Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Kindle for Web

Learn about Kindle for Web here, Amazon's new tool to encourage bloggers and publishers to link back to their store by embedding a chapter or chunk of book content.

This is pretty cool. I can't recollect whether you could already do something similar with Google Book Search (some small dull memory on this makes me think that you could?) but nevertheless Amazon's Kindle portfolio is growing rapidly and there is a lot of content I'd be quite happy to feature a short section of on my own website.

So without further ado, having read all about this I headed over to the Kindle store to try it out. Could I locate a book with the 'read it for free' button? Could I 'eckers like. I tried my most recent purchases, my favourite purchases, then headed for the most popular purchases on the Kindle store. None of them. Not one. Incidentally some of the books in the top of that Kindle chart? Bizarre...

So I'm left wondering, is this launched yet? Is it for US customers only? Am I missing something? Sigh.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Magazines and Newspapers on the iPad

This makes me excited: Mashable posted an article recently about possible talks between Apple and publishers to get magazines and newspapers onto the iPad.

Ok you can already do this to an extent - I've bought an issue of Wired for example just to test out the functionality (watch a demo on YouTube if you haven't seen one). And you can buy single issues of various publications. Exact Editions do this for example.

But it'll be fascinating to see who Apple signs up for this, what the models will be, and how interactive the publications will be for the device.

Monday, 27 September 2010

"If he hurts himself he'll learn not to do it again"??

This wise old mantra is one we often tell ourselves, notably when talking about letting a child do something they will probably regret. So what happens when they just don't learn?

An example on Bad Pitch here - it'll make you smile, but more importantly it'll remind you to pay attention to feedback and learn from your mistakes!

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Book rentals: where are we heading?

Catching up on a few weeks' worth of reading this evening. Obviously, working in publishing the business models for selling book content is a fascinating and important topic for me. Particularly academic publishing. So this article from TechCrunch was an interesting one. The growth of book rentals (725% growth for one retailer mentioned in that article) is really interesting. Particularly how much growth there is in the textbook market for this model.

In a way, it shouldn't be surprising that the rental model works for students, since in a way it mirrors the the way students generally engage with their learning. They will use a particular course material for a short period of time: during a particular course or period of their learning. Once they've gained what they need from that resource, they typically don't return to it, except perhaps for revision.

But is that the way we'd actually want our students to engage with scholarly content? Unlike with a fiction title (or actually generally any read-for-pleasure title) I think textbooks are things you dip in and out of over and over again. I guess that depends how many titles, and how relevant. But I know that I still have books I had in college that I turn back to, and the same for several business titles and professional development titles, not to mention light psychology titles!

The traditional models for accessing content over and over again like this were previously: : owning a copy of a book and knowing it's there on your shelf; or having access to a library copy which you can return to over and over again when required.

There are downsides to both options which the book rentals service would suggest it gets around. For the purchase option, the book rental claims it'll save you money. For the library option, there's the risk that 10 other college kids have gone in to find the same book at the same time.

You have to remember at this point in time I'm still talking about TRADITIONAL print publishing.

So how does the rental model hold up in a digital world? When I first started reading the TechCrunch article I immediately assumed that it was digital rentals. I mean, surely in the world of iTunes that is where our rental experiences now lie? I'm amazed that a printed rental model is proving so successful and am happy to admit I have some scepticism, based on the dip-in-briefly-but-often model I set out above.

So in digital? Does Rental overshadow ownership? Digital is immediately more attractive: for one thing providers (e.g. Vitalsource) provide tools so you can annotate and add notes in a way you could never do with a loaned print copy. The model (a la iTunes) is also more familiar here, and much more accessible/immediate compared with the print rentals. But is it better than ownership?

I think I need some more time to think about this one.

Monday, 13 September 2010


I was catching up on my blog feeds this morning and came across this post by Seth Godin. It's all about loyalty from customers. He makes the point that if you always delivered the best product on the market, that wouldn't necessarily engender a loyal following from your customers ("If your offering is always better, you don't have loyal customers, you have smart ones."). To have loyal customers, they have to be making a choice to buy your product service rather than look elsewhere. I won't summarise the post further than that - you can read it yourself.

What this started me thinking about was the routes various businesses take to build that loyalty, and what role marketing plays in that process. It's got to be the very values that underpin a business that dictate why a customer chooses them over another. In publishing for example, this may be in part down to the ethics of what kinds of books we'd be publishing: the topics and disciplines; the choices we make about authors' rights; the decisions we took on corporate social responsibility;  etc. 

