E-Commerce Times

Self-Service AI Aims to Grease the Wheels for B2B Sales Teams

Published by:

artificial-intelligence-sales

SalesDirector.ai this week released a self-service version of its artificial intelligence sales execution and sales forecasting platform for B2B sales teams.

The system provides enterprise-grade AI to sales teams in less than five minutes, according to the company. Like the regular SalesDirector.ai platform, the self-service version is offered as a service.

"There's no need to configure, program or set up how you sell, and train the AI — no need for admins to connect to systems," said SalesDirector.ai CEO Babar Batla.

"Our prior product required a few weeks' work to configure the AI system to understand [clients'] sales methodology, process and playbook," he told CRM Buyer. "Our new offering doesn't need that — customers can start on their own. Same value, but a revolutionary onboarding and setup."

Sales executives "are overwhelmed by data and solutions to help them sort through what are the important signals that impact deal closure and improve seller performance," noted Cindy Zhou, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

"AI solutions have the ability to answer these questions," she told CRM Buyer.

The product targets businesses with 50 to 1,000 employees.

"These companies have all the same problems as big companies, but don't have the know-how, resources, budget, or the patience to put an AI system for sales in place," Batla pointed out. "So we take care of it."

Potential customers can access the platform through the "Try Now" button on SalesDirector.ai's website and begin using AI and machine learning in their sales process without needing to implement the software and related services.

Annual contracts for the platform cost upwards of US$1,000 per user.

Productivity Features

The SalesDirector.ai platform connects with Microsoft and Google email and calendar applications on the server side, "so there's nothing to install on the Outlook or Google Mail client," Batla said.

It also connects with the Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics and NetSuite CRM platforms.

"We get data from CRM, but most of the interesting data is sitting in the sales reps' mailboxes and calendars," Batla remarked.

Both versions of the platform correlate all the interactions with buyers that are journaled in email, calendar and call logs, and provide various capabilities without the need for any data entry.

Among the tools for sales leaders:

  • Forecasts based on observed activities and relationship milestones;
  • The ability to manage the pipeline by exception to quickly identify corrective action and improve win rates; and
  • Training mechanisms, along with the ability to hold sellers accountable to the company's sales best practices.

The platform helps sales reps do the following:

  • Stay organized around all their deals, keeping things from falling through the cracks;
  • Come better prepared for deal reviews; and
  • Focus on value-added discussions with managers and overlay teams, again without needing data entry.

The initial run to correlate data takes two to three hours, Batla said. After that, incremental correlations, which execute "much more quickly," are done multiple times daily.

"The key component is using machine learning to analyze the data from a multitude of sources to surface insights for forecast accuracy," Constellation's Zhou pointed out. "The problem is, most companies have data quality issues that impact the effectiveness of the algorithms."

Coaching Features

The SalesDirector.ai platform leverages data to provide real-time coaching in sales execution.

"We can do basic things like setting up the next meeting, engaging with more than one person on a deal, and making sure a particular contact isn't ignored on a deal," Batla said.

The platform also offers advanced coaching. Based on the sales opportunity, it can advise sales people when it's appropriate to take the following actions:

  • Engage with the buyer who makes the purchase decision;
  • Send the discovery call follow-up; and
  • Send the contract.


Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology.
Email Richard.

Original Article

E-Commerce Times

Google’s Ad Mute Option Could Be a Valuable Messaging Tool

Published by:

online-advertising

Google on Thursday announced a new feature that will let users mute so-called
"reminder ads" in third-party apps and websites that are powered by
its ad engine. It plans to expand this feature to its own services, including Gmail, YouTube and Google Search, in the coming months.

The new tool is the latest addition to Google's dashboard for ad controls, first launched as Ads Preferences Manager back in 2009. The addition of Ad Settings and Mute This Ad will allow users
essentially to block certain ads on Google, on websites and in apps.

This new capability is meant to address a common experience after users have viewed products on some e-commerce sites. Even after having purchased a similar or even identical product on another site, users often receive reminder ads based on their past browsing activity.

