As I get ready for all the excitement that 2013 is going to bring (we have some awesome new projects that we’ll be teasing soon!), it’s a good time for me to take a longer view of the business and write down some thoughts about where I think things are going. 2012 saw a lot of change in the publishing industry, and many of those trends are going to converge in the next 12 months.
1. Books or apps?
One question I often get asked at Coliloquy is if what we’re building is a book or an application. I don’t like using the term “enhanced e-book” since it’s become a catch-all term for many things, but books themselves are changing. It’s more that we’re re-defining what a book is, and adding additional functionality to it, either through analytics, choice points and interactivity, or multimedia (as one of our upcoming projects will showcase). Is Al Gore’s “Our Choice” a book or an app? The container is an application, but it conveys information in the exact same way a book does. Publishers will increasingly need to figure out if the app platforms (with their interactivity, multimedia capabilities, and controlled environments) serve their authors better, or if books (with their ubiquity, increasing flexibility, and familiar interface) do better.
As for Coliloquy itself? There’s an entire post I can write about this point alone, but perhaps the simplest answer for now is that we’re building a new kind of book.
2. e-book or print?
There’s been a sense of inevitability when it comes to e-books, though it’s been slowing down in the last year, as a recent Wall Street Journal article discusses. I don’t agree that initial e-book sales are an “aberration”, as the article says, but it’s always been clear that technology takes time to get adopted, and as e-books make the change from early adopter product to mainstream usage, there will naturally be a slower growth rate. I predict that we’ll continue to see e-book sales rise in 2013, though not necessarily at the same rate as we’ve seen it in the last few years.
We’re seeing a lot of interesting efforts in the crowdfunding space, from Ryan North (of “Dinosaur Comics” fame) launching a Choose Your Adventure Hamlet book to Seth Godin’s post on using Kickstarter as a platform for books to Roy Leban of Puzzazz launching a year of puzzles. Crowdfunding is a great way to gauge whether there’s audience interest in a book and gather those first few fans who will be your most ardent advocates. But it’s also a time-intensive process that requires having an existing audience that believes in your credibility. In 2013, we’ll have more success stories coming out of Kickstarter and Indiegogo, and authors and creators of all stripes will take to using it.
4. Technology as core to the writing experience
As an engineer, I’ve long been a believer in the idea that technology can make anything better. We’ve long had analytics on so many other systems, from web pages to mobile applications, but reading books has always lagged behind. The advent of e-readers and digital books means that for the first time we can give our writers real-time feedback on how readers are engaging with their content. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg — we’ve started experimenting with how we can make narrative changes now that technology has improved, and I’m looking forward to giving our authors even better insights into how their content is seen.
5. Technology as core to the reading experience
Multimedia is one big way in which companies like Atavist have changed the reading experience. Even the illustrious NYTimes did an amazing piece called Snow Fall, an interactive piece about an avalanche with interviews from survivors, graphics showing the path of the avalanche, and other enhancements to the written word. And here at Coliloquy, we have something coming out in a few months that’s going to have some awesome interactive elements. Or to see something we’ve already released, we have some witchy magic from the Spellspinners series:
6. New platforms are springing up for publishing
Micro-publishing (longer than Twitter, shorter than the NYTimes) is something else that took off in 2012. Svbtle and Medium are some of the newer platforms that are beginning to grow in popularity as people are looking to make it easier to publish their thoughts online. These tools are only going to get better as users demand more intuitive interfaces and they start to command a healthy amount of traffic. From a slightly more professional angle, Marco Arment’s The Magazine is the opposite of big publishers throwing huge resources to create things like The Daily that ultimately failed. This isn’t to say that all publishing is going to be on micro-publishing platforms or that The Magazine is showing the way for other publishers (we obviously believe in publishing longer content here at Coliloquy), but there are definitely opportunities there.
7. Publisher consolidation
One of the bigger news items for 2012 was the merger of Random House and Penguin. Agents and authors are worried about what that means for them, as there are sometimes strict rules regarding pitching different imprints at the same publisher, and having one less independent company could mean less experimentation. And if this turns out to be a problem, it’ll probably only get worse from here as most people believe this isn’t the last major consolidation we’ll see in the publisher space, that there will be more as margins continue to contract.
We’re huge believers in serialization here at Coliloquy, and we’ve seen some big launches (other than our own!) last year from Amazon Serials to Plympton. There’s a wealth of benefits that serialization brings, from faster feedback cycles to lower price points to more consistent content from the authors that you know and love. It’s something we continue to work hard at doing right, as we talk to our authors and our readers, and it’s something that will continue to increase in popularity in 2013.
Jeff Bezos has always said that he wanted Amazon to be a company that sold a bunch of stuff and made a little money, rather than a company that sold a small amount of stuff and made a lot of money. This can clearly be seen in their earnings reports, where their margins are some of the lowest in the business, but also in their pricing strategies for their devices like the Kindle or Kindle Fire. Amazon very often prices their devices at cost, and instead make money on services once the device has been sold (e-books on the Kindle, streaming movies through Amazon Prime on the Fire, etc.). There’s no change for 2013, as they’ll probably continue the same strategy.