Tuesday, October 21, 2014

NBC News and Citi Announce New Book: Operation Money: A Financial Guide for Military Service Members and Families

Free E-Book for Military Families by NBC’s TODAY 
Financial Editor Jean Chatzky Available Now

Chatzky Gives Practical and Useful Tips On Saving, Spending and Planning

NEW YORK, NY— October 21, 2014 — NBC News and Citi on Tuesday announced the release of Operation Money: A Financial Guide for Military Service Members and Families, a free e-book for veterans and their families by Jean Chatzky, bestselling author and financial editor of NBC’s TODAY.

The e-book addresses the financial impact from deployments and regular relocations, as well as how to make the most of military benefits. It features actionable advice, including a step-by-step guide to reducing debt, information on the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, and tips on military service clauses in lease contracts.

Operation Money: A Financial Guide for Military Service Members and Families is now available for iPad, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and various Android devices. This free resource can be read online at http://www.operationmoneybook.com or downloaded from online retailers, including Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and iTunes.

Many military families struggle to find affordable childcare and housing or save for the future. Today, 65% of military families say they experience stress when it comes to their finances, according to Blue Star Families. The e-book – with chapters including “Budgeting Boot Camp,” “Homeownership,” “Cars,” “Protecting Your Family,” and “Finance for Caregivers” – offers financial management strategies specifically tailored for military families and veterans.

“When it comes to their finances military families experience stresses that are different – and often more severe – than other families,” said Jean Chatzky.  “I’m delighted to have been able to work with NBC News and Citi to provide them with a free resource to lead them in the right direction.”

Citi is committed to advancing financial education and employment opportunities in the veterans community. Citi’s support for Operation Money complements the work of Citi Salutes, a company-wide initiative, led by Citi Community Development with employees across the firm, which supports servicemembers and their families through career development opportunities, banking services, and partnerships with leading veterans organizations. 

“With Citi Salutes, we address the financial capability challenges servicemembers may face, and work with partners to develop solutions for the various stages, from deployment to civilian employment,” said Bob Annibale, Global Director of Citi Community Development. “We are pleased to support Operation Money as a widely available and free e-book, and we will continue to stand behind our military veterans and their families.”

"The financial aspect of transitioning out of the military and into a new job or career is one of the most difficult and complicated aspects facing our service men and women. It is Citi's hope that this book will help military families make the transition with the least amount of disruption,” said Suni Harford, Managing Director and Head of North America Markets at Citi.

This is NBC News and Citi’s second e-book project, following the publication of Heroes Get Hired: How to Use Your Military Experience to Master the Interview, which is available for download at http://www.heroesgethired.com. The e-book was produced with the support of Blue Star Families, Military Spouse Corporate career network, Corporate America Supports You, and Veterans Plus.


About NBC News
NBC News is a global leader in news across all broadcast and digital platforms. Its leading and award-winning television news broadcasts include NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, TODAY, Meet the Press and Dateline, as well as primetime specials and breaking news reports. The rapidly-growing NBC News Digital Group, along with the well-established NBC News Radio with 750 stations nationwide, provide continuous content to consumers wherever they are, whenever they want it. NBC News also operates Peacock Productions, an award-winning in-house production company, and the NBC NewsChannel affiliate news service. NBC News is part of the NBCUniversal News Group, a division of NBCUniversal, which is owned by Comcast Corporation.

About Citi
Citi, the leading global bank, has approximately 200 million customer accounts and does business in more than 160 countries and jurisdictions. Citi provides consumers, corporations, governments and institutions with a broad range of financial products and services, including consumer banking and credit, corporate and investment banking, securities brokerage, transaction services, and wealth management.