Now users will be able to mute those ads across devices, so that
blocking an ad on a smartphone, for example, will result in blocking it on all other devices tied to their
accounts.

Google Ads Settings smartphone display

How to Mute

To mute an ad, users need only pull up the Ads Settings dashboard
on Google and scroll down to Your Reminder Ads. From there,
a simple click is all it takes to stop an ad from appearing.
Muted ads will not appear again for at least 90 days. However,
this feature currently works only on non-Google websites — and
if a site is serving ads that aren't controlled by Google,
using the mute option will have no effect.

"Google is taking brave steps into the politics of advertising these
days," said Josh Crandall, principal analyst at Netpop Research.

"They are releasing their Chrome based Adblock Plus and now have
announced ad controls," he told the E-Commerce Times.

"On the surface these moves might be seen as contradictory with
their business model, but Google is slowly changing the rules to
protect the long-term strength of online advertising," added Crandall.

The ad mute function is just a tweak to Google's longstanding policy, suggested Paul
Teich, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

"Google had already let consumers block specific ads," he explained.

"The new features give consumers more control over what types of ads
they see, let consumers block specific advertisers, and implement
these features across devices and platforms," Teich told the
E-Commerce Times.

"So, consumer ad preferences will follow them from PC to smartphone to
smart speakers, smart TVs, etc.," he added. "The cross-platform bit is
key, because consumer preferences are now stored in Google's cloud."

Win-Win Proposition

It would seem that users will benefit from this change, but Google
wouldn't be making it if it were not beneficial to its ad
business.

Users may be able to mute reminder ads, but that won't make advertising go away.

"Any time users can signal their interests in what they want to see,
and what they don't, it is beneficial to the ad industry," noted Netpop's Crandall.
"It means Google will find it easier to track individual preferences
and correlate preferences across vast numbers of consumers."

This will give Google better insights into their ad
customers' company and product brand perception, as well as advertising
strategy effectiveness Tirias' Teich observed.

"All of this will help advertisers and publishers increase ad
effectiveness, while Google's advertising supply chain will get better
at reaching individual consumers with ads for brands and products they
are more likely to relate to and click-through," he said.

For Google, more relevant and
contextual advertising ultimately could result in a higher yield.

"Users who take control of what makes it to their screens are more
likely to be interested in the messages that are presented to them,"
said Crandall. "The relationship between user and advertiser will
evolve over time from one that sees advertising as a necessary evil to
another way of perceiving advertising messages as a valuable component
of the online experience."

Peter Suciu has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2012. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile phones, displays, streaming media, pay TV and autonomous vehicles. He has written and edited for numerous publications and websites, including Newsweek, Wired and FoxNews.com.
Email Peter.

Original Article

E-Commerce Times

Don’t Pay the Hackers

Published by:

hacker-ransomware

Those who follow security news may have noticed a disturbing trend. Late last year, we learned that Uber paid attackers US$100,000 to keep under wraps their stealth of the personal information of 50 million Uber riders. More recently, we learned that Hancock Health paid approximately $55,000 in bitcoin to bring hospital systems back online.

While these headlines certainly are attention-grabbing, the payment of ransoms is potentially even more common than it might appear on the surface. We know, for example — from watching the transactions occurring in the bitcoin wallet used as a payment repository for WannaCry — that the attackers behind that event made about $140,000 in total from their attacks.

We've seen surveys, such as a
2016 survey from IBM that found that 70 percent of businesses impacted by ransomware paid the criminals.

We've seen articles in the trade press about organizations stockpiling cryptocurrency in the event of ransomware — and, in some cases, explicit instructions from some in the security community about how to do so.

From this, a nascent trend is apparent: Organizations are paying attackers. They are paying them in high-dollar one-off transactions to keep quiet or recover from individual attacks — and they are paying them in "low and slow" smaller amounts from multiple sources that add up in aggregate.

There are a few reasons why this is undesirable, both for the industry generally and for the organizations doing the paying. However, these downsides can be hard to see when the pressure is on to recover from a specific event.

