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May 03, 2010: Design Challenge: get UX books to UX events

Every type of business has a thorn in its side. For the restauranteur, it's the health inspector. For the playwright, it's the critic. For the farmer, it's the rancher (or is it the other way around?).

For the publisher, it's the conference bookseller. Granted, there's little money in it for the bookseller, and that's probably why you've noticed fewer and fewer of them at the conferences you regularly attend.

But still, I hate'em: they demand a 40% discount from the publisher, sell on consignment, communicate poorly, and are notoriously slow at paying (if they pay at all) and at returning unsold books. They know little if anything about the books, the event, or its attendees. Worse for the publisher, they work differently enough at each event to totally confound the publisher who hopes to do things the same way for all events.

Cut out the middleman, then! But how?

Well, that's where you design thinkers come in. Your challenge, should you accept it, is to design a way to get single copies of, say, a few dozen UX books from a variety of publishers to a bunch of different UX events. Let people thumb through the books, then process their orders on the spot. Make the setup mobile, so the books could go to where the people (and authors) are, rather than sitting still inside an exhibition hall (this would be especially important at spread-out events like SXSW). The process should easily repeatable for each event, and obviously a human would have to be there to supervise the whole process.

I've been talking informally with other publishers who are similarly frustrated by the situation. We've come up with an initial stab at what might work, but I'm sure you'll have much better ideas:

  • Where are the books displayed? How about a bookmobile? A portable rack, maybe even set up on a little red wagon, could go where it's needed. However, there are some logistical challenges to getting the hardware to the person handling a particular event. And what sort of hardware? This is perhaps the biggest challenge.
  • How do customers pay? Could use a cool credit card device that attaches to an iPhone like this one. Or give people a discount code and either have them make the purchase on their own device, or supply an iPhone or iPad to handle sales on the spot.
  • Who handles this? Could be a couple of volunteers who take turns handling the bookmobile in return for free passes to the conference and/or the collection of books (which will be too thumbed-over to sell). Or they could take a cut of the sales. They have to be trustworthy, as we'd be having them handle lots of books, possibly loaning them an iPad, and giving them a pass to the event. Not sure how to handle this risk.
  • How will this be publicized? Between an event's social networking tool and Twitter, we'd probably be able to publicize a bookmobile's existence fairly effectively, even at a larger event. We could also make the poor person handling sales wear an excruciatingly funny and impossible-not-to-notice hat. ("Look for the guy wearing the giant pink sombrero with the flashing 'UX BOOK' sign on it!") Dragging a bunch of books on a little red wagon would also be hard to miss.
  • And then what? Hopefully, the nice helpers, dignity intact, send back our wagon, rack, iPad, and whatever else we loaned them. And they can keep the incredible collection of books, as noted before.

There are plenty of holes in this attempt to design a solution, but it's a start. I'm hoping you might have some better ideas for getting your favorite UX books to whatever conferences and events you'll be attending in the future. And maybe some of us publishers could (ahem) cough up some free books to whoever designs the best solution.


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Comment: Ed (May 3, 2010)

How about an iPad app? Have all the books available for skimming, include the purchase option via the web, skip the card reader feature. You could carry the iPad, share with anyone, allow them to buy the book as a hard copy or a eBook right on-line. In fact, you could bundle the iPhone/ iPod /iPad sales app in the conference giveaways with the first chapter of the book and the table of contents. Then have the book in the iBook store, and offer web sales of the book via the app.

Comment: Sean Gerety (May 3, 2010)

I do like the portable rack idea, however I'd really like to see a steamer trunk instead. A nice combination of physical books, that I could purchase, and a device like a kindle or iPad for causal browsing would be nice. And the SquareUP device could be used by the event organizers.

Comment: Jorge Arango (May 3, 2010)

Sounds like a big part of the problem is the huge inconvenience of shipping information in physical books. I say make 'em available exclusively as ebooks, and give out discount codes.

Conferences are the ideal place to do this: there are lots of alpha geeks there to show off the "books" and help to folks who are behind the curve get started. Publishers can offer an iPad/Kindle/ebook/whatever to a volunteer to evangelize the platform at the conference.

For niche fields like UX, ebooks/online are the future. Paper doesn't scale.