I just got through reading a book (which I'll be writing a separate post about) called The E-Myth Revisited, which in one section discusses what it is that the founder of a particular company envisions for her business (a pie shop). She realises that she set up her shop as an ethically responsible, highly 'caring' company, without having done so purposefully. But having realised this, she identifies that this is what makes the shop special as a brand and has that to build on. In the publishing world again, a great example of this would be Alastair Sawday. Not only is the product he creates instantly recognizable for its personable charm, but the company itself has been set up as a highly ethical business, right through to having a small farm on site for its employees. With businesses like these two, there's a massively tangible brand value that has wide appeal to potential customers. And with such strong brand I think you are bound to garner strong loyalty.

Going back to Seth Godin's post, loyalty isn't something that is guaranteed to last. So this is the part where PR and Marketing have a key role to play. He talks about the relationships you have with loyal customers. What is your interaction? How do you reward them for being loyal?

I had someone tell me at a conference the other day that they'd spent a certain amount of money with an online retailer, and as a thank you had been given vouchers with which they could spend yet more money on that retailer's site. With offers like that, you get the double whammy of making that customer feel special, and at the same time giving them a reason to come back and shop again with you. Easier for some retailers than others? Perhaps, but it's food for thought...

Friday, 10 September 2010

In the chair: how to handle a panel discussion

I chaired my first conference session this week. The panel were, frankly, amazing. I was very lucky to have had acceptances from a truly great group of people, that not only offered a broad range of views, but were willing to be open and honest about their point of view.

Having not done this before, I set out to get some advice from others who have done this well. Some suggested reading follows below:

So what would I add to these words of wisdom? Well, having now faced the challenge head on, I'll agree with all those pieces that chairing a panel is not easy! At all! Some of the hardest things were dealing with questions or answers that took the issue off topic, and handling the same small vocal minority to ensure they didn't monopolize the conversation.What I also found difficult was keeping the questions very short and to the point. In hindsight I'd practice that aspect more. I'd prepared lots of questions and had lots of views myself (which I managed, for the most part, to keep to myself), but there were a few occasions where I felt I should have worked the room better. So my advice is as follows:
  • Preparation really is everything. My biggest benefit was having looked carefully at who was on the panel, and what their strengths were, what they could respond to, and where to turn a particular question over to them.
  • Keep intros snappy, and set out how you want audience participation to be. If they know what your expectations are, it's easier to control. So if you want questions throughout, say so. If you want them just at the end, be clear. It's just like facilitating any meeting.
  • Keep questions short and clear. Take time to clarify if there is any confusion, so your speakers don't veer off topic.
  • Make sure you do look to the whole room, not just the small vocal minority, for input. They do have questions, they're just shy. Find ways to get them involved.
  • Do leave time to cover what you want. I set a timer to count down at the start of the session, which enabled me to monitor how long we were spending on each area, and to say clearly how much time we had left.
  • Final point: be flexible. It won't go exactly how you plan - you can't predict what people will want to talk about, either on the panel or in the audience. You just need to keep the flow moving, and ensure the audience get lots of time to engage.
I think my first chair experience was far from a disaster, but I've got lots of room for improvement. It was great to hear from lots of different people how much they enjoyed the session over the course of the conference. Looking forward to the next opportunity to try it again!

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Presentation zen?

I'm trying to carve out some time each week to look at my skills base. Tonight it's the humble presentation. A skill I've honestly worked hard at over the years. When I got my first job in publishing, I was terrified of even speaking in a meeting. I forced myself to practice, taking every opportunity to present internally and then externally. Now, even if I still get nervous, I can stand up and deliver a good presentation. I blogged about a really great event I went to last year, which has some great tips on good delivery. But tonight I'm reading all about the practice of 'presentation zen'.

Garr Reynolds, who is behind this particular learning phenomenon presents the case for the approach in a really attractive (appropriately) book published 2008 by New Riders (details on his website).

He refers to research from the University of South Wales which showed people can't read and listen at the same time. In other words, suggesting that powerpoint - with words up on the screen - wasn't a useful aide. Moreover Reynolds points to the bad habits people have fallen into with Powerpoint use.