It's human nature to want to pay and just have the problem go away (as someone might perceive it) — but in this case, giving in to human nature may not be in the organization's long-term best interest.

With this in mind, it is important for practitioners to know the downsides to paying an attacker in this way, and what they can do now to steer the conversation the way they want it to go when faced with an actual attack scenario.

Why Not Just Pay It?

It is a natural reaction to be tempted to pay. It is, in fact, human nature. After all, consider that a ransomware event or breach can have dire ramifications in a few different ways (financial and otherwise).

For a hospital or health system, for example, accessing clinical applications can be a matter of literal life and death, as inability to access certain clinical systems or patient data can compromise patient care (and thereby potentially patient health and safety.)

Even when life or death isn't directly at stake, though, the idea that "if we just pay, the problem will just go away" can be compelling when weighed against months — or in some cases, years — of negative press coverage, heightened regulatory scrutiny, public breach disclosure, possible lawsuits, and dozens of other negative outcomes.

There are a few things you should consider, however, if you're thinking payment is the easy way out.

First, law enforcement agencies generally recommend against it. Their logic is sound, since there's no guarantee that the attacker will follow through, and you will set yourself up for future attacks. In other words, it's possible that after paying the attacker, you'll get nothing in return. Further, by paying the ransom, you'll make yourself known as a soft target — one that is profitable to exploit — so when the attackers go looking for a firm to target in their next campaign, chances are good you'll be at the top of the list.

Beyond these reasons, there are other potential long-term impacts associated with payment of a ransom or payment to hide attacker activity — such as the potential negative marketing and bad press associated with the public learning about it.

Both Uber and Hancock (the examples cited above) have been covered in the press (in unflattering terms) based on such payments.

Likewise, there are many security-minded folks out there who likely will use public knowledge of payment to an attacker as part of their decision-making about the services they use (that is, they might look to your competitors if they feel you're not a responsible steward of their data). So, while it is human nature to find payment compelling (this is a main reason underlying attackers' methods), it is almost never the optimal path.

Closing the Door

Many practitioners will tell you to apply the "just say no" principle to the question of payment vs. nonpayment. This a bit shortsighted, however, and it doesn't account either for nuance or human nature.

Believe it or not, not paying — or maybe better stated "closing the door on the possibility of payment" — takes some planning.

For example, consider the hospital example cited earlier. If patients' lives are on the line because of inability to access a given system, is arguing that "nonpayment is the way to go" the responsible path? It isn't. Safety in that case (i.e., saving a life) trumps all else. In a situation like that, "just say no" is as ineffective as it is trite.

Instead, the most effective way to approach this is to do the planning, discussion and arguing now, so that you are prepared if an actual event should occur. The specifics of what you'll cover likely will vary from one organization to the next. At a minimum, though, they should cover two distinct areas.

First, you should prepare for the discussions about payment vs. non-payment. An effective way to defuse controversy in advance of an actual attack scenario is to conduct a table-top planning exercise that involves all the personnel (including management) that will participate during an actual event.

Invariably, in the course of tabletop planning or a dry run, someone will suggest payment; if they don't, deliberately introduce it. This lets you introduce the concept of payment vs. nonpayment, butt heads about it now (the discussion is often contentious), and come to a resolution about the response path prior to the actual event occurring.

Second, you should look for and plan around pressure points that might occur. For example, in the context of a hospital or health system, you might wish to bolster business continuity and resumption efforts now so that you won't be in the position where payment to an attacker is the only way to ensure patient safety. The point is, you'll want to think these areas through carefully now to head the issue off at the pass.

None of this is exactly rocket science. However, judging by the trends that we're seeing in the behavior of organizations paying attackers, these are useful questions and strategies for security pros to revisit with their teams and with their organizations.


Ed Moyle is Director of Thought Leadership and Research for
ISACA. His extensive background in computer security includes experience in forensics, application penetration testing, information security audit and secure solutions development.

