Ebooks evolving: TEDBooks launch as Kindle Singles

The launch of Amazon’s Kindle Singles has been accompanied by the launch of TEDBooks – short nonfiction works designed for digital distribution by following the type of idea which has resonated from the global series of TEDTalks, and presenting it in less than 20,000 words, which is enough for a single sitting. And you can read them via any device with a Kindle App: iPad, Mac, PC, Android, iPhone, Blackberry and Windows 7 smartphones, as well as the Kindle itself.

Longer than a typical magazine article, but shorter than your typical book, it’s an interesting approach which sees three books available at launch for $2.99. The line-up is The Happiness Manifesto: How Nations and People Can Nurture Well-Being by Nic Marks, Dangerism: Why We Worry About the Wrong Things, and What It’s Doing to Our Kids by Gever Tulley, and Homo Evolutis: Please Meet the Next Human Species by Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullan.

The presumption behind the books is that their length and cost will see people choose them in preference to magazines or other short entertaining diversions, and I think it’s a fair gamble to make. I don’t think it would work for everyone, but the ideas which are shared at TED events are always interesting, engaging and designed for you to want more. It also means I can self-serve myself the topics I really want to know about, rather than paying a few dollars or pounds more for a magazine, which often contains things that I either don’t care about or don’t read if time is short.

It’s interesting to see projects like this, and Seth Godin’s The Domino Project, all taking a new look at how publishing works in a digital world, and pretty much starting from scratch and building from there. Does a book need to be a certain minimum length? Does it need a traditional print version, or the standard marketing and promotion? Will people go for something for a couple of quid or bucks, and will they choose that over a longer, more general, and more expensive magazine?

It’s also interesting that these ideas are coming Amazon, TED and Seth Godin, not a traditional book publisher. That’s not to say traditional publishers aren’t changing, but it seems like starting from a fresh perspective could reveal a lot more about the future…

(Incidentally, an alternative source of TED inspiration are the videos of TEDTalks available via Youtube. I can’t recommend it highly enough if you fancy watching talks ranging from the likes of Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates and Richard Dawkins through to the likes of Christoper ‘Moot’ Poole – the founder of 4Chan.)

(And if you’re intrigued or interested in what books I’m currently planning to obtain for myself, here’s my current tech/marketing/digital culture wishlist on Amazon – this isn’t a cheap ploy for presents (Although they’re always nice), but it’s the one place I’ve gone to the trouble of updating recently with recommended additions to anyone’s library. I’ll have to go back through the various book sharing social networks to provide a complete list of everything already assimiliated. Anyone got any recommendations?)

Is Amazon reading this blog?

On Monday I wrote about the future of libraries, and how digital sharing and sampling are legally enabled either by open works (Public Domain or Creative Commons), or that retailers will have a vested interest in allowing sampling.

And on Tuesday, Amazon announced their ‘Kindle for the Web’, which allows eBook sampling and embedded excerpts on the web. You’ll be able to read the first chapter of books for free, and share via Facebook, Twitter and email. Plus there will be referral fees in the usual Amazon way if people buy books after seeing a preview on your site.

It makes total sense for Amazon to use the same model which has served them well to build the retail business – leverage a long tail of website publishers and social network users who can be rewarded in a small financial way if their recommendations result in sales.

I’m already looking forward to using it – not only will it enable me to share more of writing I recommend than fair use tends to allow, but imagine the boost to time spent on my site if you’re going through a whole chapter while you’re here! Now which tech books have the longest first chapter?

Amazon’s Kindle – now available with TheWayoftheWeb

In case Amazon needs some help shifting a few more Kindles, I’ve done the kind thing and provided them with the content you can read here for free. And it’s available for a small fee after a 14 day trial.

Treat your Kindle to TheWayoftheWeb.

In all seriousness, I’m intrigued to see whether there’s a paying marketing for content available for free online, to see whether the Kindle obeys the law of mobile that content and services seem to generate money on those platforms more readily than via the web.

Plus I wanted to see how easy it was to sign up, given that Techcrunch has already experienced someone unofficially publishing their blog feed alongside their own.

And if it contributes a couple of bucks towards keeping my hosting going, then it’s a bonus!

Woolworths online is a case study in waiting

So Woolworths is going to return as an online-only retailer, having been bought by Shop Direct (which owns Littlewoods and Choice) after going into administration.

Woolworths closes (Pic by osde8info on Flickr)

Woolworths closes (Pic by osde8info on Flickr)

It’s going to be very interesting for a number of reasons.

