Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Kindle tailored for Newspapers and Magazines?

Can't wait for summer, hence the references to surf and sand. It pains me to constantly hear of newspapers and magazines shutting down. It seems to me that they are too busy trying to recoup sunk costs (or milk them further) until the entire business gets buried under the surf, rather than ride it. It seems to me that they are unwilling to let go of their comfort zones and try something new.

Marc Andreesen in his interview on the Charlie Rose show called for dramatic changes in the way traditional print media distributes content. What is the print media industry doing to leverage the value of its various time-tested brands? Here are a few uninformed pointers and unanswered questions that might help the media industry think out of the sand.

  1. Mindle - A Kindle for Traditional Media, News Papers and Magazines? Are advocacy groups in the media and publishing industry pooling resources to create their own version of the Kindle2 -- then give it away for free? We have read the much cited blog post on how 'Printing The NYT Costs Twice As Much As Sending Every Subscriber A Free Kindle'. Can this device, let's call it Mindle for convenience, be shared by all the media companies?

  2. Scrollbar? Just the scroll please, not the bar. Would it help to have a standardized format for e-paper sizes? Have you tried any of the electronic versions of newspapers and magazines that are expecting the print versions to be miniaturized and sent via email, and for readers to enjoy the content using a variety of techniques not excluding, scrolling, enlarging, panning, and squinting. Extremely cumbersome to use. I would imagine that the same will happen if you try to squeeze all the content of a magazine or a newspaper into the Kindle2.

  3. Print-On-Demand Newspapers and Magazines. Would it make sense for the traditional media to encourage the growth of localized network of printers who might be willing to print magazines and newspapers on demand to spawn local entrepreneurship in places where they like to sit with the morning paper and sip coffee?

  4. No Accessories. In my electronic version of newspaper and magazine, I do not want to have to plug things in. I do not want to walk around with a mouse. I do not want to worry about accessories. I do not want to panic if I left it behind in a taxi. How can the industry satisfy such demands of a consumer?

  5. News on my Coffee Table.

  1. Why not tie up with Microsoft and create furniture in the industry's standard dimension for electronic news surfaces, so that news is delivered on the coffee table, or on the mirror by the dresser for your reader to check the weather and traffic report as s/he gets ready for the morning commute?

Obviously, a lot more thinking needs to go into this. A good start would be for the readers to exhort to leaders in the media world that there is still value in knowing that news and reporting coming from various brands of media companies bear that essential journalistic integrity and authenticity that play an important role in society. If the traditional media business fails to respond, we will see a variety of independent news sources throughout the web or under the umbrella of Amazon or Google, with the need for some 3rd-party mechanism to certify sources for their journalistic integrity. Hard to execute, but should that not happen then the market will find ways to drown out ad-influenced noise over time.

Monday, February 16, 2009

"Press 3 for a Diamond Expert."

This is a fork, where my work-related blog for iTradeFair.com and my personal blog start to diverge, allowing me to explore other interests. All previous posts have been replicated in both places, and future posts may be replicated where pertinent.

It was very interesting to read an interview of Mark Stolzman, CFO of Blue Nile, Inc. the online diamond retailer.

Besides the financial aspects of the story (low or no inventory carrying costs, etc.), here are a couple of excerpts that I found interesting, especially finding it in the CFO magazine:

"Right now we have about a 4 percent share of the engagement[-ring] business in the United States, and we think we can double or triple that in the next five years. We want to expand our market share both domestically and internationally. We want to do that by offering education, quality, and selection. And we'll continue to expand our service to the customer both in terms of [technology] tools and in terms of access, whether it's by online chat, E-mail, or telephone."

"Despite the fact that most of the purchase process is done online, our customer-service group gets involved in a vast majority of our purchases, because customers still think, "OK, I'm making a significant purchase, and I want to make sure I've made the right decision." So they get comfort in accessing our diamond experts and knowing the purchase they're about to make is solid."

Mark Stolzman's words capture the power and the challenge of new media in building trust among remote users. Being able to sell a diamond ring without actually meeting the seller in person calls for a high level of trust to be established early on during the shopping experience. The convenience of using the telephone, besides email and chat online, seems to indicate that the trust-building requires some extra support through old technology.

Take a look at this unrelated news item titled "More Consumers Going Online to Shop". According to Nachi Lolla, research director, commerce at Nielsen Online, the majority of consumer concerns about online shopping have been lifted.

Even if retailers may not have mastered all the methods of trust-building over the web, many of the earlier hurdles seem to have been crossed or outweighed by the sheer convenience of getting things or getting things done over the web. The average user now submits shipping and payment information on the web without hesitation. Companies have started building brands on the web where the customer knows that effective means of redresssal are available with a simple email expressing dis-satisfaction about a purchase.

Even if all the tools are available for an online user to independently research and verify the authenticity of an online business, you will be surprised at how often a user says "Is there a phone number I can call?"

As the customer-service function strains to be prompt in its responsiveness, as it strains to overcome the absence of face-to-face or tactile experiences in online shopping through other communication tools, there is a need not only for using whichever instrument of communication works best within the customer's comfort zone, but also a need to have knowledgeable people at level-one customer support.

Just like the diamond experts that Mark Stolzman talks about. That comes at a price - I suppose at a price lower than inventory-carrying costs.