Original Article

E-Commerce Times

The Top 20 CRM Blogs of 2017: Countdown, Part 2

Published by:

crm-blogs

The Top 20 CRM Blogs of 2017: Countdown, Part 1

Where does the discipline of CRM begin? We have a good idea where the software fits, but where does its impact end? With a sale? With a customer saying good things about your company to other customers? With a repeat purchase? And does CRM contribute to these events alone, or is there a web of other activities that help drive these relationships — and do we ever consider these things to be CRM?

The world is becoming a much more complicated place for practitioners of CRM, expressly because of considerations like these. CRM itself is well understood; getting the most value from it is not understood nearly as well.

The top 10 CRM bloggers of 2017 didn't spend a lot of time talking about the nuts and bolts of CRM. They talked about the concepts, assumptions, errors, omissions and expectations around CRM. They attacked the "common knowledge." They tried to get to the basics of what customers really want.

The ground rules again: blogs must not be from a vendor, and they must have seven or more posts in a year. Here are the Top 10 of 2017:

10. Bob Thompson, Customer Think

With a hard pivot toward customer experience and loyalty, Bob Thompson has shifted his area of specialization in
Customer Think over the years as the industry has matured and specialized in its view of CRM.

Bob spent much of 2017 hammering on the idea that humans were critical to delivering the experiences customers wanted, pushing back on a technology tide that had people excited about bots, AI, IVR and other innovations.

While integration has been proceeding more smoothly with these technologies than with technologies of previous generations, it still takes a human touch to deliver the best experiences. It's not "either-or," it's both, according to Bob.

Toward that end, he spent the first half of 2017 writing about tools and business practices for building better customer engagement, but anchored that discussion in how they helped customers — and how engaged, empowered and empathetic employees were key to making any of them work most effectively.

His blogs stopped in August — here's hoping that Bob comes back to the blog this year and keeps advocating for a customer experience future that uses technology to keep a human face on customer relationships.

Posts in 2017: 15

Favorite post:
Here's Proof from Forrester that CX Drives Revenue. And 3 Cautions That It May Not

9. CRM Switch

Continuing a strong run is
CRM Switch, from a CRM consultancy that recognizes that a blog exists to start conversations, not to close deals.

The content — usually from Steve Chipman, but with important contributions from Daryn Reif as well — addresses all aspects of sales relationship thinking, with some more technology-focused items sprinkled in to ensure that the "how" is covered as well as the "why."

Sometimes, the reporting can get a little lazy, as in "Small Business CRM Vendor Roundup," which rounds up exactly five vendors, but those posts are the exception, not the rule.

More typical is "CRM Selection for Your Business: Seven Proven Steps," which offers a detailed, comprehensive set of advice that anyone planning to buy and deploy CRM should take to heart.

Born of years of practical experience, CRM Switch's blog is a helpful guide for any company pondering a jump to an automated CRM solution.

Total posts in 2017: 21

Favorite post:
CRM Lead: How do I Disqualify Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

8: Effective CRM – Mike Boysen

Y'know the old saw about people not wanting to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want to buy a quarter-inch hole? Mike Boysen does. Nearly all of last year's
Effective CRM
posts went right at that concept: People want outcomes and they're not that interested in how they get them, so companies need to engage customers about what they really want.

It's an elemental concept in making a company "customer-centric," yet a lot of businesses still don't get it. Mike digs into how you realize what jobs need to be done, how you understand the moments of truth in customer relationships better with jobs theory, and how you can keep a clear focus on jobs that need doing vs. the other elements of a customer relationship that can distract and divert you.

Mike talks about this in blunt terms — I especially liked his quote, "There are no soft-landings for founders who think they are just failing fast. There is only failure."

Mike addresses some tough issues about CRM itself: "Vendors have given us a one-size-fits-all option where we can feel that we're differentiating ourselves with the same tools as our competitors. Let's face it, the vendors out there are doing no better at finding growth  —  profitable growth —  than the rest of us."

If you think CRM needs some tough love — and to get focused on what it should have been focused on all along — Mike's the guy for you.