The first is trying to guess what it will actually sell. It had a music download shop, which closed with the High Street stores, but there’s logical reasoning to suggest digital downloads make a lot of sense. The PaidContent UK article has a quote which claims Woolworths will do entertainment and everything that made it famous on the High Street – but was it really famous for entertainment?

After all, it started by selling children’s clothing, toys and stationary. And Shop Direct might have seen success with Littlewoods, but that’s a name known for catalogue shopping.

And while there’s evidence that ‘bricks and mortar’ shops can do well online, the same evidence lists the top four retailers as Amazon, Argos, Play.com and Tesco.com.

An interesting post on the icrossing blog uses the example of Dixons to show that the move online is the right decision, but mentions how Dixons bought and integrated online photo service Pixmania and the search and affiliate expertise it had.

And that’s where I think Woolworths could very well fall down.

No-one has stated, or even managed to suggest, what the belief will be – and ‘The Bankruptcy of the Non-Descript‘ is what I believe caused the collapse of Woolworths, Zavvi and MFI. (Just realised I’ve restated Mark Earl’s ‘Purpose Idea’ from the other angle.)

Sadly the awesome Brand Tags doesn’t include Woolies. But I doubt entertainment would be first on the list. It’s Pic’n’Mix in both sweets and belief. A ‘five and dime‘ store with sweets, entertainment, furnishings, cookware, pens and paper and other random stuff.

That has a benefit offline, should you need a selection of random stuff, and not want to wander round a larger department store, or go for the clear low cost of Poundland. And if you’re of a certain age, you could meet with your friends and have a cup of coffee.

But online we already have Tesco and Argos. And anything is just a click away.

And in entertainment, Woolies is facing Amazon, iTunes and a music industry that is struggling to workout what it should do to survive.

And those loyal customers who used it as a meeting place are likely to have already found online alternatives – and if they’re not online yet, the prospect of Woolworths won’t make them buy a new PC and broadband.

But maybe there is a loyal niche group who could find a solution – there’s a small group on Facebook discussing it, even if the dreaded brand word crops up too much for my liking.

And I like the fact the Woolworths site is currently displaying a form for comments on the good and bad about the business. Even if the reassurance it’s returning is a bit naff. ‘I haven’t shopped since Woolworths closed’, a man sobbed.

But whether Woolworths becomes something really different and cool with a purpose that makes sense, or collapses for a second time in a supernova of pic’n’mix, it’s going to be fascinating to watch.

New musical solutions to social humans

I’ve been reading a bit about the discussions happening at the MIDEM event taking place in Cannes at the moment, which is a big business 2 business event for the music industry.

Highlights include the fact that the bags for the event have been sponsored by Napster (as captured by Mr Herdmeister, Mark Earls).

The other highlight I’ve enjoyed is the presentation by Gerd Leonard, who is moderating the panel at which the Herdmeister is speaking.

And in the meantime, I’ve also been having my stab at the future of music, thanks to the People’s Music Store (Found via Springwise).

I’ve always been a closet librarian when it comes to collecting music in physical form, and always had a soft spot for the idea of owning my own record shop (Even before I read High Fidelity!)

It’s not completely revolutionary – basically you can set up your store, share recommendations and reviews, and anything sold through your store earns you 10% as reward points to spend on new music via the store.

Interestingly, I’ve just spotted Amazon has released an MP3 widget for affiliates, which helps you to earn a 10% fee for anyone buying someone from the store.

But the next step is also to include user-generated audio for sale.

It will be interesting to see if the People’s Music Store can emulate the feel of ‘your favourite local independent record store’ enough to differentiate itself and offer more than an affiliate mechanism.  In the meantime, I spent five minutes on the site and came up with the start of my own music store.

And there are plenty of other interesting music services out there for buying or even investing in music:

I’m not sure I can conclude with more than starting to wonder about the filter and recommendation mechanisms, and how mainstream media might better fit the future. But the evolution of media and entertainment seems to becoming more like Moore’s Law every week, and not just in terms of technology.

My Christmas: Information as gifts…

One of the detractions around social media, social networking and blogging etc is that there are plenty of people in the ‘real world’ who don’t give a monkeys about the internet.

Which may well be true, but in addition to the somewhat reasonable 140 million+ active users on Facebook, this holiday season emphasised how the world is changing on a personal level – namely the relationship between an online geek (me), and his almost technophobe parents.

It started pre-Christmas, when my folks replaced their aging desktop with a shiny new laptop and signed up for broadband. (For reference, the desktop must be about 10 years old, and they were still on dial-up!)

