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Jul 12, 2013: What does instructional video mean for publishers?

Did you think that publishers were in the business of figuring out books? Hah! Well, you're only partially right.

I'm feeling pretty good about Rosenfeld Media's books these days. What's keeping me up at night is instructional video. Partially because people are increasingly turning to video over text for learning, and partially because it clearly presents a new opportunity. Just not an obvious one. I'm hoping that writing about it here helps me understand it better, and—more importantly—your comments shed even more light on it.

I—and our authors and experts—are constantly coming across new opportunities to produce instructional videos. Think Skillshare, Udacity, Udemy, YouTube, Lynda.com, and so on. They have very different business models, most of which are untested and, in some cases, unstable. It's a daunting space to understand—but looking at a medium through the lens of its tools is completely the wrong way to figure it out.

My job, as a publisher, is to take that step back and try to make sense of the medium. Does our content even make sense as instructional videos? If so, how do we package our content? Do we go long or short? Modules or full-blown courses? How do we ensure the same level of quality as we do with our books and other offerings? And what's a viable business model for instructional video, one that provides value to customers and publishing support to authors and experts?

If we can figure out how to reach that happy place, then we can determine which tools and platforms we should use.

But it's a tough journey.

For one, I keep thinking a format that is short-attention-span-friendly (5-10 minute), modular, and extremely practical makes the most sense: tips, how-to's, show-me's, case studies, and so on. We'd curate the topics, and ensure a reasonable quality through consistent branding and content guidelines. We'd eventually make them part of a Rosenfeld Media subscription service, along with our digital books.

But 5-10 minutes puts us up against the free stuff on YouTube. Would someone pay $5 for one of our videos when there might be something similar for free?

A longer format—60 minutes and up—can justify payment. But it feels too long to me. I know that companies like UIE do fantastic work here, but I worry that many people won't have the patience to sit through this longer, denser format.

Unless that longer video is part of an actual course. The motivation to achieve a credential is a big one, but courses have lots of moving parts. They take place over time, they generally utilize much more than video, and most of all, they need to be taught. By an actual teacher. There's a huge opportunity there, but I think that funded startups like General Assembly will be the ones to make it work. Not bootstrapped ventures like Rosenfeld Media. (And, sadly, not higher ed, which is highly unlikely to create viable new business models for anything.)

Put on my publisher's shoes for a moment (size 10, incidentally). Let's say you manage a brand known for quality books in a small but growing vertical. You also manage a growing roster of four dozen or so of your vertical's leading experts. You've got expertise—and content—up the wazoo.

Do you convert that expertise into a new video-based line of business?


What does your offering look like?

And has anyone figured this all out already? (If so, hats off!)

Thanks folks.

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Comment: Scott Berkun (Jul 12, 2013)

There's no universal answer as I'm sure you know. For each vertical and audience you're going to have to experiment to feel out what works for the audience you have. And also it will take time to get good at producing high quality video content good enough to properly test the business model (if you have bad content the business model could be fine and you'd still fail) - quality video is a different game altogether from books. And some authors aren't well suited for video really.

But in the short term those experiments will work as marketing for the books, assuming the authors and topics are the same.

3 of my books are published with O'Reilly and they only started their video line a few years ago. They do many of the basics right IMO (free sample, etc.) They also publish many books that lend themselves well to video training: programming, testing, learning tools. UX has some hard skills, but videos at softer and more nuanced topics create a different value proposition for consumers.

From what I know the online video training market is seen as a discounted way to approximate live training - it's easier to ask your boss to pay for an online course for $200 vs a full day of travel costs + $500 for a full day. That's one assumption to test about the market for videos in the UX space: are the needs and drivers the same? What % of readers of your books even say they're interested in paying for video?

Comment: Jorge Arango (Jul 12, 2013)

I would gladly sign up for a subscription service (a flat monthly fee) that allowed my team to have access to 5-15 minute videos.

I've purchased videos from O'Reilly and UIE. They're great, but the longer-form videos require that folks set time out to watch them. I like that O'Reilly break theirs up into chapters that make it easier to dip in and out and still keep a longer narrative arc going.

Hope this helps -- looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

Comment: John Lab (Jul 14, 2013)

Granted I'm a 10 1/2 wide, but I'll squeeze into yours... I never really thought about video could be incorporated. But after reading your blog, I thought man that's so obvious! Especially since i switched to ebooks almost exclusively about 2 years ago. For example, I'm reading Interviewing Users, and there are parts where Steve is giving great use cases to help me visualize how to use X. But how I would love to see Steve do it action! And it would be great to be able to go back and rewatch that video for reference.

