This article is part of CMO.com’s September series on the state of media and entertainment. Click here for more.
Figures released by the Publishers Association in April 2017 showed that 2016 was a record-breaking year for the publishing industry, with sales of books and journals reaching £4.8 billion, their highest-ever level. But digital is disrupting the way the traditional publishing industry model works, presenting an opportunity for new entrants.
One company aiming to explode the traditional B2B model of traditional publishers by creating a direct relationship between readers and writers is Unbound. Based on a crowdfunding model, Unbound’s commissioning editors decide if a book pitch has potential, and, if so, the author launches their proposition on the site. Readers who want to see the book published can pledge their donation in return for various rewards such as their name printed in the back of the book or even an experience with the author. When the funding total is reached, the book is published.
Connecting Readers With Authors
John Mitchinson, co-founder of Unbound, said the crowdfunding model had a number of benefits, not least a fairer deal for authors: “As a 50/50 profit share, Unbound only makes money if its authors do.” And in what must be music to the ears of any author, the model gives them creative control. “They get to publish the book they really wanted to write, not what a publisher’s marketing department tells them to.”
The company has published over 265 books since launching in 2010, and, this year, one book reached its funding target in just seven hours. “The rapid growth of Unbound seems to reinforce our original insight that plugging authors and readers into each other directly releases a massive amount of latent energy,” Mitchinson said. “Crowdfunding is teaching a whole generation of creatives (authors included) how to develop and market their ideas and stories directly.” He added that he saw the company growing in numerous directions, and that it was already moving into podcasts and audio books.
Judging A Book By Its Cover
As with many industries, data is also playing an important role in the changing landscape, not least when it comes to better understanding readers. “Historically, book publishing has been very much driven by ‘gut instinct,’ personal judgment, fads, trends, and similar,” Andrew Rhomberg, founder of JellyBooks, said. JellyBooks specialises in collecting and analysing reading data. “What we are trying to achieve is to put publishing on a more data and analytics-based footing. Our goal is to identify for each book what its audience actually is and connect the right book with the right audience.”
JellyBooks was born out of the need for publishers to gain deeper understanding of how consumers read books. As Rhomberg observed, ebook data offered insights such as whether a reader actually finished a book and the depth of engagement, for example, but such data was held by industry giants such as Google, Amazon, and Apple. “The only data point most publishers have is how many units a book has sold, but book publishers have no usage data, not even for their own books.”
The company’s solution collects ebook reading data from a range of third-party apps, an approach Rhomberg described as “Google Analytics for ebooks.” The data is collected, analysed, visualized, and interpreted for publishers, with clients including Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster.
One of the most popular usages is A/B testing of book covers, which enables a publisher to understand how covers influence a user, for example, and whether they will recommend it to friends. “Covers have an incredibly strong psychological influence on readers that is mostly subconscious, meaning readers are not even aware that they are being influenced by the cover,” Rhomberg said. “As a result, publishers can develop the cover that maximises sales, satisfaction, and word-of-mouth potential for a book.”
Using AI To Meet Modern Expectations
Data is also driving Booktrack, a company whose investors include PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. Booktrack uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to create movie-style soundtracks for audiobooks, something which was previously cost-prohibitive to create and scale. Paul Cameron, founder of Booktrack, said audiobooks needed to evolve to meet consumers’ expectations. “Listeners want a modern immersive soundtrack experience added to the narration, but it is too expensive to produce.”
AI analyses the audio/text of the story and, using natural language processing and machine learning from over the 100,000 or more soundtracks that have already been created on Booktrack’s platform, the AI creates a music soundtrack that matches the tone, emotion, and excitement levels of the story as it unfolds.
The use of AI enables an entire ebook soundtrack to be created in just five minutes, something which would otherwise take a studio two months and, according to Cameron, cost over $20,000 to create. While the company is currently focused on meeting demand from publishers looking for audiobook soundtracks—clients include HarperCollins, Hachette, and Canelo—it also has plans to explore how it can apply AI in other ways, including video, artificial reality, and virtual reality.
This gradual disruption of the publishing industry looks to benefit both authors and readers, delivering what readers want with greater speed and accuracy, and further enhancing the reading experience. In an industry that Mitchinson described as “increasingly hit-driven,” publishing certainly looks to be entering a new chapter.