Why Book Abundance Is a Problem and How Publishers Can Fix It
Curation is a term that is thrown around a lot, observed Michael Bhaskar during the first session of the IDPF Digital Book Conference in New York. "Usually by hipsters who talk about curating the cat pictures on their Instagram page," he added. But curation for publishers means so much more. Bhaskar, who is releasing a new book entitled Curation: How the Power of Selection is Managing Overload, argued that curation is an unavoidable part of publishing's future because there are simply too many books. "One of the biggest problems we don't think about in publishing is abundance."
To put that abundance into context, Bhaskar cited that 1 million new books are created every year. This is of course perpetuated by new technology that makes the creation and distribution of books easier than ever. But, like the abundance of information on the internet, this wealth of books overwhelms readers. It forces readers to search out curators that make the digestion of content more manageable.
Defined, curation is selecting and arranging to add value, said Bhaskar, and we see it in a lot of industries. In particular, consumers experience the Internet through curation. Facebook, for example, allows its user to find the content they want by using algorithms that recommend content based on user data and social recommendations from friends.
Why is curation important for publishers? Simply put, it encourages greater purchasing. Bhaskar pointed to a study done several years ago that tested how many jars of jams consumers would buy if they had more choice versus a limited selection. Overwhelmingly consumers that browsed the limited set of jams bought more than those who had a wider choice. By utilizing curation strategies, publishers can actually prompt more purchases.
Who the curators are in the book industry has changed, though. Editors and imprints used to be the gatekeepers of content, but today those gatekeepers are the readers themselves. "The way people discover books is people-centered," said Bhaskar. "That is a key and unprecedented change in the book industry." Facilitating that shift are technology companies such as Goodreads and Wattpad, which put the reader at the center of the book reading experience.
But book publishers shouldn't abandon their traditional role as book gatekeepers. Today more than ever they can provide a useful service to readers by curating their book lists, said Bhaskar and return to their "core role of being very powerful and exclusive selectors of books." New technology is needed, of course, from CRMs to newsletter services, but it is something more and more publishers will be pursuing said Bhaskar and will be an integral part of publishing's future.
Look for more coverage from IDPF to come, and in particular look for more commentary on the reader-centric, D2C movement in the book industry, which is the fitting focus of this year's Digital Book Conference.
Ellen Harvey is a freelance writer and editor who covers the latest technologies and strategies reshaping the publishing landscape. She previously served as the Senior Editor at Publishing Executive and Book Business.