Friday, October 31, 2008

Book Deal Googled: Out-of-Print Books Come Out from the Snippet-Hole

There now, that wasn't so hard, was it...?

Well, of course it took a long time, but at the end of the day most of the several years between Google's introduction of its book scanning program for out-of-copyright and out-of-print books and the recently announced settlement with the book industry for USD 125 million has been a matter of the book publishing industry deciding to name a reasonable price that would sync up with the realities of book publishing in an electronic marketplace. Since the book industry was barely interested in e-books and print-on-demand a few years ago, it's understandable that the magic number was not readily at hand back then. But now that eBooks are beginning to take off via Kindle and mobile phones via Amazon and other outlets and print-on-demand publishing is beginning to look more attractive as a business model the book industry has some real revenue and traffic data and a marketing plan that will benefit from Google and other partners pushing their out-of-print wares.

In many ways this enables the book industry to monetize fringe content far more effectively via Google partners such as Amazon, in essence validating the value of Chris Anderson's "long tail" theory for content that was sometimes discounted by book industry executives resistant to Google's scanning efforts. The settlement is really just a bulk licensing fee to make it easier to administer long-tail revenues, not too different than the industry royalties paid by radio stations. This sets up people to buy books in print and in e-reading devices like Amazon's Kindle based on Google Books "broadcasts" just as premium downloads and CDs are fed by online and broadcast radio revenues. With finding an audience for one's content the greatest challenges for all publishers Google Books has become a powerful browsing engine that maximizes the value of any title, new or old, for an audience that is just right for it.

With the new agreement Google becomes a premium destination as well: you will be able to browse full pages of scanned books covered by the agreement instead of snippets and opt to pay for the full online rights to the book via Google Books - or purchase them for your private online "bookshelf." On the surface this may look like a bad thing for Amazon and it's proprietary Kindle strategy, and certainly Amazon would love for their gizmo to get as much momentum as possible. But as successful as Kindle has been with many core book enthusiasts it hasn't escaped Amazon's attention in all likelihood that the mobile market is exploding and that they are going to lose market share for books in general if they cannot get their inventory onto as many mobile devices as possible.

Enter Google's new Android operating system, which will be able to power any number of mobile and handheld devices - including perhaps, Kindles. As Amazon's portal specialty is shopping support and fulfillment, in the long run Amazon is better off partnering with Google and other platform providers to make their inventory relevant in as many venues as possible. Amazon may also turn up a winner with the Google out-of-print deal for print-on-demand support. Already a growing number of titles at Amazon are produced on a print-on-demand basis anyway, so Google and help to power that capability as well.

So all in all this deal is likely to turn into a content industry love-fest over the next few years, a peace treaty that finally enables book publishers to leverage the vast power of Google's book scanning initiative, thus avoiding expensive or less powerful alternatives and enabling book marketers to accelerate their increasingly aggressive exploitation of online channels for their marketing efforts. I can't say that I didn't say several years ago that this would happen eventually, but for now let's all just be glad that there are better times ahead for book publishers who are learning how to exploit electronic content markets far more effectively.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Plugging In the Content Cloud: Oracle Deploys MuseGlobal to Connect External Content to Enterprises

The announcement of Oracle's deal with content connector specialists MuseGlobal, Inc. to deploy their EverConnect technology for Oracle's Secure Enterprise Search platform may appear like a passing note in enterprise search at first pass, but it's worth more than a casual glance if you're considering the future of high-value content services in enterprises. Oracle Secure Enterprise Search already comes equipped with a library of content source connector modules that make it possible for enterprises to integrate a wide variety of enterprise content sources into their search interface. Oracle is using MuseConnect, a platform-specific version of MuseGlobal's EverConnect content connector technology, to extend its search reach to include specific types of external content targeted at specific industry verticals, including Web and subscription sources for finance, legal, medical education and research.

Oracle is not alone in trying to integrate internal and external sources of content to better their value propositions for their enterprise clients, of course. Many enterprise publishers already have infrastructure that is designed to integrate enterprise, Web and subscription content sources on their own publishing platforms while other enterprise search vendors such as Google are also deploying content connectors for a wide variety of content sources to build up the value of their enterprise search engines. Not surprisingly, MuseGlobal technology figures in more than a few of these vendors' efforts, with each of them doing their utmost to define a useful aggregation of content that will add value to the daily workflows of enterprise workers. Content connector technology acts as the "glue" that makes such aggregation possible, widening the range of content sources available through a seamless interface and ensuring reliable access.