Media Contacts:
Farrin Jay
(212) 664-4825

Kamran Mumtaz
(212) 793-7682
kamran.mumtaz @citi.com

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Digital Reading: DBA Judge Peter Costanzo on Book Apps, Virtual Elves, and ROI

Originally published on Digital Book World
I’m asking our experts on the Digital Book Awards judging panel to tell me, please, where to find great digital works. Peter Costanzo’s clear-sighted take on the state of things is making me think about what it really is that gets me to hit that ‘Buy’ button.
AK: How are you feeling about book app development and innovation?
PC: Overall, I’d say the state of book app development is as innovative as ever. Where things get murky, within an iOS universe, is for readers to know what’s available in the Books category of the App Store compared to what’s available to them within Apple’s iBookstore. Thanks to iBooks Author, some fantastic interactivity is now possible in ebook form and can be on par with what’s found within an app.
But the consumer awareness level of what it means to download a project made with iBooks Author remains tepid at best, so publishers have to decide where it makes the most sense for their highly interactive book projects to live–the App Store, or the iBookstore, that is the question. If you take the iBooks Author route, you’ve got a free, but limited platform to work with. If, instead you take the app route to make all your interactive dreams a reality, then you potentially have a very expensive venture on your hands.
Either way, a comprehensive marketing plan will need to be part of the equation in order for your digital project to be discovered, which is a discussion any publisher and author should have before a keystroke of programming begins.
AK: Are you excited about any particular apps you’ve seen, or interactive features you’ve been able to use or see others using?
PC: I think there has been, and continues to be, terrific interactive and inventive book apps that hit the market from folks like Touch Press, Moonbot, Moving Tales, Disney, and others, (and from some traditional publishing houses too), particularly in the education and kids space that have creatively re-imagined content for digital formats.
Listing any of the cool features I’ve noticed would be too long to mention here, but I can tell you when I produce a project, I believe it’s important to include a certain amount of interactivity on every page, whether in the form of pop-ups, slide-shows, scrolling, gaming, etc., that hopefully meets or exceeds the user’s expectations.
By the time the reader reaches the end there should be a sense that the format appropriately delivered an experience not possible in print. That’s because whether in app form, iBooks Author, or HTML5 online, consumers understandably want to feel there was a reason they took the time to download a digital version of a book as opposed to what’s already available to them a bookshelf away. When it comes to books in app form, static pages just ain’t gonna cut it.
AK: What’s the biggest development challenge facing digital book producers this year?
PC:  I addressed the various challenges that face digital book producers a few months ago on the DBW blog, particularly when it comes to enhanced ebooks. Other than the potential for opportunities using EPUB3, I still don’t think much has changed or will change any time soon.
For book apps, it’s production costs versus return on investment and whether or not such projects can be released in great numbers in a sustainable way year after year. We’ve seen some companies a few years back, like Scroll Motion, produce many innovative book apps, but eventually they determined the ROI just wasn’t there to remain a player in the digital publishing game.
AK: How about marketplace challenges? How have you tackled them?
PC: To me, the biggest problem is the consumer perception that magical virtual elves create these products and because they’re digital should then be priced somewhere between 99 cents and $3.99, which makes it really, really difficult for these apps to be financially viable. And if you try to make the case as to why they should have more value in the buyer’s eye, due to everything that goes into creating them, it usually just sounds like whining.
One of the ways I’ve found to deal with this is to use the project as a marketing vehicle, which means making it free, and within it include related content that’s for sale, whether it be additional titles in a series (print and/or digital), digital downloads for movies, soundtracks, and so on. Granted, this approach usually works best if you’re a full-fledged media company, like Nickelodeon or Disney, but I’ve definitely purchased ebooks/apps from a series or company based on my appreciation for the effort that went into the one that was available for free.
AK: And where are you finding real excellence in digital books this year?
PC: At the Digital Book Awards, of course!
AK: Peter, you took the words right out of my mouth.

About Anne Kostick

Anne is a UX fan girl and a partner in Foxpath IND , specializing in the transition to and from traditional content publishing and online content development, management, and publishing. Her clients include trade book publishers; technology and financial services websites; and arts and cultural institutions. Her occasional column, Digital Reading, discusses user experience and related topics in ebooks and digital reading. Anne is emerita president of Women’s Media Group, an industry organization, program director of the Digital Book Awards and a member of BEA Conference Advisory Board. She is the author of several books for children and a definitive collection of jokes.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Real Reason Enhanced eBooks Haven't Taken Off (Or, Evan Schnittman Was Right... For the Most Part)

