The Future of Story Starts With The Book

I’ve shied away from writing about my company, Graphicly, here on this blog very often. Not sure why. Probably because I obsess about the place of technology in publishing, and how the rapid advancement in ebooks has created a new and exciting place in the content ecosystem for creators.

Publishing hasn’t really changed since the Gutenberg Press. Someone writes a story, someone prints a ton of books, and someone or some store sells that book.

With the adoption of digital books, one would expect the publishing industry to buck against the trend, much like music and movies did.

But, they haven’t. Instead, they have turned towards digital and ran into its waiting arms. All indications are that Random House, the largest publisher in the world will see almost 25% of it’s revenue come from digital. eBooks sales have doubled each year, and are looking to double again. Barnes and Noble is expecting close to a 30% growth in its ebook and college textbook business to nearly $3 billion. Two years ago, the entire industry did $1 billion in ebook sales.

Part of this movement is behavioral. We have never stopped reading. As the internet boomed, we continued to live in a medium that was primarily text-based, but no longer weighed anything. We could read a thousand pages on a single screen. Books as a content delivery device became antiquated and uncomfortable (even as the traditionalist fought for nostalgia).

As my friend Lauren Leto, in her book Judge a Book By It’s Lover wrote:

THERE’S A REASON BOOK lovers are the last ones to hold out in this digital revolution. Music and movie lovers have never had the same pleasure that book lovers have in being able to identify on sight a fellow fan of Tolstoy or Didion. What does the e-reader revolution mean for all of us who get a thrill from noting the book in a stranger’s hands?

Jeff Bezos recently revealed during the new Kindle Fire launch that digital readers read on average 4.5x as much as non-digital readers. We never stopped reading, we just changed how we consumed the content.

And how do we read. More than 2.5 billion books are sold every year. 400 million cook books. Yeah, cook books. Walk into your kitchen. Tell me you don’t have like 10 cook books in there.

Close to a million people are expected to self-publish books of all types this year – mostly digital.

Yet book stores are suffering. Borders - dead. Indie bookstores are dying all over the place. What’s interesting is that this actually fuels ebook sales. The publishing industry is very heavy on the head - The Big Six publishers drive a ton of big name sales, followed by about 100,000 mid-sized publishers and the million or so self-publishers. With it getting more difficult to discover books outside of the big sellers, which the physical stores have to promote and place in prominent locations within the store, publishers are turning to digital – namely the Kindle, iBook and NOOK stores, which are 90%+ of all ebook sales – as channels to promote and drive sales.

So here we stand. Publishers want digital capabilities now. Large publishers are hiring digital staff rapidly, the M&A space is heating up, and more and more digital publishers are getting funded (Oyster is one of my favorites. By productizing Amazon’s Lending Library, there are some really interesting things they can accomplish). Mid-tier publishers are looking for ways to get into the digital game quickly and effectively. Self-publishers all hope to be the next 50 Shades of Grey.

Yet, with this gold rush, the major marketplaces continue to silo their file formats, platforms and interfaces. Any publisher of any size has to deal with as many as 8 or 9 file formats to work with Amazon, Apple and Nook. Three interfaces. Three different agreements. Three different account reps. And there is no sign of change. It makes no sense for Amazon to allow a reader to access their content via anything but a Kindle branded app or device. Same for Apple or Nook. The fragmentation will exist forever. For publishers, it’s is an absolute mess.

At Graphicly, this is the problem we are working on is removing the complexity of conversion, distribution and promotion so authors can do what they do best, tell great stories.

Rather than create a brand new marketplace to compete with Amazon, Apple and Nook, we have created an automated bridge between the publisher and the digital marketplace. Let the publishers do what they do best; let the marketplaces do what they do best. We just provide the connective tissue between the two, and with approximately 5,000 publishers joining the platform in less than 6 months to produce more than 10,000 books, I think we are on to something.

The publishing industry has made the right decision in embracing digital content. It has limited piracy, increased higher margin sales, and has turned into the mass behavioral change that driving increases in reading and decreasing in physical book ownership.

We continue to love stories, and idolize the words that the storytellers among us all weave into our imaginations. Digital books have never meant an end to the story, only the medium in which it’s delivered. The book is being redefined as we speak, as are the story elements themselves.

The future of story is coming, and it all starts with the book.


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