The last couple years have been a time of change for the publishing industry, and I expect this year to be the same. Every few weeks I’ve been hearing about new startups and ventures that expect to–and probably will–disrupt publishing. I think it’s worth sharing some of them here, and what their success could mean for publishing, both traditional and indie.
Search and Semantics
Three days ago, Facebook announced the beta for a new feature, known as Graph Search. Some are saying that Graph Search could eventually make Facebook a big threat to Google, but it will probably take some time. In the meanwhile, Graph Search will change the way brands and people interact on Facebook, according to John Battelle. From what I understand, Graph Search utilizes Facebook’s trove of data about people to make social search very easy. Battelle wrote in a blog post that Facebook has many tagged entities, and the beta version will have four types of tags: people, photos, places, and interests. So, as an example, Battelle wrote that people could theoretically search for a friend of a friend with similar interests, if they’re looking to date, or search for a friend of a friend with certain qualifications or skills, if they’re looking to hire someone for a company. As a result, Battelle predicts that people and brands will add more information to their profiles, so as not to be left out of searches.
Now, how might this change publishing? Some people have suggested that having more metadata on Facebook will make it easier for publishers and authors to do research. They could search to find out what kind of books their friends like, or who reads a book by a particular author or with a certain writing style and where they live (demographics). They could then use that information to market to their target audience, and recommend their books to people who like similar authors or writing styles. Others have said the books themselves could be marked up to be more searchable, kind of like SEO.
And speaking of search engine optimization, Inkling has developed a platform that utilizes Google searches to make books appear more often in searches, which they’re hoping will cut into sales on Amazon. Right now they’re focusing on non-fiction titles, and they’re using their proprietary content management technology to tag every piece of content–meaning paragraphs, images, videos, etc. I actually had this idea a while back for Write or Read. I was fortunate to have had a series of conversations with Brett Sandusky (who is currently working on a very interesting and potentially disrupting startup himself, called The Holocene), about adding more metadata to ebooks and tagging paragraphs to make them more searchable. However, until now, I wasn’t sure it was entirely possible. Now it sounds exciting.
Publisher’s Weekly wrote that Inkling’s platform will allow readers to buy chunks of text, if they don’t want to purchase a whole book based on what they found via Google search. Inkling will also show publishers data on all their content, such as conversion metrics and how often their titles show up in searches. The idea is for publishers to be able to optimize their content better for the web, which I think works better for non-fiction than fiction.
Discovery and Recommendations
I made this a separate category because instead of focusing on tagging and search, these companies use social media and other means to make books more discoverable and give readers recommendations. Libboo is a new discovery platform that connects people who add to buzz about books with new books they will want to read. They set up a network of buzzers who can earn rewards, such as free books, by sharing links and news about new books with their friends through email and social media. This helps authors, especially indie authors, build platforms and create excitement for their books before the books are published, which hopefully helps increase sales. I haven’t used the service myself, but if it works, it takes away a lot of the risk of self-publishing.
In a sense it’s similar to Zola Books, except Zola focuses more on curation. On Zola’s site, users can follow book reviewers they like (or who have similar tastes), and trust the reviewer’s lists to find out what to read next. (Read more about Zola Books in my blog post, “Zola Books: A Review.”)
BookScout is an interesting app that is only on Facebook. The app allows readers to save, share, discover, and even buy books on Facebook. By signing up, users allow the app to see all their information. The app uses people’s interests and likes on Facebook (especially favorited books) to recommend new books they might want to read.
Marvin is a new, free (for now), iOS only, e-reading app. What makes Marvin so interesting is it has a lot of complex features, such as the ability to scan an entire book in seconds and summarize the story, or pull out names of important characters. It can also search for relevant information online about books in its library, such as reviews, and save them as annotations, as well as add new books via Dropbox. Although it sounds like the app is geared more towards fiction readers, I could see this being a first step towards making e-textbooks more popular.
ReadSocial is a really cool platform that integrates social features and commentary to every paragraph of a book. Readers can comment on particular passages within tablets or online, and they can add images and links. But what I think is the best feature is the ability to create virtual groups using hashtags. This can create virtual reading groups. For example, one reader can use the hashtag #funfiction to create a group. Then other users can contribute comments to books using that hashtag, and they can focus on what certain groups say about books. It’s like combining Google Plus’ circles with Twitter’s hashtags. SocialBook is another site that has a similar service.
Most ebook platforms for self-publishers nowadays seem to focus on distribution, conversion, and finding services. Both platforms I’m mentioning here do similar things, but I like both websites and they’re both relaunching to add new features and tailor to indie ebook publishing, so I thought they were worth writing about.
Yesterday, Book Country relaunched a newly designed website that includes a lot of new features. In the email they sent out to users ahead of time, they highlighted the following changes: free ebook creation and distribution, higher royalties (85%), and an online editor to let users know of formatting issues. (Read more about Book Country in my blog post, “BEA Day 2: Book Country.”)
Pubslush, a funding platform for writers, announced yesterday that they will be adding a marketplace of freelancers, where authors using the platform can find editors, marketers, designers, and other people they may need to successfully publish. It is similar to Bibliocrunch, but the differentiation seems to be that Pubslush also helps with funding and in some cases publishes books.