Tag Archives: kindle

What CEOs Can Learn from Stephen King’s “Guns”

Every CEO should pay attention to the success of Stephen King’s Kindle Single, Guns. It points the way to a new form of communication with the public for brands, companies and thought-leaders.

Kindle Singles have quickly turned into an interesting platform — unlike any before it. Amazon.com launched Kindle Singles two years ago, in January 2011, just as electronic book reading was really taking hold. (In its latest earnings report, Amazon said that e-book sales have become a multi-billion dollar business for the company.)

Singles generally range from about 10,000 to 20,000 words — no more than 50 pages, equal to a brisk read on a flight from Denver to New York. Most cost from 99 cents to $2.99 and exist only in electronic form, to be read on Kindles, iPads, laptops or smart phones. All in all, the friction between a Single and someone who wants to read it is almost non-existent. 

A Single is also easier to create than a traditional book. Writing a 10,000-word, well-crafted and researched Single might take a couple of months. Writing the 100,000 words in a 250-page book can take a couple of years. Distribution can be lightning quick. Amazon says that King finished Guns on Friday, Jan. 18, and it was published globally by the next Friday, Jan. 25. It is now No. 1 on the Kindle Singles bestseller list.


Of course, King is a popular writer, and his fans will help push anything he writes up the charts. But he also wrote about a hot subject, and the combination proved electric. 

So what can CEOs and brands glean from this? 

First — short e-books are a new and interesting opportunity. They don’t have the restrictions of trying to place an op-ed piece. They are lengthy enough to explore a topic in a rich way. If written with integrity and authenticity, they can be content that people want to read — as opposed to marketing material, which people feel is pushed at them.

Second — King’s book shows the power of timeliness in this new medium. And the medium allows for timeliness. A smart communications team could look for news or a hot issue that lands right in their CEO’s strike zone. For instance, is there a well-known CEO who might have something truly enlightening to say about immigration in the U.S.? Probably. Especially if that CEO could eloquently express how immigration reform would benefit his or her company or the industry or the U.S. economy.

But then the point is: Write those 10,000 words while the topic is hot, and get it published almost instantly through an electronic channel like Kindle Singles.

One last thing to hammer home: A Kindle Single is content that people to buy. The content isn’t being pushed at them in ads, or arriving packaged in a newspaper or magazine they already subscribe to. It sits out there naked, and will only be read if a person actively pays money to download it. Which means that the content has to be good or it’s not even worth doing. It has to be well-written, credible, honest, and have something unique and helpful to say. If a CEO can do that, the company might find it can win some dedicated fans.


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Three Ways Music’s Past Informs the Future of Books

Digital forces are changing publishing faster than Bruce Wayne morphs into Batman as he slides down the Batpole. (Yes, that fast!)

But you don’t have to be a genius to figure out how this is going to play out. Just look back on the music business a decade ago, around the introduction of the iPod. That history puts a lot of perspective into today’s news — and suggests what might happen in branded content.

Barnes & Noble retail revenue dropped 10.9%: Can you say “Tower Records?” Look, I love Barnes & Noble, as I adored Tower Records in its heyday. And I have nostalgia for the days of going into a store and feeling tangibly surrounded by music. I’d hate to see that disappear for books. But it will.

I started buying digital music and stopped buying CDs, as did millions of others. I’ve now stopped buying physical books, preferring digital. As will millions of others. People still buy CDs and they will still buy books, but not enough to keep open megastores on expensive real estate.

Brands considering putting out books need to think digital and how to get noticed on e-book sites — not how to get on shelves at B&N.

Fifty Shades of Grey, which started as a self-published e-book, kicked butt in 2012Oh, and then there’s the book on the history of TV dramas that started out self-published and just got picked up by a Simon & Schuster imprint. These things mean that do-it-yourself, viral books are the future and the big publishing houses are toast, right?

Well, that’s not really what the music industry showed us. Remember when we all thought record labels would quickly become irrelevant and we’d be listening to obscure bands we found on the Web? The story ended up being more complex. Music is now a rich mixture of big-label acts and artists who make songs on their MacBooks and find an audience through social media. The labels can back marketing campaigns and big tours and still play an important role in giving us our Lady Gagas and Rihannas and Taylor Swifts.

