Pulp vs. Pixels

Community Marketing, Media Technologies, Traditional Media 2.0, Web 2.0

I probably read 100 articles of electronic news a day. This includes newspaper websites, electronic magazines, blogs, and research reports. Still, I plunk 50c in the metal box next to my house at least once a week just so that I can curl up on my front porch with a real newspaper.

The one thing I have never read online is a book. I refuse to sign onto the eBook phenomenon even if it allows me to get instant access to anything I want. Tabling the environmental argument – I would love to see a comparison study on the energy needed to recycle wood pulp vs. project a book on a laptop for hours on end – I am very conservative when it comes to the hardback. In the words of my Republican father, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

It seems that my persistent patronage of the printed word applies to almost everyone who has access to both a great bookstore and broadband connection. Whereas in 2001 the well-paid analysts at Accenture and Forrester projected up to 28 million dedicated eBook readers by 2005, today eBooks only account for one twentieth of one percent of total book sales worldwide. In the words of Walt Crawford at EContent, “eBook sales might just amount to a rounding error in overall book sales.”

Given that eBooks can’t seem to take off, and people like me aren’t interested in giving up their hardbacks, the book publishing industry can be considered the last place for profit in the “old” media class. Whereas every other industrial, linear path of communication – be it radio, TV, or print – is up in arms over what to do with the loss of an audience, the publishing industry continues to increase their sales annually. Amazing. I wish I could have predicted this in the early 90s and invested in undervalued publishing houses…

Moving on, Simon & Schuster, one of the powerhouses of the publishing world, recently announced that they were getting out of the world of old media and into the world of new media. This seems like a contradiction in customer demand, but their approach is not to push for electronic purchases of their best titles.

Rather, it is to flip the approach they take for promoting books. In a brilliant move, the publisher has decided to shift much of its promotional dollars to videoing and broadcasting author interviews online. ClickZ noted that Simon & Schuster has partnered with a book-centric video channel called Bookvideos.tv to promote its authors. They will select 40 of their more famous authors from “a mix of genres to talk not just about their books, but about their own lives and how they came to write about the topics they’re interested in.”

I can’t say whether or not the partnership with Bookvideos.tv is the right approach – the site isn’t even up an running yet – but certainly taking the author book tour to the web is a logical and simple way of extending the reach of a promotional dollar. The next step will be to include areas within each book/authors website to allow viewers/readers to upload their own opinions about the book and even allow them to upload their own video reviews of the title in question. At this point the conversation is still linear, and to truly work within the philosophy of a “connected Web” the publishing house must make room for readers to get into the action, but for now I consider this a great step in the right direction.

Broadening out the conversation for just a minute, video commentary from authors is something that should not be considered just a tool of publishing houses.  Today, we have “authors” of all kinds. Each industry has its hero brands, and each hero brand has its hero authors. Think video games, fashion, car engineering.  Why can’t I watch interviews from the guys who invented Timbuk2 or Simple shoes?  I want to meet the people in LA who made my Americal Apparel boxers and got a fair wage for it.  When I buy a drum at 10,000 Villages, why don’t I get the change to go home and learn more about the tribe who built it?  These brands ask the end user to think of consumption as something more human, so where is the face?

Companies, like publishers, can personify their products by allowing those who wrote/designed them to voice their passion through video streaming online. When a customer is drawn to a product, and that draw is reinforced by a connection to the maker, a casual reader/buyer could well turn into an avid loyalist.

Kudos to S&S. I’m sure the rest of the publishing world, and many other industries, will follow suit.

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