It's about time I published my strategy for my new topic-focused blog, eBook Culture. Although upon reading Erik Benson's post tonight about getting on and building something rather than "talking about it but never building it", I now feel a bit guilty about writing yet another grand plan instead of getting my hands dirty with implementation work. But I did promise you that I'd publish my strategy, plus it will serve as a public reminder of what I have to do.
Re-cap of my goals
1. Explore the niche world of eBooks.
2. Build up a weblog community of eBook users.
3. Prove to myself and future employers or customers that I'm able to successfully implement a web strategy and build a social media website.
4. Earn some money and potentially grow a business.
What's the Problem with eBooks?
So let's start with asking: what's the business problem I'm trying to solve with my new website? Crudely put, it's that eBooks aren't accessible enough for mainstream users. The technology (hardware, software) is still too hard or too messy to use - it's not user-friendly enough. eBooks have too many obstacles in front of them.
I started the new blog to help remove some of those obstacles and make eBooks easier to use.
Now let me define who my 'target audience' is with eBook Culture. Basically I want the site to appeal to ordinary but tech-savvy people. The sort of people who currently use iPods/iTunes, only they'll be readers. Note: I expect this will be a much smaller user group than for music, because - well frankly, reading isn't as cool as listening to music. I'm specifically not targeting people who are already converted to eBooks, because a) that group is very small, and b) they know much more than I do on this subject. I do however want to earn their respect and links with good content.
Let me refer back to goal #1 - explore the niche world of eBooks. So really, my target audience is me and others like me! That is, I'll be learning as I go and my aim is to bring others along for the ride.
Building a Community
I expect this will be the most difficult of my goals to achieve. I don't have many social contacts on the Web, indeed I'm not even a very sociable person. How can I expect to build an eBook community when I won't even participate in social networks like Orkut and Friendster? Well, I need to take a different approach. And that approach will be based on trying to make eBooks as user-friendly as possible. It's also important to point out that I don't necessarily want to be come a focal 'place' on the Web for the eBook community. Let me explain...
One strategy for building a community is to provide a platform for community. Enable and encourage people to contribute reviews and content and participate in community discussion. I doubt I will go down this route, because a) developing such software isn't my strength, and b) other people have already created social platforms for the eBook community.
My approach will be to provide information and services to take the pain and hassle out of eBooks. And believe me, there's a lot of pain and hassle with eBooks at this point in time. Some things I can't control - like DRM. Other things I can make an effort to influence - like providing easy instructions on how to read eBooks, download software and convert texts into eBooks.
So I will put a bunch of things that eBook users want on my site and hope that people travel through it often enough. This is similar in a sense to the portal strategy from the Web world, although what I have in mind is less ostentatious and more focused on useful content (rather then e.g. fancy web services). Things like: news, reviews, content summaries, conversion tools, articles, analysis.
Even though I won't end up as one of the 'places' where the community gathers and meets, I'll be doing my bit to make eBooks easy to use and share. I'll be providing a useful service to the community and hopefully helping to grow it. That's the sort of community I'm aiming to build - one that visits my site often but doesn't necessarily use it as a focal point for discussions and collaboration.
I'll also be an evangelist for eBooks, which is an important role in a community.
eBooks and the Web
I specialize in the Web. I'm also a writer and prolific reader. So another aspect of my strategy is to marry eBooks with the Web. I want to help provide a seamless integration of eBooks from the reading device (typically a mobile device like a PDA) to the server. This isn't a revolutionary thought, Apple are doing exactly this with iPod/iTunes and Tim O'Reilly is doing it with eBooks with his company's Safari service. Where I fit in is probably not so much in the software/hardware side of things, given I'm not a company (to paraphrase a Dave Winer line). My focus here will be to provide top-notch written content - how-to's, reviews, analysis. Playing to my strengths as a writer and analyst.
Come on, you knew the two-way web would stick its oar into the strategy ;-) Basically my aim here is to encourage people to create and produce eBooks, not just consume them. The key for this is to provide easy-to-use conversion services, or instructions / tutorials.
I think there's some overlap with blogging and eBooks and they could learn from one another. For example, longer blog posts could be converted into eBook formats. And some eBooks would benefit from blogging technologies, like finding ways to cut eBooks into digestible chunks (microcontent). So a part of my strategy is to push the two-way web philosophy into the eBook culture and see what evolves.
There's more to write, but I'll wrap up Part 1 and continue at a later date. So what are your thoughts on my strategy so far? Am I headed in the right direction?