Frank Fiore – Novelist & Screenwriter

July 18, 2011

A Perfect Storm

Filed under: Frank Remarks,On Writing — Frank Fiore @ 1:38 PM

There’s a squall front moving in with a set of weather systems that will create a perfect storm for electronic publishing and writers.

The weather systems that will create this perfect storm are:

  • Tablet Computers
  • Apps as Books
  • Adverting Supported Novels
  • Transmedia Books

So what’s the current state of books today?

The Survey Says …

Statistics from Parapub, a publishing industry research organization found:

1. Generally 80% of US households did not buy or read a book last year.

2. 70% of US adults have not been in a bookstore in the past 5 years

3. 42% of college graduates never read another book after college

4. 1/3 of high school graduates never read a book for the rest of their lives

5. 57% of new books are not read to completion

Now we all know that, in general, US adults can read – the grade level is debatable. So why the lousy stats?  Could it be that the book as is no longer offers the immersive experience that interested readers in the past?

Even the Kindle, Nook and Sony reader, thought good stand alone devices, can not give a rich media reading experience that can compete with the rich experience offered by the Internet.

Let’s look at it this way. In the words of Cody Brown:

If you, as an author, see the iPad as a place to ‘publish’ your next book, you are completely missing the point. What do you think would have happened if George Orwell had the iPad? Do you think he would have written for print then copy and pasted his story into the iBookstore? If this didn’t work out well, do you think he would have complained that there aren’t any serious-readers anymore? No. He would have looked at the medium, then blown our minds.

Tablet Computers Will Change Everything

The tablets are coming!

In January of 2011, Forrester Research predicted that by 2015, 82 million U.S. consumers (one-third of U.S. online consumers) will be using a tablet computer. That may be too conservative.

Right now, the Apple iPad owns the tablet market, but a slew of new competitors will hit the market by this Christmas shopping season.

Even Amazon is getting into the act. Seeing the handwriting on the tablet, they plan to release an Android-based PC in the Fall. If Amazon sees that tablets are as good if not a better choice than their Kindle – that tells you something about the future of books.

Tablets are bigger than the eReaders and offer more types of use and more immersive reading experience.

Tablets might just re-invigorate the publishing industry.

There’s An App For That Book

Tablet computers will usher in the use of books as apps.

Even B&N’s Nook sees the future of books as apps. Here’s a quote from a recent press release from Barnes & Noble. Notice how they refer to NOOK Color as a “tablet” and mention apps before books.

“Barnes & Noble continues to make its bestselling, critically acclaimed NOOK Color Reader’s Tablet even better, delivering customers a wide array of high-quality apps, books, interactive children’s books, magazines and more. The company announced it doubled its number of NOOK Apps since recently introducing a broad collection of popular apps.”

An LA Times article stated:

…tablets will offer not just text but also sound, images and video — which will all be commonplace in books someday, in a balance we can’t yet foresee. This may undermine the primacy of text, but the text in most books today is far from sacred, and a little multimedia can do a world of good in most genres — in how-to books, for example. Think back to the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages; even when text was sacred, people liked a little multimedia on the side.

And unlike books files, apps are upgradeable on the fly.  Back to the LA Times article:

When a book is produced as an app, rather than as a file to be read within an app, all the features that might need to appear in an ebook reader app, as listed above, need to be developed specific to that app. This has the advantage of flexibility – features such as navigation and styling can be customized to suit the actual content, and are not limited to the usual set of ebook features. Multimedia can be embedded in creative ways that are not limited by what an ebook reader app may or may not support. Genuine interactivity can be a part of your book app.

In this sense, a book app more closely resembles an edition of a book, with an upgraded version being a new edition – some publishers could view this as a nice source of revenue, persuading people to re-buy an app when they upgrade devices.

Consider this.

When TV first came out and Madison Avenue was creating ads for the new medium, creating an ad was basically the same as creating one for radio. There were still pictures of the product with a voice overlay like radio ads.

It didn’t take Madison Avenue long to discover that, with the new medium of TV, that ads could move!

The challenge is not just to adopt the technology but adapt it to do things differently. Merely taking today’s content and converting it into digital content follows the logic that digital is merely just another format or manifestation and that it will be read the same way.

Or to quote Cody Brown again,

There are literary techniques, (and) there will be iPad techniques. I’m 21, I can say with a lot of confidence that the ‘books’ that come to define my generation will be impossible to print.

Freemium – Advertising Supported Books

The general consensus is that electronic books will continue to drop in price and that the eventual price for an electronic book will be zero.

If this is true, how will publishers and authors make money?

Get a free book – see and ad? Has it’s time come?

Too new idea of an idea? Nope. Not really.

If you want to see the future, you can go back in time: see Galleycat’s brief history shows that ads in books aren’t new.

Peter Lebensold explained that “the earliest Penguin paperbacks (published for British servicemen during WWII) also had ads — for the likes of Gillette.”

Reader Andrew Wheeler wrote that “paperbacks from the ’60s and ’70s routinely had bound-in advertisements,” and reminded us that author Fay Weldon pioneered the art of novel product placement with her book, The Bulgari Connection. As reported in 2001, Weldon was paid by the Bulgari jewelry company to include the brand in her story.

Quoted in M.J. Rose‘s an excellent Salon.com piece about the topic, Weldon defended the practice: “It always seemed to me that in advertising you were making up little stories and using language to sell products. And with novels you were making up little stories and using language to sell ideas. So for a while I sold products and then I moved on and sold ideas — like feminism. And now I’ve done a book that is mostly one but a little bit of the other.”

Amazon is already flirting with the idea but from the wrong direction. They are discounting the price of their platform – the Kindle eReader – instead of the actual content – the book.

But that will change when ads in electronic books become the norm and new economic model will be established.

The storm clouds are building on the publishing industry. If writers and publishers are smart, they will weather the storm by keeping in mind the weather systems discussed here and remember just what business-and it is a business-they are really in.

The failure to think about what job your product does for the customer, rather than the tools or approach you’ve used to do that job, is the reason why many established companies fail to make the transition when there is a technological change.

Hence the old saw, “If the railroads had realized they were transportation companies, they’d be airlines today.”

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