Thursday, October 03, 2013
Why We Need To Challenge Today's eBooks
Offered below are just three arguments that force us to question what we publish today and what we should publish tomorrow. Individually, the arguments may not pass the ‘so what?’ test, but taken together they should ring alarm bells in every publishing building.
Firstly, we often assume we will see and understand change and importantly be prepared for it. The reality is very different and change today is not linear, nor is it predictable and in many cases it is disruptive. The industrial giants of yesterday have been overtaken by technology and networking companies who connect stuff. Things that were once impossible to imagine can now be achieved from anywhere, at any time, in a click. Technology is enabling us to reevaluate how we develop, manage and market content and its associated context. As change happens society adopts and adapts and expectations and values we took for granted also change. Technology is now enabling everyone to be a creator of content and to connect to an audience and this democratisation of creativity is further impacting content formats such as books, film, TV, music, games, photography, art.
Secondly, we are a society, which in the main, has an ownership culture. We buy bricks and mortar and called it home, we then set about filling it with possessions, some transient and throw away and others more assets and collectibles. Our possessions often reflect and describe who we are, or who we aspire to be. Unlike yesterday many rooms may not be filled with shelves of books, music, films, magazines etc. On demand instant access to very large ’libraries’ starts to question the basics need for ownership and opens the market to models such as rental and subscription, which were not attractive in the old analogue world. Netflix, Lovefilm, Prime, Spotify, Pandora are all creating the on demand market in film and music and now the likes of Oyster, Scribd, Amazon and others are following their lead in the ebook market.
Thirdly, the way we read, what we read and when we read and how we spend our leisure time today is increasingly different from 100 years ago, fifty years ago and even 20 years ago, yet the content itself has altered very little. The vast majority of ebooks today take the content developed for the physical container and merely pour it into a digital one. Is that logical? Are we presuming that’s what consumers want? Imagine we could take the text and create a perfect audiobook at a click, would we really expect that to be good enough or just a lazy quick fix. Today audiobooks are adapted from books and professionally read to fit the medium and consumers’ expectations. It’s true that they no longer are restricted by the digital media but just how long would it take to listen to ‘War and Peace’ with a synthesised voice? Screenplays of books adapt the content to fit the format, consumers’ expectations and budget. We do not have many 5 hour films and most fit within 180 to 240 minutes and may only cover a fraction of the book content. We don’t have many 15 minute music tracks and again these are no longer restricted by the media.
So why are ebooks so wedded to the 75,000 word or 256 page economic physical book model?
How we should respond to these arguments today and what will we have to consider tomorrow?
We have been fixated on the end form, the finished book and not the creative process itself which for many has changed very little. We have remained locked to the physical book economics and presumed that the chicken will always lay the ebook egg. We have continued to be obsessed with units sold and largely ignored other models which may cause contract friction. We have continued to pour the same content into a similar digital container without thinking. We continue to view the book as the start and not the book as a potential subsidiary. We have many very well subscribed short story competitions which go nowhere. We have failed to grasp or translate the Japanese Keitai opportunity.
There is no silver bullet. No one solution way forward. Expecting that worked yesterday will continue to work tomorrow, is not good enough.