During the Super Bowl, this ad for Mercedes Benz aired, which clearly demonstrates how expectations for voice technology (more properly, voice-first technology) have progressed to encompass the modern car:
The implication here is that everything is possible by using our voices and talking to objects around us. And, indeed, this is the destination that voice-first technology has us headed toward.
Digital Book World has come to incorporate voice technology within the broad purview of the conference's agenda, and thus is one of our VoiceFirst Events. Another event we produce, however, is called The Voice of the Car Summit, and is coming up Tuesday, April 9, out in San Francisco's NASDAQ Entrepreneurial Center.
(The company whose technology was featured in the above ad, and is in cars ranging from Mercedes to BMW to Hyundai and many others, is SoundHound. The VP and General Manager of SoundHound, Katie McMahon, will keynote this upcoming event of ours.)
But what does this have to do with publishing?
A whole lot.
According to Voicebot's recently-released In-Car Voice Assistant Consumer Adoption Report, voice technology is used significantly more in the car than in the home, and that's even now.
With the integration of various voice assistants like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple Siri, SoundHound's Houndify voice assistant shown in the ad above, and many others, you could easily see the person in the ad asking the car to find him a new audiobook to enjoy, or begin playing one he's already purchased previously, rather than change the colors of the dash or play music.
Publishers Weekly wrote last week about Libro.FM, a fascinating company which has enabled independent booksellers to get in on audiobook sales in a big way and grew 140% in 2018. Booksellers enjoy a new revenue stream from commissions on Libro.FM memberships and individual audiobook purchases, and Libro.FM supports these bookstores by providing marketing materials to raise awareness with in-store customers that buying audiobooks is just as viable of a way to support their favorite bookseller as buying a physically printed title.
The idea of printed books needing to be complemented by a digital version is exactly how movie sales work - you buy any physical DVD or Blu-ray disc, and within the box will be a code to download the digital version. This makeshift version that Libro.FM has come up with for books follows the same logic.
What's interesting about this landscape is that voice assistants are going to, over the course of 2019, truly challenge booksellers directly for who gets to sell books to readers. And as they do, the bulk of this business will migrate to the modern connected car, where many of these audiobooks will be enjoyed. Partnerships like this budding one between booksellers and Libro.FM will need to rapidly adjust to account for car-centric voice-first audio consumption patterns that are on their way in.
As Amazon's Alexa and Google's Assistant become more proactive, they will initiate conversations with the driver in the car to ask if the user wants to buy a book, perhaps based on music the user was recently enjoying, or a recent purchasing decision, or a recent podcast the driver heard. And when the driver says "sure, that sounds great," the bookseller just lost another potential customer that might have wandered in to make the same decision.
Publishers have begun to recognize the importance of voice-first technology to their business, and the potential of these ecosystems to boost revenue and further leverage existing titles.
But once publishers see the shift of voice-first tech into the car, an entirely different conversation will emerge on what books are a better fit in the car than in other environments, and what books can be best adapted into car-oriented experiences.