amazon or Google and hosting subject matter discussions on Facebook or Linkedin would not seem like a big step from there.

That’s good, because the process of gaining recognition for books probably won’t become any easier. With fewer newspapers and book reviews being published, readers may rely even more on best-seller lists and remarks posted on Amazon and other social networks. Authors without big budget publishing contracts are going to have to use all the content management and networking skills they’ve got to just get noticed on the “virtual shelf”.

As an avid reader of listener comments on iTunes, as well as buyer suggestions on Amazon, I’m optimistic. I generally place more faith in the aggregate wisdom of my peers when it comes to consuming content than I do in the so called industry “thought leaders”. I can still remember quite a few unhappy purchase experiences from the pre-sampling/networking days where a rave review in a magazine clearly did not align with my own preferences.

So, I’m excited to get more content I like in my iPhone “book” thanks to Kindle. I also hope authors will take advantage of the many great content management and collaboration tools that are now available to help them succeed in the new e-book marketplace. For those authors plagued with the challenge of exchanging large book manuscripts online I recommend using Xythos on Demand. It’s free for the first 30 days, so that aught to help get things moving.

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