Total posts in 2017: 8

Favorite post:
You Need to Know this New, Pioneering Approach to CRM

7. Forrester Blog – Kate Leggett, John Bruno

Forrester collects all of its analyst blogs into one enormous mega-blog, but if your focus is primarily on CRM and the CRM-like technologies that serve sales, do a search and isolate the blogs from Kate Leggett and John Bruno.

Kate covers the more traditional CRM space and customer service, while John examines sales and marketing technologies. Together, they create a set of posts that are concise and correlate strongly to their current research, with a few "bigger picture" posts that explore broader topics, especially the current pressing issues like AI and digital transformation.

Last year, the blogs' coverage seemed to pull back a little. At analyst firms, there's a constant pressure between feeding the blog and keeping some information back for the customers, and the 2017 posts felt a bit like the pendulum had swung away from the blog.

That said, there was still a lot of value in what Kate and John wrote in 2017, and Kate was especially effective in connecting the dots between the technology and the need for engaged employees to use that technology to achieve customer engagement. That's advice that companies get constantly, but coming from an authoritative voice like Kate's can make it stick.

Posts in 2017: 16

Favorite post:
Intelligence Makes Customer Service Operations Smarter, More Strategic

6. Destination CRM Blog

Destination CRM is a classic "reporter's notebook"-style blog, and having been a reporter, I find it very entertaining. Today's journalists are on the job constantly, and that usually means coming across more interesting ideas and stories than you can fit into your many regularly scheduled articles.

Thus, Oren Smilansky and San Del Rowe provide a home for items about research studies, standalone Q&As, and interesting (if not front-page) company news, ranging in tone from analysis of hard data to the whimsical (as in the post above about the perils of being a customer service agent).

The posts are short, the pace is regular, and the writers follow the practice of including links to their sources — something I wish more bloggers would do.

Don't let the "Department of the Obvious" headlines ("Customer-Initiated Phone Calls are Valuable to Marketers, Study Says," "Companies Need to Address Customers in their Native Tongue") put you off. The writing is good even when the headlines are meh.

At the blog's best, the writers report on some new findings, and then riff off those results based on their own reporting experience, showing that journalists have some CRM expertise to offer, too.

Posts in 2017: 59

Favorite post:
Customer Cursing Habits, Broken Down by Region and Industry

5. Think Customers: the 1-to-1 Media Blog

Late last year,
Think Customers: the 1-to-1 Media Blog announced that it was going to cease publishing regularly, as its ad-supported model was phased out.

Although the frequency of posts dropped, the guest posts from notable experts dried up, and the staff of writers dwindled to two — veteran Judith Aquino and newcomer Dylan Haviland — the quality remained.

The blog featured some good interviews with genuine thought leaders like Charlene Li, along with other posts that read much more like news stories than like opinion pieces.

A typical approach was to use something discussed at a conference or some recently-released research as a springboard, then add to it with the opinions of analysts, experts and practitioners.

The bloggers' voices may not always be front and center, but the posts themselves have an air of authority and a completeness of ideas that set them apart.

The blog's focus on customer experience permits lots of latitude in what's discussed: concepts like employee engagement in retail, the role of AI in contact centers, and the importance of trust are front and center.

The blog's takes on these topics are never the same twice, an accomplishment that owes a lot to the hard work the two writers put into the blog.

Posts in 2017: 11

Favorite post:
Emotion Powers Technology Adoption

4. ThinkJar! The Blog – Esteban Kolsky

Always an iconoclast, Esteban Kolsky spent a lot of time in 2017 shutting down the hype about artificial intelligence — and then explaining how it could be really useful. If that sounds like two ideas running headlong into each other, you have an idea of Esteban's usual take on any subject.

In
ThinkJar! The Blog, he tears ideas down and then rebuilds them in an Esteban-esque image, infusing the discussion with new points of view and better ways of thinking about the concepts.

As for AI, Esteban pointed out that the notion that AI will be smarter than humans is nonsensical, because "computers would have to dumb down their behavior and operations to work like us."

Even if they did manage to replicate us, we humans have the ability to adapt our behaviors, something that AI can't do, enabling us to find meaning and practical utility regardless of what AI does — a bit of a lesson to people who think that all sales and marketing activities can be supplanted by sufficiently smart machines.