The Zen presentation reflects balance, grace, beauty. It targets both side of our brains, with visual stimulation that forces a reaction from those viewing it. Importantly it stresses the need to break away from the series of bulleted text on every single slide. It begs us to think about our creative side. Tells us to get away from the computer and explore the shape of our narrative with flipcharts, or sticky notes, or just a notepad.

What that technique aims to do is refocus us away from the technology or tools, and move us back to the narrative we are trying to create. Clearing the clutter, if you will. It's about starting with the goal, and then figuring out how to get people there. Like any planning cycle, Zen presentations want you to step back and examine the big picture, decide what it is that is important, then focus on a clear and concise way to explain that through a well thought-out narrative.

I'm not going to summarise the whole book - otherwise you'd have no reason to visit Garr's website or read it yourself. But in short, the key take aways are

  • Simplicity: both message and design
  • Emotion: make both sides of the brain work hard
  • Storytelling: focus on the narrative.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Facebook's new universities page

Lots of coverage this week on the new Facebook Universities page. Very interesting to see what businesses are engaging with this.

The deal is the millions of students who engage with facebook every day now have a portal where they can get useful resources and information from their college or university. They can also benefit from discounts from major brands. Mashable names some of these here.

So who else will be lining up to join this list? How are universities and colleges using it? And how does it fit into their broader communications package I wonder?

There was a brilliant article in the Times Higher Education a couple of weeks ago, on how prospective students view faculty websites. I wonder what they'd make of this new page. Something tells me that putting content in a place where students spend a lot of time, compared with forcing them to go somewhere else, is bound to be a good move.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

How to win friends and the rest. 7 Golden rules

Today was a perfect example of how NOT to make friends or influence people. A series of unfortunate events have led to me dreading a meeting next week with a particular journalist. I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that he thinks I'm a moron. In fact, he would be very justified in thinking so. If he reads this, you know who you are, and I can't apologise enough.

To set some context, the catalogue of errors were not all my fault, but when you add them all together, it just presents a classic set of 'what not to do when meeting new contacts'. Not only did my office leave it too late to arrange a venue for a meeting I'd booked for him, but then today I publicly announced his coming to an event a day later than he was actually coming. Lesson learned. Never tweet a date without checking it first!

With that in mind, here is a list of some better ways to meet and greet journalists...

1. DO confirm bookings that you agree with journalists in good time. If they have taken the time to reserve a slot in their diaries, make sure you are also going to be able to make that time. Importantly, make sure the place (and any other people who need to be there) is reserved and kept ready for the meeting.

2. DO confirm all those arrangements with the journalist ahead of time. As much as you'd like them to keep meetings, the nature of news means that they won't always be able to. It's not their fault. And it's not personal.

3. Do think about convenience for the journalist. They're more than likely to be pushed for time: can you meet them near their office? If you can't, are you sure the arrangements fit with their schedule? It's not press deadline day? It's not a really tricky time of year, or on the day something else important is happening? (see the above on that last point too).

4. If they've got time for more than a coffee (most haven't), do something nice with them. Lunches are rare occasions - at least my contacts book tell me so. With less staff on many titles, they just don't have the time to do this. If they do you should feel both privileged and make sure it is well worth their while.

5. Keep it relevant. If they're taking time out of their day, make sure there's a story in it for them. That means doing your homework, and ensuring that what you're telling them is going to light their fire.

6. Find out what lights their fire. See above.

7. Follow up. Nothing worse than meeting a new contact, or seeing an old one, then forgetting all about what you talk about afterwards.

I've never regretted taking time out of my day to go and chat informally with a contact. Particularly if I've exchanged emails or phone calls, but not met them in person, it makes a world of difference. You learn more about that individual and what they are interested in, and go away with a much stronger relationship.

I'm going to have to work hard next week to prove I'm not a moron, and despite my catalogue of errors that I'm a friendly, helpful contact for them to know and get to know better. Hopefully I'll follow some of my own advice.

Starting over

For starters, you can find my old blog here. This is a new start on a new blog. New blogging platform for me, and a new attempt to blog regularly on PR (Public Relations), Marketing, Communication, Social Media and more generally engagement. For openness and transparency, I am PR Manager for a major academic publisher, based in London. I'm also a full time wife, part time foodie, and amateur dancer/singer. All these things are important to me. Expect to see elements of all these things on here. And do feel free to say hi if anything you find here is of interest.