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The Evolving Experience Expectation of Customers

Note: The following is a portion of a presentation given at the recent Wiley EMEA Sales Conference by Christine Dunn, Director of Marketing.  She was kind enough to allow me to share it here.

I’m not going to spend time going through loads of statistics confirming that nearly every man, woman, and child at every age in every country and continent is online, buying stuff, finding jobs, partners, and hopefully our books.   What I would like to put in front of you briefly is the idea of our customer’s EVOLVING EXPERIENCE EXPECTATION.

Some would argue that, and I include myself in this camp, that the Experience is the product.  When someone buys a book or a new perfume or cologne, they will judge that product on the experience that it create. Did the book empower me, did the perfume or cologne get me a date?  Did it make me feel better about myself?

The experience of music and the evolution of the music business is always held up as the harbinger for the book business.  And I think this analogy has reached a fevered pitch with the release of Amazon’s Kindle seven months ago.

Some of you probably saw this picture of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, in the Economist a few weeks ago with the heading “YOU’RE ALL DOOMED”.  Many have recognized that Amazon seems to be following a similar “digitize, divide and conquer” strategy masterminded by the maestro himself, Steve Jobs.

I don’t think many of us would question that Jobs and the iPod have revolutionized the music business,   BUT is it right then to assume that Bezos and his new toy will have the similar impact on the book business?  Last week , analysts in the US predicted that by 2012 global ebook sales at amazon will reach $2.5 billion. An astounding number considering amazon’s overall revenue in 2007 was $10.7 billion. How did they get there, with the music comparison of course.

If we look at some key points in history for both the music and book business in the context of the customer’s EVOLVING EXPERIENCE EXPECTATION, which I mentioned before. I think it starts to become clear that this comparison doesn’t really hold water.

A long time ago, when you wanted to experience music, you had limited options. You had to be in the presence of those creating the music, so your mobility was limited.  Unless you were royalty, or whoever was paying the orchestra, your choice of music was limited.  So, improving the mobility of music and the choices that were made available were huge factors in music’s widespread adoption.

Along came the phonograph and suddenly music could be mass produced and distributed, widening its market.
Now, personally, I think the real breakthrough moment in music, that paved the way for Apple, was the dawn of the boom box.

Clearly, this is when music became an accessory for fashion (have you ever seen a better matched bandana and boombox?) The point is, when music went mobile, it fit more readily into people’s experiences.

Then the race was on to make it more portable, stylish, all changing experience expectation. Now, when we think of a comparable breakthrough moment for the reading experience, many wonder if it happened 7 months ago with the release of the Kindle,  but I would argue it really happened just under 700 years ago with our friend, Mr. Movable Type, Gutenberg, himself.

Think about it. Since then, the experience of reading has changed very little. They come in all shapes and sizes. Mobility isn’t much of a problem. And as those traditionalists always say, I like books because you can curl up with them in bed, or read them in the bath.

So, I guess the point I’m trying to make is, unlike the music business the relationship customers have with the printed book is still quite strong and have been meeting the experience expectation for hundreds of years. And I don’t say this because I’m overly sentimental traditionalist.  But I do think it’s an important time to remind ourselves that the printed book still provides an excellent user experience.  And this is a real strength that only enhances our position in a digital age.

So, having read Christine thoughts, what do you think?  Are books still the ultimate experience when it comes to reading, or can what we think of as a book be so much more?  How will the book customer’s experience expectation evolve in the coming years?  Are we indeed doomed?

  • Jennifer Gniadecki

    Big difference between books and music. Music has never been a tactile experience. You didn’t hold the original phonograph to your ear in order to listen. The closest people get to touching music (other than musicians) is holding a boom-box on the shoulder, but even then you’re not touching the music, you’re touching the apparatus that delivers the music.

    Books are tactile. The medium *is* the message (to quote good ol’ Marshall) and the only way to change that is audio-books, and then you’re taking away the tactile experience.

    Read a book electronically, sure, but you still have to hold something, feel something, carry something in order to digest those words.

    All the changes to books are not making them better. If you drop a book it doesn’t break. Try throwing a Kindle across the room after you’ve read an ending that you have a visceral reaction to…your results will not be as easy to salvage as picking your paperback up from the floor.

    If you are going on a long trip and have books you want to take with you, the Kindle is a great choice…but sitting on a sandy beach with a drink and a … plastic shell to hold on to is never going to be as satisfying as turning the pages and enjoying how easy it is to turn the pages because the condensation from your drink has made your fingers just a little damp and that makes the page easier to catch and turn with your hand.

    While digital will bring stories to more people, it won’t replace the concept and joy and comfort and happiness and frustration that the physical book has become part of for so many of us.

  • Chris


    Well put, indeed. Great point about tossing your Kindle across the room! :)

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  • Andrew Jackson

    Christine’s point is well taken re. books. However, the real potential of the Kindle, and e-paper as it comes on stream, will be for more ephemeral reading matter, mostly available only (or most conveniently) via the Internet. My wife (age 62) bought a Palm device for the express purpose of downloading or cutting and pasting articles from the Web so she could read them more comfortably, for example in bed. Christine is right: it’s the USER EXPERIENCE, stupid.

    The kindle, for all its bling, is clearly a marketing gimmick for Amazon to sell “books”. The real volume, and the revolution in media for mainly textual content, will come when a really convenient e-paper device becomes available with the following features. It must be universal, NOT limited to a particular source or format, including simple tools for surfing, downloading and cutting/pasting. It must be light, foldable (or whatever) to pocket size, self powered with a long-lasting rechargeable battery, wirelessly connectable to the Internet, able to display text and images with color and definition equal to printed magazine pages, and viewable in all normal light conditions. Almost all of these capabilities already exist, at least in prototype form.

    I work in magazine publishing and such a device would open up a huge new field for what is now mainly distributed as printed magazines. Tentative steps in this direction are being taken by a few publishers with their digital editions, but this will only take off when the USER EXPERIENCE can be made as comfortable as lying on the couch, reading a magazine.

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  • Marble Floor Clean PALM BEACH

    Clearly, this is when music became an accessory for fashion (have you ever seen a better matched bandana and boombox?) The point is, when music went mobile, it fit more readily into people’s experiences!

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    Well put, indeed.