Then they started asking me to find albums by relatively niche Irish folk artists on Amazon. And my mother decided to borrow Tribes – which is promising as she completed a degree in sociology in her spare time a few years ago with marks I’ll always be proud and envious of!

But Christmas really was The Tipping Point.

For starters, their gift to me was a copy of Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Outliers: The Story of Success.

My gift in return was a webcam, and a quick lesson in using Windows Live Messenger, Gmail, and Flickr. (We tried Twitter but that’s probably a step too far!)

The reasons were simple:

1. They already have a hotmail email account, and although there might be better IM clients, not only is Windows Live Messenger pretty simple and easy to use, but enough people use it that I wouldn’t be sole technical support.

The main reason is that it means they can see their grandson on webcam whenever we’re online.

2. Gmail is intended to be a starting point for them to hopefully move to Google Calendar,  Google Docs etc.

The main reason is that it means I can share my calendar so we can all schedule our lives and events without playing telephone tennis for days and weeks beforehand. Facebook might also be useful, but that’s for Phase 2!

3. Flickr is a nice way to start seeing the value of sharing images, tagging, etc.

But the main thing is that my dad has always had an artistic side which is always underexploited, and has always be into photography. Plus they can see ‘family only’ images of the family.

We’ve already had a couple of webcam enabled chats over IM, and I’m hoping it’ll encourage them to explore and try other new ways to share and communicate with friends and family.  I’m certainly past the age of worrying that connecting with my parents might make me seem less cool, or that they’d see an inappropriate picture or comment – at my age, the chances to behave inappropriately are frustratingly rare!

Belonging to Seth Godin’s ‘Tribe’

Seth Gogins Tribes available to pre-order

I’ve been a bit remiss in not blogging about Seth Godin‘s latest book, promotion, and social experiment until now. Mainly due to the hundred and one things I’m thinking about – but I have no excuse as my pre-release copy came yesterday as a special gift given to everyone who pre-ordered and signed up for his Triiibes social community.

So far, I’ve got about halfway through in an evening and found it pretty inspiring and hard to put down. In addition, I’ve met some new people, learned some new things, and somehow volunteered myself for a couple of small projects via Triiibes – talk about building engagement right in! And what’s interesting is that although Seth is the nominal root of the community, he’s not putting himself up as the leader, but watching what evolves and responding where needed. I would link, but I’m afraid it’s still invite only.

On the bright side, you can get a free audible version of Tribes, read by Seth Godin himself, for a limited time. You can also get Tribes on iTunes for 95p. There’s also his Tribes presentation on slideshare, and the Powerpoint file to download with accompanying notes.

There really is nothing to stop you becoming inspired to lead your Tribe. And if you still would like the dead tree version: Tribes is available on Amazon for pre-order.

That is probably enough of the Seth worship for one week, but then I saw this great post: ‘Failure as an event‘  which describes the potentially career-ending mistakes and failures which have occurred during his career, and how he’s used them to learn from, and not succumbed to fear. And he’s published it in the middle of a book launch!

Genius!

Why Shelfari is the least important move Amazon has made

So Amazon has bought Shelfari. The interesting thing for me isn’t Shelfari’s innovative User Interface, but the business strategy that led to the purchase by Amazon. It’s a strategy that has also included buying AbeBooks, a marketplace for used and rare books. Which happens to own 40% of Shelfari competitor LibraryThing! Promotion of the Kindle may see a plan to target students, and the continuation of the ‘See a Kindle in Your City‘ scheme.

And then there’s the launch of the new Amazon Universal Wish List (In the U.S. at least – I couldn’t get a UK date out of Amazon). And all of this is in the face of the credit crunch, recession, and all the other harbringers of doom for most business. So the startegy appears to be one advocated by many marketing people in continuing to spend and even expand during the harder times to make the most of them – and then to benefit in the next upturn. The people using Abebook for rare books probably won’t be hit as much as the general public by a recession – luxury items always continue to do well. ‘See a Kindle’ costs nothing – it asks Kindle fans to demonstrate the product to other people for the fun of it. Universal Wish List shows a good move to diversify and get value from outside Amazonville. The only strange choice is Shelfari in some ways.

I’m not a huge Shelfari fan, as my other hobbies and commitments mean that I don’t read as much as I once did (although I’m currently motoring through a re-read of Mr Nice, the autobiography of Welsh drug-smuggling legend Howard Marks). I did play around for a while (and here’s the proof), but although I joined a few groups and listed some of my favourites, I never really found much discussion about the titles I enjoyed. And the wish list function was less use to anyone wanting to buy me a gift than the Amazon counterpart. It’s growing, but not hugely (I’ve compared it to Librarything, and also to Virb, which is another niche site with nice UI)

If it wasn’t for the book focus, Shelfari wouldn’t have been bought – so what does it add to Amazon?

