Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Link Bait

Someone announced to me the other day that publishers need to control the links in and out of their content. The notion being that a publisher shouldn’t allow another entity – say a retailer for example – to insert their own links and references into content produced by a publisher. This is half right: Enabling third parties to link and build applications using your content could become an important aspect of consumer engagement but today that idea – enabling linking and supplying APIs – might give publishers pause. It doesn’t mean however that the concept is completely wrong for publishers and with experimentation and testing third party access to publisher content is likely to develop over time.

Print books are seen as a ‘unit’ but in the eBook world the ‘unit’ can be atomized and through this process all sorts of opportunities for the publisher to provide additional value and commercial opportunities may develop. For example, publishers can provide reference links that expand on some element of the text like an encyclopedia entry or mapping that shows geographic or topographic details, images or archive video on an historical event. Much of this is the stuff of basic blogging but should now be considered by publishers as key components of their eBook product offerings.

Commercial applications will enable up and cross selling. For publishers, this ability to manage how the consumer navigates within the eBook content could be critical to building consumer loyalty, engaging with the consumer and adding incremental revenues. If a consumer is reading a book about President Lincoln it is (almost) obvious that up selling that consumer to a paid ‘invitation only’ discussion with the author could be commercially viable. This is also true of cross-selling that consumer on books published by the same author and about revolutionary history. Commercial applications could also include advertising – consider a trade title on home repair where advertising is matched to topic. In the case of advertising, many publishers have reservations over effectiveness, but this is a legacy of the print world where the ad was static and often became irrelevant over time.

Key to enabling some of this in/out linking could be the digital object identifier (DOI). (A DOI remains ‘persistent’ but a DOI can ‘resolve’ to different online locations over time). CrossRef, the organization that – in part – supports journal publishers with DOI resolution, has been assigning more and more DOI’s to books and publishers should be thinking about using DOI’s to up and cross sell enhanced consumer engagement. Publishers will be thinking less about the book as a single ‘unit’ and more about their unique ability to add and enable universal (but appropriate) linking that raises their engagement with consumers. After all, wouldn’t a publisher rather control this than Amazon?

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