Comment: Whitney (May 3, 2010)

It would be interesting to do a little research about this with actual conference go-ers. I happen to be at a conference right now, so I've been lurking around the bookstore to see who's buying my book. (Shameless, right!?)

There's something about being able to see the book. Flip through it. Graze the covers.

But I'm also hearing people say "But then I have to carry it home."

So the idea of having a display copy, so you can actually see and feel the book, coupled with an ordering mechanism that would let the book get shipped so it's waiting for you when you get home sounds ideal.

The other advantage to online ordering is that it lets publishers set discounts, include e-versions, etc etc etc.

Comment: mark thristan (May 4, 2010)

I'm with Whitney on this one - have a limited supply of display copies available and a paypoint, and leave the supply chain fulfillment elsewhere. Make sure to combine this with the iPad option for ebooks, and everyone's happy...paper beasts and digital maniacs.

The problem as to how to get this into the event is probably going to differ from event to event, but why not run the idea past 2 or 3 event organisers, modify the idea according to their input and then run with it (preferably with the idea coming from a publisher "coalition") - at least this way it may fit to the model of a few different event types...

Comment: Drew (May 4, 2010)

As a child we used to have these at pur school once a year - http://bookfairs.scholastic.co.uk/what_is
Essentially some book/flight cases used to display a single copy of what was on offer and then an order form to take home and hassle your parents about. Seems to be quite close to what has been propsed above. I imagine bringing it forward with sms/online purchasing (possibly in a private booth) would work well at an event.

Comment: Lou (May 4, 2010)

Great comments; thanks all!

Seems to converge on having display copies and digital copies (an iPad would indeed be a nice way to do this). The latter should really be pretty easy to pull off, but the paperback display copies are another story.

So... assuming we work everything else out, does anyone have any great ideas for how to port around a few dozen books simply and cheaply?

Comment: Lou (May 5, 2010)

As a placeholder if nothing else, here's a reasonably-priced book cart: http://is.gd/bVKvf

Comment: Peter Van Dijck (May 7, 2010)

Thinking what would work for me. The ability to flip through the books is the nr1. It gives me some idea of the books out there, and if they're any good. selling point. I can always order them later on Amazon, buying them right there is actually less important to me. I won't have time to read them there anyway.

So just a few copies of each book to flip through. I can buy them myself on Amazon, much more convenient than filling in a load of forms.

And why not move away from just a "table of books". Give away 10 copies. Give all speakers a random book (they will tend to be promoters anyways.) Give away a book per session?

Comment: Peter Van Dijck (May 7, 2010)

Hand out 1 book per 10 attendees (actually give it to people, no table), free for the duration of the conference, with the requirement that they hand it to someone else once they're done with it and they give it back at the end. Let books flow along the social graph. Encourage people to write in these handout books, leave notes about bits they like|hate. Attach a pen with a string to the book, and put in a note "write your thoughts in this book". Afterwards collect all books back, and use again at next conference. Or if they have a lot of writings in them, send them back to the author as feedback. Publish some of the notes written (make a scan). Think mindshare. It'll take 100 books perhaps. It'll be cool :)

Comment: Lou (May 7, 2010)

Holy crap, that's a neat idea! I love it! I could see making it a game:
* Pass out a copy of each book (PvD, 1 for every 10 is maybe too many for a publisher to manage).
* Everyone who comments gets a temporary 50% discount code they can redeem at our site. Or a free t-shirt. Or something else nice.
* To be eligible to receive the nice thing, you have to do these things:
* Write some comments in the book, and note who you are (name, email address).
* Hand it off to someone else who'll do the same.
* Tweet what you've done and who you've handed it off to.
* If you have the book at the close of the event, you'd have to return it to us. (We'd provide instructions on to whom and when inside the book itself.)

What do you think?

The real killer would be to get this to work for author's manuscripts.

Comment: Julie Platt (May 12, 2010)

Great ideas! Thank you for a thoughtful post and the many interesting replies.

Comment: Peter (May 13, 2010)

Make it *either* leave your email or tweet about it in order to be eligible :)

I love handing out 1 book, because it makes sure that all the comments go in 1 book, which is a great present for the author (and good feedback for you guys).

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