In school we would read or hear from the teacher how something works or how to do something. Then we would do some sort of activity to drive it home. It reminds me of some of the experimental digital text books that came out. They're incorporating videos and interactive activities with each lesson.

So I guess I'm saying it's complimentary. I've tried the long length video, but they're either kind of boring. I think part of that is the instructors are not trained and well have a hard time keeping people's attention. Also it's hard to skip around to just the part you want.

Okay my feet hurt, here are your shoes back, Good luck!

Comment: Vincent van der Lubbe (Jul 14, 2013)

Depending on your customers:

a. are they working in a team and use it instead of having to instruct team members themselves (Jorge?) and won't make their own video for it because it doesn't scale for them/don't have the expertise etc.

b. are they teachers/trainers who use them in parts of their training (internal/external)? (as Scott mentioned)

If you can come up with somebody like Jorge and find out which are the topics that take away most of his time, are the trickiest, cause most harm etc. and see that others have the same problems, it might scale and you might have a market...

Feel free to mail me for further discussion, I think you can find out fast where there's an opportunity. I would definitely test the team leader approach as they may have more budget than trainers do...

Comment: Stuart Maxwell (Jul 14, 2013)

I think Scott's got the right idea: try out some different formats and material to see what works and what resonates with you, your authors, and your audience. Like most acquired skills, video can look easy on the surface, but it's hard and complex to script, produce, shoot, edit, transcode, host, and market. But it's also not rocket surgery. You can acquire the skills and insights you're looking for by jumping in and starting to experiment.

If I were in your shoes (also size 10, conveniently), I wouldn't start a new line of business for this without testing the waters a bit. I think you're bang on with your assessment of the market, so exploring a video-based business seems like the right thing to do. The "how to do it" part will likely reveal itself as you experiment in a low-cost, low-risk way.

As for the business model side of it, I've started buying both the eBook and hard copy of any Rosenfeld Media book by default, since I usually end up wanting both. I'd probably pay $10 or so more for additional video content as part of a package deal. However, many enhanced eBooks are coming out with good quality video embedded (or downloadable within the book), so the content would have to be compelling in order for me to make a habit of the extra purchase.

Would I pay for standalone video separate from book content? Maybe on a subscription basis, a la http://www.screencastsonline.com. Probably not on a per-program or per-video basis, unless the price point was low enough. (Then again, I'm not a millennial so I'm probably not the right person to ask.)

Mmm... the more I think about this, the more I see why you're struggling to figure this out. It's a big, fun, tough problem to solve. I can't wait to see how you do.

Finally, have you thought about audio podcasting as a first step? Producing a good podcast requires similar skills to producing a good video (scripting (sometimes), producing, recording, editing, and marketing), but without a lot of the complexity of the moving image to deal with.

Comment: Caroline Jarrett (Jul 15, 2013)

As so often, your musings help me to think through some of the issues surrounding my work and writing process.

I've noticed that people really like short cartoon sequences in presentations e.g.:

Then Kevin Cheng's wonderful book came out and gave me the idea of creating cartoon sequences to introduce and summarise the key ideas in each of my chapters:

That's only a short hop to thinking: how about creating a brief video to do the same? Only the barriers to creation seem even higher to me than the barriers to creating cartoons. As you point out, too many choices about what to do. And the various technologies seem daunting to me.

Looking forward to hearing more as your thoughts develop - and even more, looking forward to reading more comments from people who might watch those videos.

Comment: Hilary Marsh (Jul 15, 2013)

IMO, videos work well as part of an online course. They could make an excellent accompaniment to any book, showing examples, interviewing the folks whose case studies are mentioned in the book, and *showing* examples.

"Video" is just the delivery mechanism. Sure, there are other places that deliver video, but video courses from Rosenfeld Media would carry an expectation of intelligence and usefulness that really doesn't exist elsewhere.

To turn these into true courses or certification programs -- which I've been thinking about a ton lately -- you'd need to create a parallel track for measuring people's absorption of the ideas put forth in the material. I'm currently developing two content strategy courses for Kent State's excellent online UX program, and I have the privilege of working with an instructional designer and an educational technologists. If Rosenfeld Media decided to create videos that were not only useful and informative but instructional in the strictest sense of the word, you'd probably either want to partner with a university or hire folks with thise type of training.

And if you charge, it should be far more than $5. Think of the videos as consulting and price them like a consultant's hourly fee.

My final thought on this topic: Check out MarketingProfs for an alternative model of smart, informative videos -- they charge either per-piece or by the month. Spin Sucks is another company doing the same thing.

