Like other industries (e.g. newspapers, music, entertainment, etc.), the web will have a transformative impact on book publishing. In fact, my belief is that the coming 2 years will see dramatic shifts – the book publishing industry will never be the same.
Production / Printing
Self-publishing has arrived and it’s here to stay. Moving the book publishing process into the cloud significantly empowers the author. Now, authors “prepare the print run” via the web, making tweaks and edits as they see fit. The cloud has ushered in an era of on-demand printing – or, what I call “agile printing“. With traditional book publishing, the Second Edition of a book may come out a year later. With agile printing, it’s possible for the Second Edition to be published the next day.
This does not mean that traditional book publishers will face complete disintermediation. Instead, I believe savvy publishers will incorporate “cloud technologies” into their publishing process, streamlining the process for editors and authors. Publishers will rightly conclude that the publishing process could leverage a lot of the same convenience of blog publishing.
You can put the power of the crowd to work for you and sustain results as good as a single expert. That’s just what Facebook did to enable Facebook.com to be available in 64 languages. You can add the Facebook Translations application and “join our community of translators and make Facebook available in your language”.
I see a similar opportunity for basic copy editing. Authors can tap into crowdsourcing providers to have a network of hundreds (or thousands) of “workers” collectively provide copy editing of their manuscript. To cut costs, traditional book publishers may look to crowdsource copy editing, with a smaller staff of editors in place to “quality check” the resulting work.
What’s better than one author? Two or more authors. The beauty of “publishing from the cloud” is that your social graph can be invited directly into the manuscript. I published my book via FastPencil and it gave me the option of inviting in project managers, co-authors, editors and reviewers to collaborate on my project.
I believe that authors will increasingly bring their social graph into the publishing process. Survey the suitability of your book to a prior generation by inviting your aunt to review Chapter 2 and then invite past business partners in to write a few chapters. With self-publishing, we’ll see more “chapter books”, where a collection of experts each write one chapter.
Migration to Digital Readers
While some will insist on sticking to the printed format, we’ll be reading more and more books via digital form. The combination of digital plus “online” will dramatically change the reading experience in the coming years. Already, the Amazon Kindle 3 allows readers to copy a selection from the book and share it on Twitter or Facebook. With digital devices, the reading experience moves from solitary to social.
In the early days of Facebook, I interacted with friends, but it was asynchronous. I’d post, then an hour later, they’d respond. With Facebook Chat, I’m now noticing that certain friends want to interact in real-time, directly on Facebook.
Book reading will take on similar dynamics. I’ll carry my social graph onto my device (if I choose to) and see which friends are reading the same book as me – right now. I can start a chat with my friend to discuss Chapter 3. Or, I can perform a “scan” to see a list of other online users who are reading the same book right now. The “book of the month club” becomes virtual and global.
Subcription (Rental) Model
On college campuses, Chegg is innovating with a textbook rental business. With digital books, someone will come along soon (Netflix more likely than Amazon) to disrupt the market with a cloud-based subscription model. I think the days of “purchasing to own” digital books are numbered. I think of a digital book like a DVD – I consume it, I enjoy it, I move on. I don’t need to own it.
With a subscription model, I may get up to 10 digital books per month. The book content is served up from the cloud, which means I can read it from any device – and I can bookmark the page and move from my laptop to my smartphone.
When I’m done, I “return” the book and can access my next book. Of course, the challenge will be in the licensing agreements with book publishers – something Netflix has been working through with movie studios for their streaming service. And, we’ll need an “offline reading mode” for times when users are not connected to the net.
As a new author, I’m excited to see what lies ahead for book publishing. Based on the web, the cloud and social media, it’s never been a better time to be an author.