So if past is prologue, major book publishers will go through a lot of changes and pain, but they will emerge as an important filter and promoter of mass-market authors.

For brands, that means that while self-publishing can work, you could probably do well to hook up with a publishing house — for now, and for the future.


E-book readers like the Kindle are losing out to tablets like the iPad: That means that books could be something different than they’ve ever been. E-readers delivered a book-like experience: text only; a one-way conversation of the author talking to you; no interactivity. A book on an iPad could be packed with moveable graphics and videos and links and additional information, and could allow readers to rearrange the story or add material or who knows what.

But we also thought that would happen to music. Todd Rundgren, Aerosmith, Prince and others experimented with letting fans remix their songs or get pieces of songs or suggest stuff. By now we know that just a small percentage of people want to do such things. Most just want to press play and hear a song.

Message for brands: There is an opening now for trying to create the “new” book — something that takes advantage of a tablet’s connectivity. But in the end, most people will still just want to read a good story.

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Horses, film cameras, paper books…

This post is prompted by an unbelievably backward-thinking op-ed column published in today’s New York Times under the headline “Long Live Paper,” by a Tufts University professor, Justin Hollander. He in turn is responding to Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s assertion last week that paper textbooks should soon be made obsolete in favor of digital books.

In his op-ed, Hollander goes on to dump all over digital books, arguing that paper is better. In other words, this old-school professor thinks that we should continue to give our kids information in a form that (a) most of them don’t like, (b) makes their school backpacks weigh 40 pounds, (c) costs a lot in production, shipping, storage and environmental damage, and (d) is a a medium of information that will be as precious and vintage as vinyl records by the time these students are adults.

Secretary Duncan is right: paper books will go the way of horses and film cameras. Print books won’t go away. But they will no longer be ubiquitous or essential. They will become premium versions of what was formally known as a book — something nice you might give your employees for Christmas. A personal library will become more of a keepsake, a decoration, a way to preserve and pass down a physical version of an intellectual life. But increasingly you’ll find no one pulls a book off the shelf and actually reads it.

Book lovers among us — heck, authors among us! — hate the idea of dying paper books. But that won’t make the trend go away. Each succeeding generation moves farther and farther away from paper media. The harsh truth is, if you want to publish something for old people, put it on paper. If you want to publish something for young people, put it in the cloud so they can see it on anything, anywhere.

In 2007, I interviewed Kodak CEO Antonio Perez in front of an audience at Dartmouth. He talked about his first tour of Kodak facilities after he took the job. He’d go to film factories, and gather a couple thousand workers, and ask them how many of them use digital cameras. Inevitably, just about every hand would go up. Perez didn’t even have to say more. The film makers showed themselves why their world had to change.









That moment is around the corner for paper books. I’ve written five books and am on my sixth. I don’t read books on paper anymore. I just finished Ron Chernow’s 904-page biography of George Washington by reading some of it on a Kindle, and much of it on my smart phone on the New York subway. The book was always in the cloud, synched to whatever page I last read. I found time to read it in spaces where I never would’ve carted the massive print volume.

This is good news for publishing and authors, because now I can buy and read more books. And it’s looking like that’s true for much of the book-reading audience — once they get into digital books, they buy more books than before.

A lot of CEOs come to us wanting to write a book. And that’s great. A long-form book makes a statement. It can be a deeply argued body of thought or a grand sweeping story — something you can’t do so well on YouTube or Pinterest. Despite all the technology out there, the written word remains the most efficient means for channeling what’s inside one person’s brain directly into another person’s brain.

But keep in mind that the book is changing. If you want to create a paper book, publish beautiful printed copies that can be treasured artifacts and reach an audience — still sizable, by the way — that can’t or prefers not to read a book on a device.

And know that you’ll reach a younger, more tech-savvy generation a different way — through digital copies in the cloud. Like it or not, kids entering grade school today will get to college and think of a physical book as an antique.

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