I'd love to help you create this!!

Comment: epc (Jul 15, 2013)

So…I'm coming at this from a very different field having helped 10gen nurse its online education (http://education.10gen.com) during my brief stay there.

I don't know that any of this will help you, but:

- under five minutes is too short, over 20 is too long. We found a sweet spot between 7 and 15 minutes for lessons.
- we broke each week up into multiple video segments (we were all over the map on how long these segments were, and indeed some were too long).
- video was hosted via YouTube but were marked private
- we used the EdX platform for the classes. I would not recommend this for yourself unless you hire a thousand people to implement and run it.
- The tools for "grading" online classes are very rudimentary (based on a sample set of: 1 package). To scale you're reduced to factual yes/no, true/false, multiple choice sorts of answers. In our case we had some programming that students had to do and then enter in a specific result.

What really got us, in a bad way initially, was the scale of students:staff. In the course I "tutored", we had ~9000 students. A minutely small percentage of them interacted on the forum we had, which still lead to hundreds of posts PER DAY which someone (me) had to wade through and triage (some were valid "this didn't work on my system", others were pleas for clarifications on items, more were flat out requests for the homework answers). Aside from us being unprepared for this, the software we had to use simply didn't scale to this level.

Now, would you run into something similar with a putative UX online course? Probably not the scale, but potentially the support issues.

The *easy* part is putting the videos online. The hard part is structuring them into some sort of sensible course, and providing genuine support to students.

I agree that you should charge more than $5, but recommend a different model altogether: charge $XX per month with unlimited access to the content by the registered account.

As far as certification goes…we investigated that and backed away, very slowly and deliberately. Certification has certain legal/regulatory meaning in various jurisdictions. Recommend getting started with online video courses first (perhaps as a feeder into meatspace one-on-one classes).

And, as always, ping me if you need assistance. I’m "free" at the moment.

Comment: Lou Rosenfeld (Jul 15, 2013)

THANK YOU for your feedback; generous and priceless!

Initial reactions:
* Experimenting: For sure! Then again, people like Susan Weinschenk are already experimenting and having good success (e.g., http://bit.ly/11BT9Ru ). Seems like we can speed up the learning process by learning from people like her.
* Length: Likely more interest in courses, rather than stand-alone (5-15 minute) modules. That said, longer-form courses should be accessible as smaller-form modules. (This is how the Udemys and Udacitys already do it.)
* Subscription Service: YES! This is something we've had on the drawing board for a while, and now that we'll soon break the 20 book barrier, it makes even more sense.
* Subscription Service: NO? If we worked with an Udemy or similar, would we be able to use them as a white label tool for selling on our own (i.e., via a subscription service)?
* Certification: Lots of mixed feelings here. Me too. Certificate of *completion* seems more reasonable. For now.

Comment: Lou Rosenfeld (Jul 15, 2013)

To Ed's point, I think the only scalable plan is to go with a one-way approach rather than supporting interaction and dialogue.

That said, one thing a publisher might be to offer that the platforms (e.g., Udacity, Skillshare) might not is an accompany platform to support discussion. Might be as simple as a blog or a series of slightly-managed LinkedIn groups.

What else might a publisher offer that an expert might not be able to pull off independently?
* Promotion and Marketing
* Quality production values via development guidelines and editorial support (which, of course, cost money)
* Curation (i.e., Rosenfeld Media is a trusted brand--ideally we pick good people and topics)
* Glue: we can organize the content (and combine it with other content, like books) better than a general purpose platform like Udemy can.

This is fun folks; thanks so much and please keep it coming.

Comment: epc (Jul 15, 2013)

I don't think the sort of thing works as purely one-way, you need some sort of interaction. Key thing: 99% of the interaction can be with a tutor or other sort of support staff, not the original instructor. Use staff to triage questions and bubble the rare question back to the instructor.

Comment: Peter (Jul 20, 2013)

Here's a model that might work:

- It's a private space behind a login. All the videos live there. But not just videos.
- Unlimited access monthly subscription: 1 person $19.99/m, team $79.99/m, entertprise $799/m
- You get access to ALL the videos, and with the team and enterprise accounts you get access to all the videos plus perhaps all the books digitally.
- AND you get to ask questions that experts/people can answer (that's the interaction epc mentioned). A Q&A space. All in the private space that only subscribers have access to.

Something like that, just one (of many) models. If you're going to do subscription, it should include everything, videos, books, access to experts, the works. Not sure if this is the right model, it's just the one that comes to mind.

Good luck figuring this out!

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