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This Week with Frank Romano: Averages, Amtrak, E&P's Demise, and E-books

Published on January 27, 2010

Hi there, this is Frank Romano from WhatTheyThink.com. Welcome back to another episode. This is another Part 2 of in Dov Isaacs has found and it’s a group of young kids and they’re standing around looking at a book and they say, “Check it out!” No screen, no buttons, no batteries, you just turn the pages. I’ve always said after all this electronic stuff comes out, someday someone will reintroduce the book and everyone will be amazed and say, “Wow! What a great idea this is.”

There have been a number of articles about internet usage. And according to the latest survey, it’s in Harris Interactive Poll; it says that 80% of U.S. adults go online and probably 100% of teenagers. Those who surf the net spend an average of 13 hours per week online. Well, that’s the problem with averages. Averages mean that there are people online all the time, like me, and there are people who are only on occasionally. That’s the problem with it. Like, if I were locked in a room with Bill Gates, our average income would be $300 million. That’s not going to happen. But 13 hours a week on average.

Think about this. No one ever predicted the internet, and now it is the primary way we communicate. Our lives now are really ordained by the screen. That’s where we live and that’s were we work is in from of a screen with a keyboard in front of it. Someday there probably won’t be a keyboard and it will all be voice input of some sort.

I take Amtrak a lot, as you know, I am their best customer. They still treat me like scum. And so, the other day I saw this car, a full wide format ink jet printout wrap of an Amtrak car. Now, I don’t think it’s for promotion, I think it holds the train together. This is part of their new economy methodology. It’s very interesting to wrap an entire train; not an easy thing to do. And it’s not a promotion – I don’t think it is a promotion for any particular company. I think it’s a promotion for Amtrak. Oh wait, I’m sorry. I see the McDonald’s logo on both ends. So, it’s a promotion for McDonald’s on an Amtrak train. Of course, the train goes so fast as it goes by, I don’t know if you can tell that that’s the logo for them or not.

One of the bibles of the newspaper industry, in fact, the bible was Editor and Publisher Magazine, which his 100 years old or so, I think. Yeah, 108 years old when they closed down. Now, when I started in the industry at the old Mercantile and Editor Company, that was the magazine at Mercantile – I was in the Ad Department, we advertised in the magazine. The first time my name was ever in print, so say with the industry, was in 1962, or somewhere in there. I was quoted in Editor and Publisher Magazine. That’s where I met Earl Wilken, who went on to work at Graphics Art Monthly Magazine as their Technical Editor for many, many years. Many people saw Earl at trade shows on a regular basis. Earl was a Sales Rep at that time. He was the Rep and Mercantile was on of his accounts and that’s how I got to know him. It was a great magazine. It reported on the editorial side, on the production side, and it’s really sad that it’s going away. It was bought by Nielsen at some point in time and this is what happens. Big publishing companies don’t know how to deal with magazines that are changing. So the first thing they try is to put it all online, and that doesn’t quite work, and then they kill it.

Now, there’s still a need for a publication. The National Newspaper Association has a journal of some sort, but really I guess it all comes under media now and you sort of have to track newspaper activity in other ways. But it’s very sad to see, after 108 years Editor and Publisher Magazine goes away.

A lot of activity, of course, with the Kindle. This Christmas season it was Amazon’s best seller. They sold tons – I see them all the time now traveling on trains and in railroad stations. People are carrying Kindles around with them. Every now and then I see a Sony Book Reader. I have not seen a Nook from Barns and Noble, but one of the things I think we have to do is talk to these people very sincerely. We have to say to them, all of you are stupid. You are all aiming for non-standardization. You have different file formats, different approaches, different methodologies, different approaches to payment, for pricing. More importantly, I don’t own the book. It’s a license. And as Amazon showed only a few months ago when they deleted all the copies of 1984 that was sold in the United States. That was the absolute wrong book to do that with.

So, my point is, if this e-book is going to take off. And by the way, I’ve been tracking it since riding the Bullet, which Stephen King did in late 1990’s early 2000’s, is when the e-Book market started to actually get some traction. And my feeling was that we’d already been there. We’re reading stuff on screens. We read PDF files, we read Word files on a regular basis. What we’re talking about is the book market. Buying content.

Now, a statistic I saw the other day was the most telling of all. And it said that what most people buy are the free books. Well wait, they’re not buying them. They are just downloading them. So, in any case, if the e-book market is going to grow, they’re going to have to get their act together.

And that’s my opinion. Take care.

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