Content connectors are enabling a wider array of platform providers to create useful applications based on "content clouds," aggregating content from as many sources as possible with access to any specific source a technical detail that is generally not a concern of a person using the platform. If history is any predictor of the future, these content cloud applications that can combine enterprise and external sources of content are going to be powerful tools in the hands of organizations trying to make sense of large amounts of information on a day-to-day or moment-by-moment basis. Just as investment banks in the 1990s drove their profitability to new heights based on networked content source connectors that fueled powerful financial software to drive desktop and automated trading decisions more effectively, so will content clouds built for enterprise platforms enable a wide variety of 21st century organizations to become aware of threats and opportunities in their marketplaces and develop more powerful decision support services based on the widest range of quality content sources available.

So while you may think of content connectors as search engine technology, it's safe to say that their ability to connect powerful applications to a wide variety of content sources puts them in the middle of the "content clouds" that are likely to drive publishing and content technology profitability in many enterprises for years to come. Technology companies like Oracle, IBM, EMC and Google want to make sure that they can drive up their enterprise value propositions based on those clouds, of course, even as enterprise publishers try to do the same from their well-established position of creating insight from content sources. Certainly technology such as MuseGlobal's MuseConnect content connectors focused on content sources for specific industry verticals can help them to do that. In the meantime, though, the biggest winners in this wrestling match to deliver enterprise value may be the companies that can deliver the content clouds that clients want most effectively. That certainly was the case with trading room systems vendors in investment banking, so I don't expect it to be too much different as content clouds begin to become the focus of a wider range of enterprise publishing efforts. Keep your eyes on the content cloud experts, folks - and may the most seamless and flexible clouds win.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Fading AP Contracts: Old-School Distribution Struggles to Find a Market Model

Editor & Publisher notes along with many others the announcement by the Tribune Company that it has given its two-year notice to discontinue receiving content from the Associated Press. The E&P article cites the recent rate hikes from AP as a key factor in its decision, but other accounts also highlight concerns raised by other newspapers subscribing to the service regarding AP's cutting back on local coverage and its efforts to create a more competitive position for its own content through non-newspaper outlets that compete directly or indirectly with member outlets. Whatever the exact reasons in these instances, the pullout echoes sentiments surfacing in some of Shore's private research that indicates a growing dissatisfaction with AP as a source of content.

Although some of the growing rebellion against AP services no doubt is fired by cost, content and competition from the membership-driven service, there is another key factor that is driving newspapers to reconsider AP as a source of content: the marketplace. In local newspapers and media outlets there is a dwindling interest in national news as a revenue driver, as 24x7 online and broadcast sources diminish the need of local residents to turn to their hometown papers for this view of the world. There is more money to be had by many of these papers by building up deeper and more engaged local content and by building special interest sections for holidays and other event-driven interests that will attract local advertisers more effectively. Put simply, with dwindling budgets to cover world and national events many papers are making the choice to rally their limited resources around locally focused content and advertisers.

The other key factor in the challenge to AP, though, is that there is an increasing reservoir of options for media outlets that want high-quality editorial to insert into their publications. Link exchanges, content swaps and other cooperative online publishing options enable the online editions of local papers to insert content from other newspapers and media outlets into their own sites and to host their own content elsewhere at partner sites. In other words, when revenue isn't all about what happens on your own Web site but also about driving more traffic to inventory from relationships with online publishing partners there are more options for local publishers to drive up both page inventory and audience engagement. AP delivers content inventory, but not the kind of inventory that's most likely to engage the audiences that value a local newspaper brand in a way that will drive the highest revenues.

While some newspapers seem to question the refocusing of AP's content on more analysis and opinion pieces as an additional point of concern, in general the real issue for most publishers confronting their rising AP charges is that as good as AP news can be it's not what will drive their profits moving forward in most instances. While AP has spent a great deal of legal and marketing effort to shore up the value of the AP brand through copyright protection and brand positioning, it has in many ways failed to identify how a cooperative news distribution service can help its members to generate more revenues cost-effectively. With their members cutting their own collaborative content deals left and right, oftentimes with providers of unique online sources of content, the power of the Web to make these deals work without AP's infrastructure is the chief challenge to AP's future.

All of this argues for a selloff of AP in the next couple of years to an owner that can take advantage of its extensive network of reporters and stringers to package its core assets more effectively to a broader base of clients beyond dwindling newspaper properties. News Corp would be the most likely taker, in part because of Rupert Murdoch's designs already in place to provide better global marketing for Dow Jones resources (already aligned closely with AP in financial markets), though others such as Google continue to be bandied about. The missed opportunity in this, of course, is the opportunity to redefine AP as a new kind of distribution channel for high-quality content based on a new generation of news producers and to enable it to include a cross-platform network of news enthusiasts who will add value to its brand based on their enthusiasm for commenting on news content. If everyone wants to do content swaps and link exchanges, for example, why isn't AP positioned as a channel designed to make that easier?

