Big data and publishing / e-books

Everyone seems to be talking about ebooks and how they’ll change these days. Lightspeed ventures recently published a blog post on how tablets and kindles will change reading. It’s here. Go read it first.

Here’s some excerpts of that post that are highly relavent to what we’re going to talk about:

The first attempts to capitalize on a new medium are always simple ports from an old medium. The first TV shows were newscasts – basically the same as radio, a guy reading the news. The first e-commerce sites were cataloges ported to the internet, with the same copy and a single picture. But over time, content that is customized to each medium comes to the fore. Now we have the sit com, the police procedural and the reality show on TV, and flash sales, subscription commerce and daily deals online.  So how will Tablets and Kindles change the way we read?

He subsequently comes up with a bunch of business models that seem to be evolving with ebooks.

They recognized that the economics of print publishing have forced books to be 80-100,000 words long. Anyone who has read a business book knows that this does a disservice to both reader and writer. Some ideas have a natural length less than 100,000 words, and extending them to book length does no good to anyone. But the economics of book publishing, and the public’s willingness to pay for a “small book”, forced this convention. Ebooks have no such constaints, and allow authors to write at any length. Byliner is taking a similar approach, trying to build an eBook centric publisher.

Or how Blurb and Lulu take a different approach and support physical book self-publishing. One additional piece of the puzzle is interactive content for children’s books.
Keeping all this in mind, if we go offtopic and jump into SF&F, Charlie stross as a part of this article argues that science fiction as a genre is dying. You really should read the whole article, but the thing that is most relevant to us is that we’re soon going to encounter a content discovery problem with e-books.
So what do we do?
Well firstly, lets split the problem into separate domains:
  • Publishing side: Publishers getting chewed up by Amazon (Which doesn’t particularly care about the long term health of the industry. Or so it appears)
  • Author side: Is it possible or good to cut the middle man out? What are the services that are provided by publishers that need to be moved over into the internet age? Can we make publishing easier?
  • Consumer side of the house: How can we the consumers find good content? Do books really have to be massive walls of text? Or should they be shorter? More in line with a blog post so we can quickly consume bite sized pieces of information? Can they be interactive? In general, how do we improve the reading experience of e-books with all the possibilities that the medium presents?
Since this turned out to be lengthier than expected, I’d restrict myself to the first bullet: publishers. To condense the idea, what if publishers and authors had the tools to analyze reading patterns from millions of users? Think: What time did readers give up on a book? What is the most interesting / exciting part of a book (As measured by page turning speed) ? Conversely, What is the most boring part of a book? Can you apply this data to predict the success of a book? (Think: An initial sample of users initially get to read the book. Based on this data, you decide if you need to spend how many marketing dollars you need to spend).
What other forms of monetization can you include as a part of an e-book? Movies and TV shows already do product placement, although ads in books might be distasteful to some.
Watch this space. I’m out of juice right now, I’ll update this soon.
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