Tuesday, March 27, 2012

TUESDAY TIP @AmazonKindle Book Extras from @Shelfari Make the Reading World Your Stage!

Today's the first of a 2-part blog tip on Book Extras for Amazon Kindle (device +/or app) users. This Amazon/Shelfari (the same company now that Amazon bought Shelfari) feature is not (yet) available for other platforms so ePub (Nook, iOS etc.) readers can't use them but they're an untapped potential for Kindle readers.

What are they? Here's a direct quote from a recent KDP newsletter defining Book Extras to those Indie Authors who'd never heard of them. It was also mentioned in 2010 on a Shelfari blog on the subject. It might even be on a 2009 blog somewhere. Book Extras have been around a while. Who knew? Probably very few of those reading this blog:

Book Extras are curated factoids by the Shelfari community that provide readers with helpful information while they’re reading or deciding if they should read a book. These Extras include character descriptions, important places, popular quotations, themes, book-specific glossaries and more.

Sounds pretty boring, doesn't it? Also sounds useless for a reader trying to decide whether or not to buy a book. Or trying to get more out of a book they loved. Or trying to connect with a book beyond the words on the page--there's nothing "extra" about the feature as described above.

The thing is, Book Extras haven't caught on because Amazon/Shelfari are pitching Book Extras to the wrong market. Again, that's just what I believe. YMMV.

I think Amazon/Shelfari keep promoting Book Extras as sales tools for Authors but I don't think Authors should be encouraged to embed sales pitches into their books--and let's be honest here, given half a chance, Authors will embed a sales pitch anywhere they can! Sad, but true.

Book Extras are definitely a way to access Amazon's sales tools but having access and using it wisely are not the same thing. There's a fine line between the sales tools on the book's sales page and the marketing opportunity of a Book Extra on Shelfari (or the Book Extras submenu on a Kindle app).

I also don't think readers (the correct target for Book Extras) really understand the point of the Book Extras feature because no one's ever used them in a value-added way. Click through the jump-break to see how I think Book Extras should be used--and by whom. It might surprise you.

What do people think Book Extras are?
Short answer? a useless idea Amazon thought up that never caught on.

To get the longer answer, I only had to do a quick search, and the most common explanation I found in the reader community dated back to 2009. Consistently  Book Extras were discussed or explained in reader forums as being "just for multimedia" and most-commonly used on iOS devices (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch) with the Kindle app.

Readers talked about Book Extras being useless for Kindle device owners because they consisted of videos and MP3s embedded in the books--which early Kindle devices were not able to display or play. Even those customers using a Kindle app on an iPad or iPhone (which could play the videos or MP3s) talked about the multimedia as interrupting their Reader Experience, not enhancing it. Book Extras were universally described as a very negative "feature," like a bug in the software Amazon had yet to debug out.

Readers say Book Extras are not a value-added part of the Reader Experience. For now.

For non-fiction, readers did seem to think the multimedia could be an enhancement, but they saw no use for the feature for fiction. The comments, did, however, indicate readers would be interested to see if someone, somewhere could innovate a good use for Book Extras. Since they're there. The challenge, then, is to create Book Extras that will enhance a Reader Experience of a novel.

How Are Book Extras Currently Being Used?
As noted, mostly Book Extras are current being used to embed videos and/or MP3s (which might well violate some musician's copyrights, TBH) and readers don't find this to be at all useful to them.

I can see the potential for this level of interactivity in a non-fiction book or in children's books (check out this amazing interactive, multimedia children's book for the iPad from a former Pixar professional animator! Wow, huh?)

But for a novel targetted to adults (or even YA)? Yeah, I don't see movies and music integrating with the quiet, focused activity of reading. The magic of reading lies in the way a reader's own imagination takes over, providing the images, providing the voices. Even authors who get too specific in describing things are chastized for not letting readers have their own story their own way.

In addition, promotion of Book Extras by Amazon/Shelfari is more focused on the Author's use of Shelfari and not really on the Book Extras, themselves, being about the books. Amazon/Shelfari is so focused on promoting their services and "features" to Authors, they're kind of missing the point: promoting the books to readers. It's a shame, too, because Book Extras hold the potential of really tapping into the marketing power of so many of Amazon's tools.

How Should Book Extras Be Used?
What are Book Extras really? A combination of supplemental information about the book (read more about this in part 2) and access to Amazon's most powerful sales & marketing tools--their "same as" lists. That is, the "Customers who viewed this also viewed..." or "Customers who bought this also bought...." links and lists.

So yes, Authors, you read correctly, Amazon/Shelfari Book Extras give you access to your "same as" lists! Who knew? Some of the more successful Indie Authors, that's who. I'm thinking maybe that's one of those things that Joe Konrath means when he talks of his "ability to use  [Amazon's marketing tools]." He's probably been tweaking his book page through Shelfari since Shelfari started, eh?

How do you get to them so you can use them, too? Let's use Nicholas Sparks's book The Lucky One as a test subject since I guarantee anyone can find it on Shelfari. You don't have to sign up to find a book on Shelfar, just to edit/interact with one (like saving it to your shelf). The Lucky One is in the "Featured" section because the Zac Effron's movie version is about to release and everyone's pushing the book to support it. Just click on the book cover to reach the Book Extras page on Shelfari. Scroll down a little and you'll see this:

Click on my image to see a larger version of that screen if you can't already see the little "EDIT" buttons (or if you didn't go to the Shelfari site). Yep, you can edit those tags, categories, and at the bottom, notice, "Books Like This"! That's another one of those "also bought" or "also viewed" lists that Amazon will use to build your sales page on its Kindle store. I'm pretty sure the "Books Like This" list is used as part of the algorithm Amazon runs to dynamically build the lists on the Kindle store but is not a one-to-one copy. I haven't seen Amazon's script code, obviously, so I can't be completely sure but behavior seems to suggest this.

At last! A way for Indie Authors to directly access those lists. Just don't forget, others can also edit your book's page this way. That's probably the one way Book Extras should not be used.

It's something of an honor system right now. Authors are not able to stop other people (readers or whomever) from editing their book's information. This is not necessarily a bad thing but a cautionary note. For instance, the summary of the plot of Nicholas Sparks's book was not written by him, his publisher, his agent or anyone connected with him or his business--or even Amazon. It was written by someone named Ria in January of last year. Click on the "history" link to the right of the "EDIT" button under the "Summary" section and you'll see this:

In a way, this is fantastic because it means a reader was invested enough in the book to spend the time and care to curate a summary of the plot. In part 2 of this Tuesday Tip, I'll come back to this particular point to explain how this is of benefit to the reader (not the Author) and especially so if she's a book blogger.

I think the Book Extras -- when used by the Author (or their representative) -- should be used to manipulate the sales page readers will encounter, not to embed multimedia or trivia that neither enhances the Reader Experience nor assists potential readers in making their book-buying decision.

If the Book Extra can be created, edited or otherwise used to help the reader (not the Author) in the sales process, it's a GoodThing(tm). If the Book Extra is just turning into yet one more sales tool to shove promospeak into the reader's face, it becomes a very negative thing. If it does neither of these, it is (as it is now) just a useless feature Amazon simply never figured out how to debug away.

I'd like to see it become a useful sales tool that also assists readers. Next time, I'll discuss the role book bloggers can play in making Book Extras a win/win/win for all! (ETA: read Part 2 here.)

What's Next....
Next Monday's Marketing blog will be another entry in the new Positioning series. Catch up on past entries here.

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