Discovery Challenges Mount in a Reader-Driven World

Editors and imprints are steadily losing the ability to dictate how their content is curated and discovered, says Canelo co-founder Michael Bhaskar, speaking at the International Digital Publishing Forum’s Digital Book 2015 conference at BookExpo America in New York City this morning.

That power, as Bhasksar sees it, has devolved to readers.

Or, at least, that’s the impression that many within the publishing industry seem increasingly keen to convey. “That the customer holds all of the power is clearer than ever today,” Tom Chalmers of IPR License wrote yesterday, “thanks to the Internet and the various forms of social media. No longer does our or any industry control the main filters through which information about what to buy reaches customers.”

But those very filters, as they multiply and evolve, are atomizing the discovery landscape, a problem for publishers and retailers that’s only compounded by the ballooning volumes of titles pumped into the market each each.

While there’s no single solution to those challenges, publishers are devising several ways to leverage what many see as the reader’s growing power. Here are three:

  • Rely on what Goodreads co-founder and CEO Otis Chandler, who also spoke at today’s conference, calls “mini influencers” for targeted discovery efforts. Goodreads, which was acquired by Amazon in 2013, now boasts some 40 million users. Many readers on the platform, Chandler says, listen closely to certain bloggers, authors and other figures at the center of key interest groups and place a high value in those influencers’ opinions.
  • Get used to swapping “or” with “and.” Far from being mutually exclusive, print and digital are now increasingly complementary formats, and more readers are comfortable switching back and forth between them. 60% of Goodreads users read in both formats, Chandler says, while 48% read on their mobile devices and about a third of those use mobile as “a backup device” to fill in on-the-go for a primary one that stays more at home. No discovery effort, in other words, can afford not to pay heed to those many, interconnected use cases.
  • Devote as much energy to finding “potential” or “casual” readers as to cultivating avid ones, urges Peter McCarthy of the Logical Marketing Agency, who was also in attendance. Digital strategist Molly Barton, joining this morning’s discussion, seconded that notion, adding, “We need to be more ambitious about who our audience is, and not settle.” One way more publishers and retailers are connecting with new readers in unlikely places is through brand partnerships, like Penguin Random House’s ebook program for Amtrak riders and Kobo’s similar partnership with Southwest Airlines.

Some say the emphasis on readers may be going too far, though, or at least risks overlooking another key stakeholder.

“The next few years,” says Bloomsbury’s Richard Charkin, who also spoke at today’s IDPF conference, “will be about looking after our authors.”


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