Originally published on Digital Book World

According to a recent article on the Futurebook blog, so far no publisher has proven that Evan Schnittman, industry thought-leader and current executive vice president and chief marketing and sales officer of Hachette Book Group, was wrong when he declared enhanced ebooks and apps essentially dead and a non-starter for publishers during a presentation at London Book Fair in 2011 (he was with Bloomsbury at the time). Further, with Book Expo 2014 coming up, the topic of enhanced ebooks is conspicuously missing from the agenda. Though there are one or two such panels scheduled during the IDPF Digital Book conference, what does it mean when there are no general sessions planned to address this subject? Does it signal that most publishers have given up on spending the time and resources on developing interactive reading experiences? Have they simply determined there's no real market for these kinds of digital products? Was Evan Schnittman correct? Overall, I'd venture to say, for the most part, the answer is a resounding yes.

Despite plenty of debate as to whether or not enhanced ebooks have merit, not enough attention has been paid to the real reason digital books featuring embedded video, audio, and other forms of interactivity haven't resonated with readers:

The main problem is that the market as it currently exists does not allow publishers to deliver the same enhanced product across all current digital platforms, whether it be Apple's iPad, Amazon's Kindle Fire, Barnes & Noble's Nook, or Kobo's Arc. And when you stop and think about it, no other content creator is faced with this conundrum.

We often compare publishing to the music industry, and yes, record companies have been dealing with fast moving changes of their own over the years, but regardless of the medium, if you and I are standing in line at Starbucks and I ask if you've heard Beck's new album and liked this song or that, you will know what I'm talking about because regardless of how you ultimately heard the tracks, whether by CD, vinyl, or download, we both heard the songs the way the artist intended. And the same goes for most other forms of media. For example: Did you binge watch all seven seasons of Breaking Bad? Well so did I, but you rented the DVDs while I streamed episodes on my iPad during my commute on the train. Played Call of Duty with your gaming buddies over the weekend? I did too and we're able to enthusiastically share our first-person shooter experiences even though you have an Xbox and I've got a Playstation. And that's how it's pretty much always been with print editions of books as well, whether bought from a brick and mortar store, online, or checked out of the local library. Like music, TV shows, games, movies, etc., the hardcover or trade paperback delivered the same content in the same format no matter what shelf it was pulled from.

Seems obvious that this is the way things should be because it's a more unified experience for consumers. 

But here's the thing -- that's just not the case when it comes to ebooks of any type, but especially when describing ones enhanced with audio, video, and other interactive features.

While I was at NBCUniversal we produced a number of highly interactive projects using Apple's proprietary iBooks Author ebook platform in support of television programs, films, and corporate initiatives. The most popular was Grimm: The Essential Guide, which was a big hit with fans of the show, reaching upwards of 250,000 downloads. In addition to reading about the series, the ebook offered unique options to view 3D models of Wesen (the monsters); get a 360 degree view inside Rosalie's Spice Shop; use a palette to draw a favorite character, and much more. All cool, fun stuff for iBookstore customers to enjoy, right? Well, yes and no, because even within an Apple-centric universe there were boatloads of Grimm fans that were eager to experience this digital companion only to learn they couldn't because they owned iPhones and iPods, but not iPads. And the reason? Because ebooks created using iBooks Author can only be viewed on iPad; disappointed viewers wanted to know why. And if that wasn't frustrating enough, when Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet users downloaded this free, awesome ebook they saw promoted on TV or social media, those versions didn’t even include any of these features since neither device, at least at the time, could support them. In other words, we had to release a simpler, flatter, more traditional book-like product, which was a compromise of our original vision.

And therein lies the rub.

If publishers can't widely distribute enhanced ebooks across all channels then they will simply never gain traction by word of mouth, reviews, or with promotions (and I mean ones that don’t require the necessary asterisk to explain in fine print that the iBooks version features this, the Kindle version features that, and the Google Play version features neither). Those in the trenches of day-to-day ebook development at Disney, HarperCollins, Workman, Wiley, S&S, Random House, DK, Atavist, and others know exactly what I'm talking about and are nodding their heads.

So, am I suggesting we throw in the towel and stop pushing the digital storytelling envelope? My answer is not just no, but a resounding one at that!

