How Geolocation & Beacons will Help Book Publishers Go Mobile
This article is from the Summer Issue of Book Business. Read the complete issue here.
When my two-year-old nephew Jack wakes from a nap, the first words from his little mouth are often, "Mama... iPad."
You can argue the implications of that desire, but for Jack the touch screen genie long ago escaped the bottle. The critical battle publishers now face is how to earn both Jack's and his young parent's attention on their current and future mobile screens. It is the overriding mission of Google, Facebook, Twitter, the New York Times, and every media company fighting to survive the future.
How will book publishers compete?
As traditional book sales channels dwindle, and when even Twitter must sweat the increasing draw of video and images over text in the fight for attention, what should book publishers do? Risk-taking innovation has not commonly been synonymous with the industry. On the contrary, as Joe Wikert recently observed, last month's annual BookExpo America trade fair seemed to expose an industry in a change-averse state of denial.
Even when creative opportunities are seized publishers sometimes miss a real chance to innovate for mobile users. For example, to celebrate World Book Night in London, Penguin Random House UK ran a promotion with the taxi app Hailo that featured putting print copies of books in taxi cabs. Partnerships between publishers and mobile transit companies make great sense, but putting print books in taxis, while interesting, would not likely have gotten Jack's parents attention. More on that later.
Geolocating Beacons are Coming
Geolocation is the process your device uses to determine your location via an internet signal. Map apps use geolocation to tell you how far your destination is, what route to take, where the nearest pizza slice is (a vital service). Companies like Foursquare are all about locating you, telling others where you are, or telling your business who is visiting your shop. My Starbucks app alerts me whenever I am near to their caffeine.
Beacons provide an offline way to leverage geolocation. Sometimes as small as a quarter, they are little pieces of hardware that can be placed just about anywhere to engage smartphone users without the need of an internet signal. Instead, beacons use low energy bluetooth technology to send alerts to smartphones. Most current beacons can be set to a customized range (or "fence") from about 2 ft. to 50 ft. on average. Some newer higher-end beacons are claiming a maximum 250 ft. fence. When a smartphone enters the fence an alert is sent.
The potential advantages to retail shops are myriad. Shops can use beacons to locate you in the store, observe your activities and offer you relevant multimedia content and promotional offers based on your location. Beacons can also be used to track your steps, which helps retailers make decisions about product placement and contextual messages.
Business Insider estimates that while just 8% of major US retail locations deployed beacons as of 2014, 85% will have beacons in place by the end of 2016. And that doesn't account for all the other non-retail locations (taxis, airports, museums, events) that already are or will soon be experimenting with beacons.
But how will users respond to beacons? In a 3 month study of mobile consumers by the mobile marketing company Swirl, more than half (60%) of enabled shoppers opened and engaged with beacon-triggered content, while almost a third (30%) of shoppers redeemed beacon-triggered offers.
This presents both a challenge and a huge opportunity for book publishers.
Timing can be Everything
As with love, location & timing can be powerful tools for publishers. To capture the attention of mobile users you must engage them at what I like to call the "perfect moment." What if Penguin had put a beacon in each Hailo taxi? As the car navigates about the city, the beacon uses geolocation to periodically notify the passenger of content related to the car's present location. Like, "Get the Rough Guide chapter about High Street," or "You are now in Hampstead Heath, where the brilliant title story from Helen Simpson's short story collection "Constitutional" takes place. Get it now."
Capture Data, Sell Direct
Most publishers yearn to directly engage their audience, make direct sales, and collect customer data. While beacons themselves only provide a user's location, they can work with an app to deliver a variety of user data, like name, email, brand preferences, social network connections, demographics, and more.
Ever been to a presentation where the speaker is also an author? I just recently attended one where, at the end of the talk, the author plugged her ebook and said, "get it at Amazon, and if you want a copy of my slides, email me." A programmed beacon in the room could have quietly pushed links to the book direct from her publisher as well as the presentation slides right when her audience was engaged. Her publisher then captures the sales and new customer data instead of surrendering it to the Seattle black hole.
But the App is Key
Beacons require users to have an associated app and to opt-in for notifications, so all communication is voluntarily received. For book publishers to leverage the huge potential beacons offer, you will need to partner with popular apps and new companies that will be focusing on building beacon-based venue networks. In some cases, your content could then be added to a library of content that can be licensed as a package and delivered to brands as a value-add. Or you will be able to purchase listing space on beacons located at niche venues where your content will be featured in alerts to that perfect niche mobile audience.
As for Jack and his parents, they were out the other day shopping for a stroller. A beacon could have alerted them to your article about How to Choose a Stroller. Later you could introduce your book on child rearing in the touch screen age, or maybe the shop bundles it free with the stroller. But Jack would likely prefer a new ebook and video about Curious George.