Esteban also maintains his role as analyst — witness his incisive, ruthless but ultimately hopeful examination of the Jive-Lithium merger, chock-full of his not-so-humble advice. Smart and snarky, Esteban is the inventor of the concept of self-deprecating arrogance, and his blog is as fun to read as it is important.

Posts in 2017: 16

Favorite post:
Knowledge Summary: the Next Decade in Digital Transformation

3. CRM Search

So, if you're a medium-sized company looking for CRM advice, you could call in a high-priced consultant, engage with one of the large analyst firms, or find multiple other methods by which you could expend a lot of money in search of wisdom.

Before you start writing checks, however, you should check out the blog at
CRM Search, written by the widely-admired Chuck Schaeffer.

His posts are as detailed and thorough as many of the analyst's reports you'd pay big money for, and they come from a genuine place of expertise.

Don't expect a bunch of quick takes — it's not uncommon for a post to go on for 1,100 words, and then jump to the next page for more. Replete with charts, graphics and plenty of linked citations, these are not pieces jotted off the top of Chuck's head during airplane flights — they're extremely thoughtful and well-planned posts.

Whether he's reviewing the latest edition of Microsoft Dynamics 365, or defining and explaining the ramifications of cognitive computing, it's Chuck's deep dives into some heavy-duty subjects that make his blog essential.

The topics can seem a bit all over the place, and they are; it seems that Chuck writes about the things that most interest him in the moment. That ensures the posts are thorough, complete and energetic even when they examine deep, technical topics.

Posts in 2017: 8

Favorite post:
How to Design Your 360-Degree Customer View

2. Beagle Research Blog – Denis Pombriant

What were you concerned about in 2017? So concerned that you sat down and wrote about it? If you said the ASC 606 Accounting Rule, Richard Branson, AI and CRM, Oracle OpenWorld and Salesforce's DreamForce, cryptocurrency, how Elon Musk is a Luddite and the best way to assemble a sales team based on the data, you must be Denis Pombriant.

Who else has such an eclectic view of the influences on customer relationships, sales and marketing, and digital transformation? No one who's currently writing a blog!

Author of the
Beagle Research Blog and regular contributor to CRM Buyer, Denis has the ability to stitch these various stories together in a way that's unmatched. While they may seem far afield from the topic of customer relationship management at times, they're really not — Denis has for years avoided the trap of thinking that all there was to CRM was CRM software and vendors.

Everything in the economic system that affects the customer needs to be considered, whether it's the coming impact of blockchain, the value of configure price quote (CPQ) tools to the buying experience, or how the availability of micropayment tools will change the equation for selling.

Denis does this in an exceptionally literate style and folds in plenty of metaphors and analogies to keep things from becoming stale or staid. On top of that, his analyses of major industry events goes beyond insightful. Several journalists I know say they check the blog to make sense of the events they've just attended.

Posts in 2017: 49

Favorite post:
Getting Loyalty Right

1. Social CRM: The Conversation – Paul Greenberg

I know the busy, busy Paul Greenberg would like to slow down. Don't tell his brain that, though.

In 2017, he worked very hard to complete a new book (which will be out this summer), and you could see very clearly how Paul's intent thinking about his latest long-form work impacted his shorter-form writing in
Social CRM: The Conversation. Ideas were sharper, metaphors were clearer, and Paul's writing was even more energetic (if that's possible).

It seems the more Paul works and the more he thinks, the more interesting things spill out into his writing. Last year, his investigations into the discipline of CRM focused much more on using the data than the process of collecting data, which has become an established practice and thus is less interesting.

"Doing CRM" is no longer about getting people to record the data; it's focused on using the data to become the company you should be. Witness our favorite post of the year: Paul talks about how a company renowned for its abysmal treatment of customers was forced by a business downturn to engage with customers and seemingly was shocked by how well that tactic worked.

Paul's point in this piece is not just that engaged customer relationships are good for business, but that businesses need to pursue them because they and the people they hire desire — no, need — to pursue them.

