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Publishers need to think like Games Developers

Publish to several formats

Exclusively everywhere

The publishing world is going mad. Digital technology is disrupting everything that they used to hold dear. Newspaper publishers are seeing their printed paper circulations dropping,  along with the advertising revenues that went with them. At the same time, having given away their online versions for free and keeping them subsidised by the online advertising, the online revenues are not keeping pace with the decline of the offline versions. This is not news and it is well documented in the well written article about the demise of the newspaper as we know it by Clay Shirky

There is a lot of talk in the publishing world about what the industry does not want to be. It does not want to be like the music industry which is trying to keep up with its customers who want to download music. The publishing industry does not want to lose control of its content. It does not want to see authors going direct to consumers and negating the need for their editorial, production and marketing skills. Nor does it want to be in the situation of the newspaper publishers. 

The publishing industry is in a position where devices are starting to become good enough for people to buy eBooks in significant numbers now and publishers are becoming increasingly anxious to adapt to the changing scene amongst their consumers. Their concerns over which format to use and which device will be the ‘killer device’ are growing. Unlike the music industry, publishers have never needed to think about which device to publish their books for. The device was the paper and print. If you publish regluar novels which just has text and no illustrations there is one format for you. If you publish cookbooks, for example, then you need a format which can handle the more complex text and images.

Amazon looks like it will introduce its Kindle 2 device into the UK soon for which publishers will have to provide their eBooks in various formats for Amazon to add in its own digital rights management. Waterstones favours the Sony Reader device and they require eBooks delivered in a format which only really suits novels which contain plain text. There are numerous eBook reading devices on the market and several different formats into which a book can be turned into an eBook. 

Publishers are now having to adapt their skills in print to digital skills to ensure that they are prepared for when their sales of digital books move from being a noticeable item on their top line to a significant part of their bottom line. And, instead of thinking about what they don’t want to be, they should start to think about what they want to be. And there is a model which they should consider.

Computer games developers and publishers have always needed a device to be purchased on which their games can be played. In the early days, it was a computer. Then specialised devices came along and the manufacturers of the devices started to battle it out for domination and Sony was the early winner with the Playstation. Microsoft brought out the Xbox and Nintendo discovered a new market with the Wii. 

But the games publishers and developers learnt fairly early on that the platform did not affect their development and publishing of games. The games developers (the equivalent of authors) created ever more immersive and graphically stunning games to make the most of the power of the games consoles which could be played on either an Xbox or a Playstation. They just developed ‘compiler’ programmes and ‘architectures’ through which their games adapted to the platform for which they had been purchased. Games publishers want to be able to distribute their games onto as many platforms as they can.

The good thing about books unlike a newspaper is that they are likely to be read again. Not read as many times, perhaps, as often as a track is played on a MP3 player, but an eBook has a longer life than a newspaper article, nevertheless. A game is likely to be played several times before it swapped or exchanged. Of course, most games come on a disc. But, increasingly, games are being played online and soon they will be downloaded to consoles when broadband speeds increase. So, in that sense, publishers will be ahead of games developers. 

A game can be rented from Blockbuster for a few nights, or purchased from the store or online. eBooks will need to be adaptable enough to allow different forms of ownership and payment such as borrowing from a library, renting from an online store, as well a perpetual licence when bought outright. 

Book publishers should think like this too. They just need to carry on finding good authors, and marketing the books well and let the device manufacturers fight it out amongst themselves on which device will be the most popular. In the meantime, they need to grow their digital capability to be able to deliver eBooks in several different formats and study how companies like EA Games work to get some ideas.

The Quiet Ones Make More Noise

It's not the way you say. It's how you listen.

It's not the way you say. It's how you listen.

You may know someone like this. They appear to be exceptionally confident. They dominate conversations and walk into a room or a meeting and take command of it. You might feel a little intimidated by them. They say things at you and you wonder why you had not thought of that idea yourself and it is so much better than any idea you could possibly have ever conjured up. This person might tell you to do something and so you go and do what they tell you without thinking about it too much.

That’s the way it has been since you were at school. People say things to you and you listen and act upon what you are told. That confident person might have been your teacher, your boss, or a colleague who was always louder than you. But, as you grew older and more experienced, you started to think for yourself. The people who were the loudest often were the ones who took your idea and labeled it as their own. You started to see that actually the loud people, or the exceptionally confident ones were quite often very good at saying things but not so good at thinking about things. They did not have the monopoly on ideas that you thought they had and they needed you more than they would have cared to accept. 

In the armed forces, there are lots of people who are loud and confident. You are trained to lead and to project an air of confidence. But this was quite often a veneer of confidence and you spent a lot of time telling people what to do if you were a platoon commander. But, if you stepped back from the noise, you started to notice something. More often than not, the people who were very influential were the quiet ones who observed and listened before saying anything. All their words were used carefully and minimally. Their confidence was not projected through a one way barrage of information and orders. Their confidence was projected through their quietness and their ability to inspire others and to use the strengths of the team that surrounded them. 

In the business world, advertising agencies have been great at saying things to their client’s customers for years. They have been very effective at sending messages to people and telling them to do things. Buy this washing powder, eat this food, rub this cream in or buy this car to become this sort of person. Some of the world’s most talented people went into advertising and they still do. They are brilliant at saying things. 

Over the last few years, we, as individuals, have realised that we have a voice too. We can write our views up on a blog, comment on other people blogs or views, and we can do things which were once the private domain of the corporations which controlled what we saw, read or consumed. 

This has meant that advertisers are changing their ways. We are not prepared to listen to the message of one advertiser on their product or service. We will check what everyone else thinks about their product or service before we buy it. The loud, confident broadcasts are becoming less and less impressive. Now, the quiet noise of the people tells us whether the advertiser is right about the product they are pushing or not. 

An example of this is a recent story of two developers I know who have built a simple to use tool called ‘ImageSizer.’ These two bright and self-effacing individuals have spent their spare time building ‘ImageSizer’ to help people quickly re-size batches of digital photos and made it available for people to download for free. Quite quickly, it started to appear on lists on the web recommending top tools to download. Downloads went from one hundred in a month to almost a thousand in a week. It kept appearing on lists and the number of downloads increased. Soon, a computer magazine picked it up and asked if it could include ‘ImageSizer‘ in the free CD on the front of its publication which went out to 20,000 subscribers. 

Although the product is free, it is a good lesson in the fact that today people find out about products and services by hearing about them less through the loud noise of traditional advertising and increasingly through a network of people on the web recommending things. Further to the ‘ImageSizer’ story, the developers receive suggestions and requests for improvement to the tool from their users regularly which helps them to keep ImageSizer relevant and useful to what people want from it. 

So, now think back to those people who exude confidence, start to question their substance and find out whether what they are saying is correct from the network. We are in a far more democratic society than we were ten years ago and it is a far better world for it.