Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
Ebook sales for “traditional publishers” seem to have hit a plateau. In the latest quarterly report from Simon & Schuster, for example, digital sales (including digital audio) fell approximately 10 percent, and HarperCollins has reported drop in digital revenue, as well. In some sectors, this has become a cause for celebration: the book is not dead, kids and millennials prefer to read “real” books. Print has won!
I do not want to argue which formats are better than others, as that argument is long dead. There is going to be a place for both print and ebooks in the foreseeable future. It is not digital versus print, but rather digital and print.
The physical book is a great device, and for many purposes it will continue to be the best format. But if we believe the digital transformation in book publishing is almost complete, we will soon find out we are wrong.
There are many new technologies on the horizon that will impact what and how we read. At the recent F8 (Facebook Developer Conference), Mark Zuckerberg shared his 10-year plan, including many ideas about his vision for virtual reality (VR) and chatbots. Do publishers have a 10-year plan? Are publishers prepared for what is here or almost here?
We are voracious consumers of content, but we consume this content on our mobile devices more and more. Recent studies show that Americans check their phones 150 times a day, and Time Magazine just crowned the iPhone the most influential gadget ever created.
Publishers experiment with enhanced ebooks ,short-form reading and apps, but they continue to see success with full-length books. This should not mean that the experimentation should stop, though. As consumption increasingly occurs on a mobile device, will long-form still be the preferred reading choice? Publishers should continue to invest resources to find new ways to create and deliver content.
Self-driving cars will be here sooner than we think. The estimated number of cars in 2020 with self-driving features is 10 million. How will that impact reading? Will it change the kind of books we read? What are we going to do with this additional “recovered” time during our commutes? How will we entertain ourselves in these cars? With our eyes no longer necessary to be on the road, we can consume books in the car in a different way than we currently do. Imagine reading picture books to your children as you drive to visit out of town relatives, or reading the latest business title on your heads up display.
Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality
Publishers should not see VR as just another theme to include in novels or as a nonfiction topic about which to write. Just as publishers see additional profits from movies based on books, VR could be the next frontier for publishers as a new revenue source. Publishers also need to be aware of the pull of VR on the total entertainment time. We spend an average of 19 minutes a day reading. The average time users spend on Facebook is 50 minutes, watching TV programs and movies 2.8 hours, and eating and drinking 1.07 hours. Books have withstood the test of radio, movies, TV and video games. Will they be able to take on VR, or will time spent on them continue to decrease?
We are already interacting with early bots: Siri, Cortana and Alexa are examples of voicebots. Chatbots could be used in Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or just the open web. They are a great combination of natural language processing and artificial intelligence. Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, described what was at the heart of the shift from apps to bots as the concept of “conversation as a platform.” Bots seem a natural extension of handselling and could help with book discovery. But more importantly they could also be an amazing new way to tell stories.
The Quartz app, for example, is an early indicator of what is possible. But it does not even scratch the surface. Imagine a bot that understands your preferences, knows your needs and presents content at the right time and in the right format. The mobile device is an amazing “player,” as it can provide you text, audio and video (regular or VR). Book publishers will miss out if they do not view this device as a key component in the future of reading.
Kudos to Farrar, Straus and Giroux for creating MCD/FSG, a new imprint, and to Sean McDonald, who heads it up. As Jonathan Galassi, FSG publisher and president, says in the announcement, their goal is “to create a space to publish work and experiment with publishing styles, forms, and genres that are at the edges of FSG’s traditions.” More publishers should invest or allocate resources to build a lab or innovation teams to create competencies in data gathering, analytics, content formats, delivery mechanisms, reader engagement, and much more. The pause in ebook sales gives publishers a moment to breathe and take stock, but they can’t break for too long. The “next thing” is almost here.
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