Here’s how reader analytics can help publishers
Blinkist and the “read less, learn more” movement

One day content will enrich itself

You’ve probably heard me say that we live in a print-under-glass world, one where we’re consuming dumb content on smart devices.­­ It’s true simply because, as Michael Bhaskar of Canelo Publishing stated it at BEA, “publishers treat ebooks as a secondary priority.”

It’s far too easy to quickly convert the print edition to a static e-edition and drive some incremental revenue. Meanwhile, more and more publishers are starting to report flattening ebook sales.

I believe part of the problem is due to the fact that many consumers who aren’t already buying ebooks are holding off because they’re satisfied with print and see no significant benefit of switching to e. The Bookseller recently reported that millennials are “least likely to buy ebooks.” We’re talking about a born-digital generation, one that has come to expect rich, immersive experiences in everything digital. It’s no wonder why they haven’t warmed up to today’s ebook experience.

Publishers and authors sometimes balk at the notion of creating anything beyond the static ebook. They question the ROI as well as the time and effort required. That’s a reasonable response, particularly given the various failed experiments with native apps and other digital platforms. Plus, some ebooks are perfect just the way they are; readers don’t want or need them to incorporate extra digital bells and whistles.

But there are plenty of other books and entire genres that would dramatically benefit from a deeper digital experience. Think reference and how-to content. Videos, photo galleries and any one of the various web widgets could add significant value.

So what’s a publisher to do when it’s hard enough just getting the manuscript from the author?

I think it’s reasonable to expect that in the next few years we’ll see content that self-enriches. The application or reading platform will handle the details and little, if any, human curator intervention will be required.

While it’s true that auto-enrichment might never match the quality of human enrichment, the former will be a huge step in the right direction, hopefully priming the pump for more of the latter to eventually take place.  

Comments

ASterling

Innovation is a big challenge, Joe. Right now, the technology is there in terms of production, but not delivery. Our first mega-enhanced e-book is only really "right" on Apple devices. Lesser functionality is available on the computer and Android devices. Apps are not books; in fact - they are book-minus, not book-plus. EPUB3 is able to do amazing things but we have a pretty in-depth picture of what will run on what and it's very limited at present. The iBook we have produced will not even come close to validating for Kindle and that device option of "pop up" illustrations for children's books, textbooks and comics is not optimal.

You may check out Is SHE Available? by Igor Goldkind via the iTunes Store and we will be launching its hardcover edition at Comic-Con next week.

We will do more books like this in a variety of sectors. But innovation seldom comes from long-established companies.

Joe Wikert

Couldn't have said it better myself. I love your point about how apps are "books-minus", not "books-plus." That's so true. I'd take it a step further and, for the most part, even static ebooks are "books-minus", particularly since you can't resell them or give them to a friend when you're finished with them.

It's also hard to refute your suggestion that "innovation seldom comes from long-established companies." While that's been the case since the dawn of time, the real shame is when those incumbents have such a stranglehold on the industry that they're actually stifling innovation. I think that tends to be true in publishing today as well.

ASterling

Our premise is that the current industry is so strongly focused on its current market customers and what they bought last month, last week, last year, that it doesn't seem able to see that just about 100% of people can read, and we have well over 40% college graduation rates in the U.S. and over 50% in Canada. It's still relying on near-volunteer labor and chewing up creative professionals like child workers in Dickens' London. 86% of the increase in retail spend over the next 5 years is expected to come from diverse consumers, according to the "other" part of AC Nielsen (market insights, not Bookscan). There is no data to support the commonly-held belief that more people do not regularly buy and read books because of "competition from games, film, TV and other media." Apparently, it's about impossible for many in the industry to get that everything they do is based in the market customer of the past, not the emerging customer of today and the future. It's hard to see how there is zero focus on the product (what's IN the book - not whose name is on the cover or what the cover looks like) and no questioning of what I do every 2 weeks - show one or more young people the current NY Times bestseller list and ask, "Which of these books would you like to read and why?" If it's not zero (often, it is), then it's always a film or TV-related product. Meanwhile, hand them Freakonomics or another interesting book and they gobble it up and ask for more.

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