And that's because eventually Apple will most likely figure out how to make IBA projects viewable on iPhones and iPods and for all I know it could be as soon as tomorrow. And Amazon's recent purchase of Comixology suggests it has plans to make interactive reading more dynamic on the Kindle Fire, which would be great since ebook sales from the Kindle store represents the lion's share of the market.

Schnittman's bold stance didn't surprise me because in January 2011, just a few months before the London Book Fair, we had a similar conversation over drinks in Paris while participating in an international publishing exchange. Ultimately, I agreed with his point in regards to fiction, or immersive reading, after sharing my experience developing the iPhone app for Cathy's Book, the first young adult transmedia project that paved the way for Scholastic's hit 39 Clues, The Amanda Project, Aisling's Diary, and several others. The influential print edition first published in 2006 was a success, but the app, which came out three years later, not so much. I had to concede such ambitious projects weren't sound investments economically for traditional publishers and that the promotional window, particularly for novels, provided less opportunity to ever recoup the costs of production. This probably remains the case for most publishers, even the large ones. But I don't believe anyone in our industry has ever suggested that all ebooks should be enhanced, and even Schnittman recognized during the London Book Fair the potential for enhancements in "how to" and academia.

Having just wrapped up my role as lead producer of JFK: 50 Days, a 2010 video enhanced project by Perseus Books Group that received a good amount of attention, including from the New York Times -- I felt then, and still do today -- that select non-fiction titles can be even better when paired with curated video/audio/etc. And the more evergreen the topic, the better the chance to re-promote year-after-year or to be discovered repeatedly in Google searches.

The Meet the Press 65th anniversary ebooks I recently had the privilege to produce reaffirmed that belief and serve as great examples of bringing history to life in digital book form. It's one thing to read about an appearance on MTP by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1957, but it's another entirely to actually watch that moment accompanied by a few informative paragraphs that put her comments into historical context.

The Futurebook post concludes that 3.5 years after London Book Fair 2011 we now know people prefer to just read straight text and don't want these enhancements. But given the distribution challenges I described earlier, I think one can not come to such a conclusion with any certainty. Readers can't determine what they do or don't prefer if they aren’t aware of what they’re missing.

Mike Shatzkin, another industry thought-leader, wrote a blog post more than a year ago asking "How far away can it be for the NBC News book on a national election...", which we actually did publish in November of 2012 called Election Night. It’s an insightful read and features terrific archival footage from 1948, the dawn of television, right up until President Obama's re-election to office. During an appearance on MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews said to author Stephen Battaglio, "Congratulations on finally justifying having one of these hi-tech books..." and “I don’t think you can not buy this if you’re a true junky like me.” Such coverage resulted in hundreds of people that evening choosing to download the enhanced edition over the standard one when presented with the option.

I'm confident there are audiences equally anxious for well produced digital books featuring enhancements with purpose. This is the key: that interactive ebooks be developed with the long term in mind, with less expectation of being a blockbuster, but instead be elegantly simple in design/functionality, as well as entertaining, educational and utilitarian. Like the enhanced Everything Language series embedded with audio that was released during my time at F+W Media, which in print, includes a CD. Or the Everything Baby Sign Language book, which includes a DVD in the back of the print edition, but the same videos were repurposed and featured within the enhanced eBook. Interactive titles like these make perfect sense in digital form to consumers and become part of the slow burn for publishers that can result in a consistent stream of revenue, year-after-year.

In the late 1990s, Internet pioneer Josh Harris launched an experimental, video-based art project called, Quiet: We Live In Public, which invited 100 volunteers willing to appear on webcam 24/7, capturing their every movement. It was a challenging, technological feat that led the way for reality TV. More than 15 years later such an online endeavor would be a piece-of-cake in our world of YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Facetime, and Pinterest where we’re literally all connected and share everything about our daily lives. I feel we’re in a similar moment in time when it comes to interactive reading and that eventually enhanced ebooks, or whatever they’ll be called years from now, will become more mainstream. And that is why I passionately believe it's more important than ever to keep innovating, to keep redefining reader engagement, and to keep the conversation going with our ebook retail partners until it’s possible to present the same interactive digital product to everyone, everywhere.

Hopefully such discussions will return to Book Expo 2015.

Until then, you can find me in the trenches.