Well, it does add a hardcore devoted group who will have intelligent comments about the books they’ve read – rather than ‘reviews’ of products three months before they’re released – and advertisers are targeting core groups.

Or closer integration could see Shelfari used as a safeguard if mainstream consumers aren’t engaging with Amazon during the downturn – the hardcore will continue to spend. Although a recent emarketer report claimed U.S. shoppers were saving money by shopping more online.

In which case, how does Shelfari make sense as a purchase rather than a partnership, or offering it, and it’s competitors, better User Interface?

Any ideas?

Does Blip.fm show a route to monetisation for Twitter?

It took me a couple of passes to get the value of Blip.fm as opposed to existing streaming radio online like last.fm. At first, for some reason, it wasn’t running properly and playing each track in turn for me, which didn’t help! But now it’s becoming a great way to discover new music recommended by my friends, even if I normally revert to streaming my last.fm library for longer periods. The two compliment each other is the same way as someone like John Peel complimented by record collection, but I couldn’t always make it through an entire show before some obscure German techno forced me to change radio station.

Blip.fm helps me find new music by effectively allowing users to Twitter with each song they choose, giving it some context, or publicly proclaiming their love for it etc. And I can aggregate these choices into my own list, give ‘props’ to other users for good choices, and filter the overall stream via my friends, just as I would with Twitter.

Where it might give a clue to revenue streams for microblogging is in offering the direct link to buy any track as an MP3 via Amazon. So if I like a particular track or artist, the opportunity to make a quick impulse purchase is always there – and it’s backed up by allowing me to listen to the track based on recommendations by my friends.

The only weakness is that not every track is available, and I need to be aware that I want to listen to this track offline, in my car, on an Ipod, at the time that I’m experiencing it…or be able to find it easily, and at the moment there’s no way to search my Playlist, or add individual songs to my Amazon wishlist.

But if what if this model was more widely applied – to offline magazines and books for example. And to products as well? One Twitter Affiliates scheme which wasn’t tied into a sole retailer, but operated as an aggregation service to allow me to recommend almost anything, and offer a direct link?

It’s probably the quickest and simplest method of monetising the Twitterati. And people can be persuaded to link their recommendations to returns for themselves or even for charity, as something like Squidoo shows.

It would be possible to test the theory if individuals listed book recommendations etc via existing Amazon etc affiliate accounts, but this may lead to confusion and disappointment if it isn’t flagged up as such before an unsuspecting user follows the link – but Twitter and the extra 20 characters could flag referral posts quickly and uniformly.

The only question for me is who tries it first – Twitter, or an enterprising external team? Anyone know a good developer? 😉

Are web companies as bad as Hollywood with releases?

It’s easy within the Web 2.0 technology bubble to poke fun at other industries that don’t get it – for instance, Hollywood complaining about piracy, and yet still releasing films in different countries at different times.

And yet there is still a huge U.S. bias in software online. I know a lot of the big online brands are U.S based, and we still talk about Silicon Valley and San Francisco in reverential terms (But at least the UK has London, Brighton…and maybe one day, Peterborough!). But surely global online brands should understand it’s a global marketplace better than anyone, and either launch a new product in a Beta for people to test, or go global straight away?

For instance, I like the idea of Amazon’s new universal wish list, and really want to see how it compares with sites like Stylehive and ThisNext. All three use bookmarklet tools to let you save items from wherever you see them on the internet, and then either list them for people to buy for you (Amazon), or share them with other people to establish yourself as a trendsetter (Stylehive,ThisNext).

But obviously I can’t try it yet, because I’m not in America (Unless I go to the time and effort of spoofing my address and going through a proxy server of course!)

Instead, an enquiry to Amazon got a polite response:

‘This feature is currently only available on Amazon.com and unfortunately we are unable to highlight a date when this feature will be used on Amazon.co.uk.’

As a bonus, some publisher/Amazon confusion also saw UK pre-orders for Seth Godins new book (pre-ordering was also a condition of joining his invite-only Triiibers group) all cancelled.

This isn’t just Amazon, of course. They just stick in my mind because both these things happened in the space of a week. Twitter hasn’t managed a mobile phone deal for SMS tweets in Europe, Pandora stops outside the U.S., etc, etc.

Is there some kind of trade embargo I wasn’t aware of? Or is medieval Europe just not keeping up with the Americans?