A corporate initiative to be more engaged because it will help sales is nice — but it can't hold a candle to engagement that's driven by culture and the genuine desire of employees to be engaged.

Paul also used guest posts to buy time for finishing his book, and he's able to call in heavy hitters like Sameer Patel, David Raab and Brent Leary to fill in. But it's Paul's own unique voice that allowed his blog to reclaim the top of this list . His is one of the few blogs that can advise you of the things you should be doing differently and leave you genuinely excited about trying them.

Posts in 2017:14

Favorite post:
A Company Like Me: Beyond Customer-Centric to Customer-Engaged


Chris Bucholtz has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2009. His focus is on CRM, sales and marketing software, and the interface between people and technology. A noted speaker and author, Chris has covered the CRM space for 10 years.
Email Chris.

Original Article

E-Commerce Times

Apple May Be Gearing Up to Crack E-Books

Published by:

apple-ebook-app

Apple has been working on a redesign of its e-book app for iPhones and iPads, in what could be the biggest upgrade to its e-book service in years, according to Bloomberg.

One recent indication is that the app is listed as "Books" instead of "iBooks" in the iOS 11.3 beta Apple released to developers last week.

The new app reportedly is undergoing testing and will be released in the next few months.

It will have a simpler interface that better highlights books currently being read in a section called "Reading Now," and a redesigned digital bookstore that has a dedicated tab for audio books and looks more like the App Store redesign introduced last year.

Apple last month hired Kashif Zafar, a senior VP from Amazon's Audible audio books business, possibly to lead its revived efforts in the e-books segment. Zafar previously was a content VP in Barnes & Noble's Nook e-reader division.

Amazon's Dominance

Apple has been relatively dormant in the e-book market since it lost its Supreme Court appeal in 2016 against a ruling that imposed a US$450 million fine for engaging in e-book price-fixing.

That relieved pressure on Amazon, which
controlled more than 80 percent of the market in the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as of early 2017, according to AuthorEarnings.

Apple claimed only 10 percent of those markets at the time.

However, Apple's e-book app redesign is not likely to help it make any headway against Amazon, suggested Eric Smith, a research director at Strategy Analytics.

"Amazon and Google are redesigning their book and/or audiobook apps and portals this year as well," he told the E-Commerce Times.

Consumers can purchase Kindle titles from Amazon using the Safari browser and deliver those titles to the Kindle reader on the iPhone, iPad or iPod touch.

Amazon "has a foothold with books in Apple's ecosystem, and Amazon Music is pretty good," remarked Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

"That gives Amazon the potential to eventually displace iTunes — and, if they get [books and music], their ability to help Apple users move to Amazon or Android alternatives goes up dramatically," he told the E-Commerce Times.

Apple's Chances

Apple might gain some ground if it "pairs [the app] with new purchase or pricing options to lock people into its app instead of letting Amazon rule the content landscape," Strategy Analytics' Smith said.

Locking in users to the e-book app is a possibility, Enderle noted.

"Given Apple's past practices of gating processors, denying competing apps, and crippling modems, it certainly is at least likely that they'll move to cripple or block the Kindle book app," he added.

Still, the problem is that Amazon is deeply entrenched.

"Once people have a lot of books on a service like Amazon or records on a service like iTunes, getting them to move is virtually impossible," Enderle pointed out. "You have to find a way to bridge their licenses so that the switching cost is palatable."

That said, people "generally only read books once, so you really only have to bridge their licenses for the rare book they might like to re-read and the books they've bought but haven't read, rather than their entire library," Enderle said.

Further, Apple's installed user base might help. The company accounted for 14 percent of global smartphone volume in 2017, based on Strategy Analytics' estimates, Research Director Linda Sui told the E-Commerce Times.

Then there's the iPad factor.

"With the larger screen sizes that iPads provide, e-books are an extremely relevant source of content to give users a better hook to remain in the Apple ecosystem," said Smith. "Users tend to spend more time performing a task on a tablet than on a phone."


Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology.
Email Richard.

Original Article