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Aug 15, 2000

MightyWords CEO Chris MacAskill on His Partnership, Sales, eBooks & Competition

SUMMARY: No summary available.
We had a lot of fun chatting with MightyWords’ CEO Chris MacAskill last week because he’s one of those guys who gets very passionate about his subject. You want excitement? Get him started on eBooks, then sit back and feel the adrenalin!

Q: What’s up with the investment? When will we see Mightywords more integrated into their site?

MacAskill: Barnes & has got quite a comprehensive emedia strategy. We’re part of it but we’re not the only part of it. They’re very eager to get all the content we can aggregate up on their site for sale.

Q: Are you going to be providing eBook or other non-PDF versions of MightyWords content soon?

MacAaskill: We may try to work with Glassbook. But PDF is the most mature format in terms of user experience. Our users are mostly downloading and printing. That’s our primary thrust.

Q: What content is selling the best in your format?

MacAaskill: What’s selling best is professional material that’s need to know and need to have. It’s not competing with a book or a magazine article. It’s in that length range in between. To some extent reference books are selling -- computing books. I was surprised to see that, people like to search and come back to them. That’s more the domain of net delivery than us.

Generally the top sellers have to do with either computing, medical titles for consumers or business in some way. Two weeks ago ‘The Sinus Cure,” “Pain, Pain Go Away” and various other were selling quite well. “9 ways to improve your PDF document” was also a top seller.

Q: What do you think of Seth Godin’s Idea Virus Give-Content-Away-for-Free concept?

MacAskill: It’s very interesting -- the people who jumped on that most were the book sellers who could benefit from selling his book!

There is the large question about how much will be free or paid. My own point of view is things like news that’s non-unique will be free and ad-supported as they are today; but to see free mass content from top authors that’s longer? I’m skeptical. I think there will be a few like that, I just don’t think it will be huge.

Q: How is it going convincing print publishers to let you sell digital versions of their content?

MacAskill: Trade book publishers are entirely different from magazine publishers. They are completely focused on security and quite interested in repurposing content. They’d like to see their books read on hand-held devices such as Rocketbook.

The magazine world doesn’t seem to be so interested in security. It’s not such a big deal. They’re more interested in ‘how do I distribute my content broadly? How many sales will I get? How do I charge for it? How much has to be free?” So trade book and magazine publishers are in completely different worlds.

Q: What about higher-priced content? I get asked by study publishers if MightyWords will work for them.

MacAskill: We’re seeking as much of that content as we can get from publishers. We do think that there’s a very successful business selling that online already. That’s Multex. They aggregate it, they charge for it, they syndicate it … they’re a $40 million company. I’ve interviewed 30-40 people use multex habitually to get S1s, research reports, need-to-know information you can’ t get any other way.

We’re ending up with more computing and business titles that are more need-to-know and need-to-have; and, those are doing well.

Q: Are you commissioning new content for MightyWords?

MacAskill: We seeded the market to get some content going, but we’re not aspiring to be publishers. Publishers would out edit us, out acquire us, out author relationship us, and so on. And we don’t want to cut out the ability to work with publishers.

They select the author, they do the editing -- but we will often help with an advance to an author for pieces purely intended for electronic distribution. Typically 20-30 pages. The publishers pick the topics; it’s their branding. They manage schedules and author relationships. We’re growing in understanding and respect for the publisher’s role. When people say publishers are going away, I don’t believe it at all. They do all of that; and, they know the next hottest computing topic is this or that because they attend trade shows and they’re under an NDA with Microsoft. When we help them with an advance, they may chose to sell it on their own sites and sell on ours and syndicate to others.

Q: OK, the question you’re famous for answering, what do you think about ebooks?

MacAskill: I get in trouble for my opinion a lot on this, so I might as well say what I think!

They’re trying to compete books and it’s a hard row to hoe. The book is perhaps the greatest user-experience man has ever devised. Books have survived every assault from technology for 500 years -- the Internet, movies, TV, radio … all entertainment forms, even skateboarding! It’s still here because so many people love it. They love to keep them at their home; to sign inside covers; to read them to their children curled up beside them at home. There’s nobody who says, ‘I love Harry Potter but I hated the user experience. I had to flip every page by hand and my thumb got sore!’

It seems to me we have a wonderful headway on hand-held readers including Palms for short bits, breaking news stories. I can see that migrating up as the user experience gets better and the next generation tablets get better.

I would prefer it if people would prefer reading the next John Grisham novel on handheld. I’ll be one of the ones cheering if I’m wrong, because we’re all about distributing electronic!

Q: Do you personally own an eBook?

MacAskill: I have a Rocketbook and I like it; but, one way or another 99% of my reading is a paper books. It’s so convenient. I don’t even think to use the reader. Most of the time I just assume it’s not available on the reader. I have read a book on the Rocket. It was ok and I did like the user experience.

Q: Let’s get back to MightyWords for a minute. It used to be part of Fatbrain, now it’s a separate company with an alliance with who are competitors to Fatbrain. And you have a role in both companies. How’s that working?

MacAskill: I’m still the Chairman of Fatbrain and I sit on the Board. I’m the CEO of MightyWords. They are completely separate companies.

There were a lot of questions about the Barnes & Noble deal. However, one of the ideas behind MightyWords in the first place was to be completely independent of everybody with no restrictions at all. That was the founding principal and Barnes & Noble was the first test of that.

We said, “It’s business in the year 2000.” Look at how much money Amazon spends on Yahoo, and yet they are both in auction business! That’s just the way business is right now.

Q: Who do you see as your nearest competitors?

MacAskill: We’re looking around to see who might emerge as a competitor. So far no one’s really stepped up to the role, which is an aggregator of this type of content.

Q: What about Softlock?

MacAskill: Actually we haven’t paid that much attention to them. They probably are the closest thing to a competitor. Their model is a little different. Deep Canyon do sell on their site …. but we are about much broader content and broader distribution. We’re a lot more like Multex. We distribute on more than our own site.

Q: OK, who are your dream partners to work with?

MacAskill: On the publisher side one example would be Fawcett Technical magazines. They don’t do news but more technical kinds of topics that they treat more in depth. They have “Java Programmers Journal” and so on. That may sound awfully niche to you, but we can identify buyers and they need it right away! O’Reilly & Associates are also a dream partner, as much as they can do shorter content. It’s very authoritative.

On the distribution side we certainly think Fatbrain and Barnes & Noble are two good ones. There are many, many more sites who could be empowered to sell content!

We’re really focused on premiere sites at the moment; and then we’ll migrate downwards as our tools get a little more mature.
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