What Publishers Can Learn from TV
Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader published a blog Tuesday hyping a U.K.-based survey that bears good news for ebook lovers. According to UK reading charity Booktrust, ebook adoption is at 29% among respondents. Good news, right? Perhaps, but in light of a more worrisome number, I'm less ecstatic.
As Hoffelder mentioned, and as this Guardian article analyzes further, the survey also asked what kind of media respondents prefer. 45% said that they would rather watch television or movies than read. That's nearly an even split of the British population. Though less scientific, David Carr's New York Times article reflects a similar sentiment: that the Golden Age of Television has pushed reading further down his to-do list. Streaming the latest House of Cards on Netflix or True Detective on HBO GO has led Carr to pick up fewer books.
It's a reminder that, although publishers consider their biggest competitors to be other publishers, other types of media also vie for consumer attention. The media market is more competitive than ever and right now publishers are struggling to hold their share of attention.
We can learn from television's latest renaissance, though. What companies like Netflix and HBO have done so well is adapt their services to the platforms now available in the digital landscape. Ad-free, instantaneous streaming to any device makes subscription fees more than worth it. Throw in all-inclusive apps like HBO GO, and consumers are hooked.
Plus these companies-HBO in particular-have embraced content that no major broadcast company would touch, (can you imagine Fox taking on Game of Thrones?), and as a result have attracted viewers in droves. What's more, the top TV producers, writers, and actors have flocked to these projects because their creativity is unrestrained. It raises the question: What authors are singing the praises of major trade publishers these days and what alternative outlets for their art will they turn to?
Publishers need to take more risks, both in embracing new types of content and adapting content to new platforms. It's not just that HBO slapped existing shows into an ad-free format. It realized that without trying to cram in ads, stories could be told differently. Longer story arcs and greater character development became a natural development. HBO, essentially, "movie-fied" TV.
A similar shift needs to happen in books. Presenting content in the same way on digital platforms as it is presented in print isn't enough. Readers want something new. The audiobook boom and the dawn of ebook subscriptions are a testament to that. It's time for publishers to examine more deeply new digital platforms and ask, "What new kinds of storytelling and reading will these platforms foster?"