Harnessing the "Closed-Loop Power" of Mobile Technologies
Are mobile technologies friends or foes of books?
It is an ongoing debate and one that is becoming increasingly polarized given the rapid emergence and proliferation of "app culture." Social media. Games. Music. Weather. Sports. Search. Ecommerce. All this content is at our fingertips. Does such mixed media threaten the relevance and value of reading books? Many legacy publishers seem to think so.
Old-school types are prone to view such mobile capabilities as distractions and deterrents to reading. They argue that consumers today are more incentivized to pick up a smart phone and scan Twitter than to pick up a book and indulge in big ideas. For publishers, immediate gratification is the villain and social apps are its weapons. How can the time-honored tradition of reading books in solitude and serenity possibly hope to compete on this seemingly slanted playing field? By harnessing the closed-loop power of mobile technologies.
This belief energizes everything we do at Snippet. Through the development of a few reader-centric technologies, including our Snippet Reading App, we've discovered a universal pattern that publishers large and small, old and new, can embrace to revitalize their relevance and resurrect their revenues. This pattern is one of integrated, multi-level experiences that reward consumer engagement and beget more engagement.
Such closed-loop experiences begin with the central puzzle. In games, that's the first level or first series of quests. In social media, that's the first provocative idea or emotional update. These puzzles are catalysts for critical thinking and incentives for participation. The most addictive games and most trafficked social media channels are those that smoothly integrate community, identity, and social recognition into these experiences. When these forces combine, the closed-loop effect takes place: The consumer is magnetically drawn to engage and re-engage.
Closing the Loop
This phenomenon is precisely what old-school types rail against -- arguing mobile apps unfairly compete for the time and attention of readers. It's also the same phenomenon that is available to publishers should they choose to unshackle themselves from 20th century thinking and walk into the light of 21st century possibilities. Here's how publishers can harness this power too:
- First, books need to remain central to the overall experience but in an evolved form. Intentionally crafting books with key ideas and stories that require continued participation beyond the central book is key. This evolution is how books can become a more attractive "puzzle" that, when engaged and completed, "unlocks" the next level -- the next opportunity to engage with the idea or story to advance the reader's mastery of the idea or satisfaction with the storyline.
- "Out of book" experiences need to be available to nurture the reader's desire to continue her engagement with the idea or story. Books that remain islands unto themselves may be magnificent but they won't foster the expanded network effects publishers (and their authors) crave. Such next-level experiences may be multimedia content embedded within the book or in an easily accessible location adjacent to the primary reading experience. Whatever the form, the opportunity to continue the experience has to be present and obvious.
- That continued experience should, in part, provide the reader with an intimate sense of community and identity. Authors that have gotten their start by building online brands and audiences know well the value of this strategy. The much discussed "author platform" epitomizes the closed-loop phenomenon in practice. To date, authors are expected to build and maintain their own closed-looped platforms entirely themselves. Why? Publishers would do well to study and adapt such models to their own processes to galvanize readers' loyalty not only to an individual book or author but also to the publisher -- its brand, imprints, and assembly of authors. This sense of community is paramount to maintaining the closed-loop effect.
Employing such tools as book landing pages, email lists, dedicated social media groups, and private content/reading apps, publishers can engineer an ecosystem that is alive with people engaging in thought and expression anchored in the merits of the book. The book remains the centerpiece and linchpin, but it isn't regarded selfishly as the only "true" experience. The book experience is not the end -- it's merely the beginning.
This trajectory for books and the entire book industry is made possible thanks to the mobile technologies that consumers of all media types have already become comfortable with. Why fight that permanent behavior shift? Publishers need to embrace it. Publishers need to position the books they publish within mobile contexts rich with integrated, multi-level experiences. Publishers need to accept that they're no longer in the business of distributing books; they're now in the business of fostering communities around provocative ideas and tantalizing stories.
Publishers that don't move quickly to embrace these new consumer behaviors will continue to operate their businesses upon a foundation of quicksand. If a publisher finds itself sinking and struggling to escape, it needs to look for a friend to pull it out. Mobile technologies can and should be that friend. They aren't enemies; they're allies. And as the brave new world of publishing continues to unfold, publishers need as many powerful allies as they can get.
Related story: The 2015 Book Business Buyer’s Guide