Automation May Be Road Forward for Enriched Ebooks
You've probably heard me say that we live in a print-under-glass world, one where we're consuming dumb content on smart devices. It's true simply because, as Michael Bhaskar of Canelo Publishing stated it at BEA, "publishers treat ebooks as a secondary priority."
It's far too easy to quickly convert the print edition to a static e-edition and drive some incremental revenue. Meanwhile, more and more publishers are starting to report flattening ebook sales.
I believe part of the problem is due to the fact that many consumers who aren't already buying ebooks are holding off because they're satisfied with print and see no significant benefit of switching to e. The Bookseller recently reported that millennials are "least likely to buy ebooks." We're talking about a born-digital generation, one that has come to expect rich, immersive experiences in everything digital. It's no wonder why they haven't warmed up to today's ebook experience.
Publishers and authors sometimes balk at the notion of creating anything beyond the static ebook. They question the ROI as well as the time and effort required. That's a reasonable response, particularly given the various failed experiments with native apps and other digital platforms. Plus, some ebooks are perfect just the way they are; readers don't want or need them to incorporate extra digital bells and whistles.
But there are plenty of other books and entire genres that would dramatically benefit from a deeper digital experience. Think reference and how-to content. Videos, photo galleries, and any one of the various web widgets could add significant value.
So what's a publisher to do when it's hard enough just getting the manuscript from the author?
I think it's reasonable to expect that in the next few years we'll see content that self-enriches. The application or reading platform will handle the details and little, if any, human curator intervention will be required.
While it's true that automated enrichment might never match the quality of human enrichment, the former will be a huge step in the right direction, hopefully priming the pump for more of the latter to eventually take place.