Another way for publishers to control their own destiny
The rebirth of paywalls

Death by irrelevance

Now that I'm in the broader digital content industry and no longer in the book publishing sector I've realized something very important: Amazon isn't killing book publishers. Publishers are killing themselves. Book publishers, or more accurately, their products, are becoming less and less relevant every year.

Snacking vs. dining

Let's start with the distinction between information snacking and long form reading: More of my time is now spent snacking, reading short pieces of content. The time I spend snacking has largely shifted from the time I used to read more long form content. My tablet and phone are almost always with me and I find the web as well as services like Flipboard, Zite, Instapaper and Byliner are replacing much of the time I used to spend in books.

I find myself much more attracted to short bursts of content and I doubt I'm alone. Book publishers, on the other hand, are still caught up in making products built for yesterday's container, the 300-page print book. That's fine for the rare storytelling author who can capture your attention for many hours, but let's face it...most authors and their books don't meet that standard.

Changing expectations

Publishers are an Inefficient breed, but not in the typical sense. I'm not talking about production or editorial processes. Widespread outsourcing and staff cuts mean publishers are more efficient in these areas than ever before. But what about being efficient from the customer's point of view?

Where does most content consumption happen these days? On the web. Where is the book publisher's content? It's not on the web and it's certainly not exposed to the major search engines. Google is amazingly efficient at enabling content consumption, but the results benefit info snacking, not long-form consumption.

Publishers will shudder at the thought of exposing all their content to the search engines. How about simply taking some baby steps in that direction? Start with the ebook sample. Why are samples always under lock and key via DRM? Publishers need to encourage sample sharing and not lock them down.

How about giving prospective customers even more content than today's samples offer? Instead of 5%, give 10% or 20%. Maybe give that larger chunk only to customers who are willing to provide their contact info on your website. Then you'll have a way to market directly to them. And be sure to expose that additional content to the search engines, btw!

Changing revenue models

Finally let's talk about something that will give every traditional publisher heartburn: the need to change revenue models. Publishers are tied to yesterday's revenue model in a classic case of The Innovator's Dilemma. I'm talking about the difference between content purchased at today's prices vs. sponsor/ad-based content consumers will pay less, if anything, for.

At some point, even longer form content will be offered via a new model, where the content is fully exposed on the web, searches lead to it, and it's partially or fully subsidized by advertising or sponsorship. That's a model today's publisher is simply not structured for and they simply cannot fathom.

Startups will understand it though, mostly because they'll exploit the opportunity created by incumbents who are desperately trying to protect their outdated model.



You're spot on, Joe, with Changing revenue models. Driven by rapid growth in Generation Y readership, it's estimated that nearly half of the 80 million readers of ebooks in the US want free or heavily discounted ebooks, more entertainment value, and are willing to accept advertising; leaving authors and publishers to scramble for new ways to monetize their content. For example, independent authors are collaboratively pooling their ebooks and promotional muscle to counter falling ebook prices and break through in a cluttered market.

The big question is with long form fiction ebooks (novels): how do you monetize that with advertising or sponsorship -- especially with viewable ads -- without intruding on the immersive reading experience? Answering that question will lead to a dam burst of money flowing through digital book publishing.

As you say, there is a huge opportunity for startups created by the incumbents protecting the old model. The digital technology tsunami that swept the music industry is already engulfing book publishing. What will be left in its wake will be a transformation not seen since Gutenberg's invention of moveable type.


Great insights here Joe.

Just a couple of issues. One needs to distinguish between fiction and non-fiction when talking about content. Much of the insight here appears to revolve around non-fiction.

With regard to fiction ...

I've been talking to a number of readers about how and why they actually buy as part of our efforts at building new products at BookBuzzr. The pattern that emerges when it comes to fiction is that readers pick up books because of the following reasons:

1. A friend recommended a particular book.
2. The book was available at a discount (ex: used book store or Kindle price drop), or they received a free copy in some other manner.

Thereafter, if they like the author, they tend to go out and buy additional books from the author (whether the books are part of a series or whether they are stand-alone).

Especially with fiction, the length is not necessarily a hindrance. Many readers are looking for an escape and a chance to get lost in the author's world. In fact, on one of our reader sites - Freado - when we give away books that form part of a series, the participation rates appear to be higher and more enthusiastic.

Still, I do agree that readers' attention is being bombarded by new forms of content and snack-able pieces of content are likelier to succeed.



I really think you are in danger of letting your personal experience colour your view of the world. You may not be alone in being increasingly attracted to short bursts of content but you might still be in a minority.This doesn't of course invalidate your suggestion that publishers need to look to new revenue models - but I'd suggst they've been doing this for years - though maybe not the big 5.


Who is estimating that "80 million readers of ebooks in the US want free or heavily discounted ebooks, more entertainment value, and are willing to accept advertising". It would be good to know where this statistic has come from. Is it proper research?

On one hand it is hard to believe because it pretty much covers the book buying population of America and on the other hand it is easy to believe because depending how the question was asked, people are confirming they like good value and/or stuff cheaper or free. Who is going to say no to that?

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)