On this note I think that one of the great missed opportunities for AP has been its failure to adopt a strategy for embracing social media more effectively. While an acquisition of a player such as Newsvine would not have stanched the bleeding based on its core asset issues it would have at least started to position AP as a service that could center communities around key news assets. If audience engagement is the key to online publishing profits, catchy headlines and great ledes are not necessarily going to help your members as much as giving people a good reason to stay on a page - something that good social media can help to do very effectively.

AP's pricing will help to define for its members what AP needs to do to cover costs for existing editorial operations, but that's little more than an opening argument when AP members are looking for concluding remarks as to how AP will help them to drive revenues more effectively. It's probably best at this time for AP to seek a parent aggressively that will help them to maintain their core editorial assets while enabling them to invest in a broader array of content assets and services that will bolster their value over time. By all indications current AP members will not be the ones to sponsor that investment, so it's most definitely time to go find buyers to make those investments while there's still a good opportunity to do so.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Cloudy Forecast: Microsoft Ups the Ante for Publishers in Cloud Computing

I am going to be moderating a panel on the opportunities for publishing in cloud computing on November 19th - more to come on that - so needless to say my head is in the cloud (computing) to some degree already. But when Microsoft announces a major initiative to adapt its Windows operating system for cloud computing for Amazon's web services platform you know that the balance of power is shifting away from enterprise servers faster than you might think. This is great news for network services providers and potentially good news for Microsoft, whose desktop Windows operating system is becoming ever more ponderous and is being readied for a crash diet. The bottom line from a technology perspective is that we're returning to the days of complex technology being "out there" in the network and user-oriented technology being oriented away from general computing and towards serving up content from network services.

The move towards cloud computing may seem rather "back to the future" in some ways for those of us who lived through the days of mainframe computing and (really) dumb terminals, but when did it really make sense for companies to have thousands of dollars of over-complex content and software on people's desks in the first place? The network is the natural place for most content services to live, making it far easier for peers to communicate and collaborate with one another as publishers and to provide them with the ability to benefit from sophisticated services with a minimum of in-your-face technology hassles. This is no surprise to publishers that are succeeding with the move to online digitual publishing services, but it does pose an issue for content and technology companies that had been focused on enterprise sales.

In recent years much of the "value-add" component for sophisticated enterprise content services and the technologies that support them has revolved around tailored software and information services based on integration with enterprise I.T. platforms. The early enterprise entrants in cloud computing such as Salesforce.com's network-based services have strong participation from many enterprises, but the big push for margins has positioned many enterprise content providers towards strategic sales that involve I.T. teams in major companies. Cloud sales were an investment in the future, to be sure, but present revenues were focused behind the firewalls of enteprise publishing clients oftentimes.

Clearly the rapid acceleration of enteprise-oriented I.T. services towards network services available via highly scalable Web infrastructure is going to put more and more pressure on this line of marketing for high-end enterprise publishers. Web services, which enable publishers to integrate their content easily and rapidly with other content via standardized programming techniques, are flourishing in cloud computing environments, enabling user-defined "mix and match" content services intergrated into a wide variety of platforms and productivity tools. This is good news for publishers who want to get their content up and running as quickly and as easily as possible in enterprise-oriented applications - but bad news for publishers who wanted to sell people on the idea that doing so was really expensive and hard.

The go0d news for enterprise publishers is that cloud computing is likely to spawn a widening breed of tailored content applications that can be deployed more rapidly and efficiently. Long and risky product development cycles for advanced publishers are likely to give way to general frameworks for cloud-enabled content applications that will have easily tailored core functions that can be changed to meet individual client needs more rapidly. In the process of doing so, many major aggregators may begin to look at what their real core strengths need to be, leaving some likely to look further and further afield for just the right content sources to aggregate as needed for specific client applications. Instead of focusing on database curation, it's more likely that tomorrow's major enterprise publishers will be focused on Web services curation, being experts in assembling just the right content from any number of databases and Web sources that meet their clients' needs.

While in many instances existing staff skill sets will be transferable to the cloud computing environment, I expect that more than a few of the major publishers are ill prepared for the cultural leaps required to survive and to thrive as content services experts in cloud computing. We're all familiar with the reogranizations that have been the focus at major enterprise publishers such as LexisNexis that are aimed at blasting away very I.T.-centric product development cultures in favor of more client-centric cultures. What happens when the Web services-centric model of cloud computing impels these companies to accelerate the culture change for their core revenue lines that much more quickly? There are great opportunities for major publishers in the shift to network-oriented enterprise services, but I suspect that more than one five-year plan may be floating out their H.Q. office windows shortly as the depth of the impact of cloud computing services on the enterprise content industry becomes more clear to them.