Lessons from Digital Book World 2018: matching the story to the tech

Lessons from Digital Book World 2018: matching the story to the tech

Digital Book World 2018 (DBW) brought together the wide world of publishing for a period of three days over the course of early October in Nashville, Tennessee. And, as it turns out, the wide world of publishing is quite busy innovating and experimenting, figuring out how to better match content with technological medium.

Corporate publishing

One major topic that Digital Book World covered in-depth was the growth of "corporate" publishing. Corporate publishing describes the publishing operations of companies which are so large that they, out of necessity, publish a wide variety of content, in a wide variety of forms, inside and outside the organization. Groups like Southwest Airlines, Nissan, LifeWay, the American Psychiatric Association, Stripe and others represent this growing trend, among many others.

Corporate publishers have the same workflows, the same challenges, and the same general outlook on much of the publishing landscape as “traditional” publishers. The key is to enable all of these different types of publishers to be able to communicate with each other.

One of the biggest insights that emerged from the DBW “Best Practices in Corporate Publishing” panel is how corporations, and their corporate publishing efforts, have embraced podcasting more as a marketing device. With the exception of Macmillan, which has a large podcasting operation, the biggest publishers in the world have been much slower to utilize podcasting to communicate key messages and evangelize existing content than many corporate publishers have. Using podcasting – both creating podcasts as well as arranging appearances on relevant podcasts hosted by other people or companies – is one of the most effective ways to raise awareness of a new title or publication, whether you’re Southwest Airlines or whether you’re Simon & Schuster.

Voice-first publishing

Another major theme at DBW was the rise of voice technology, or more properly referred to as "voice-first" technology, representing computing in which the primary interface is one's voice. Everything from QWERTY keyboards to the touching, tapping and swiping of touchscreens are deployed as a secondary means only if necessary, in this new world; and voice assistants like Amazon's Alexa, Google's Assistant, Apple's Siri and others mediate a rapidly increasing percentage of our daily interactions with computers and information.

The impact voice-first computing is already having on publishing is profound. Companies like Novel Effect, Tellables, and even brands like LEGO and Sesame Street, are getting into new types of storytelling made possible through voice interaction. Meanwhile, every existing publisher is rapidly evaluating how to get their own content, their own titles, their own IP into these IoT ecosystems, so they can be discovered and monetized and enjoyed.

For existing books in print, when a publisher evaluates whether or not to create and publish an audiobook version of that same title, the ability to leverage that same audio content as an Alexa skill helps increase the likelihood of positive return on investment. For publishers with authors who frequently appear on podcasts or who have strong marketing momentum, taking some of that content and leveraging it within a curated voice experience is just another way to help get the word out.

Voice search

Another major point made at DBW 2018 was the importance of voice search. In the very near future, it won’t matter how much money a publisher spends on marketing a new title if that same new title is not discoverable by voice assistants and their underlying AI. If a potential customer asks Google Assistant, “Hey Google, what is the best book out right now on American politics – I’d like to read that tonight, so can you purchase it and download it to my Kobo Forma?” … is your book able to be found? If someone says, “Hey Siri, that author I just heard on that podcast I just finished…can you tell me what books she has written? She mentioned one on the show, and I’m on Amazon now and want to buy it.” … are you thinking about how to get your content into these ecosystems? If not, it’s a good time to start.

Voice assistants, smart speakers, IoT environments, and voice-first technology in general is the next frontier for content, and several speakers at Digital Book World 2018 discussed the voice landscape to a level of detail not previously seen at a major publishing industry event.

Augmented print

A more under-the-radar trend is the incorporation of micro digital technologies into augmented printed books – an effort led in part by Silicon Valley, which has a deepening interest in the publishing industry that appears like it will only continue to grow.

These technologies have quietly grown and evolved and, in the very near future, will enable any printed book – from Moby Dick to 50 Shades of Grey to Martha Stewart’s latest cookbook to The Bible – to have the printed word complemented with built-in audio, video, and other multimedia finely interlaced into the pages. Imagine turning to the page in your math textbook about triangles, and seeing a right triangle projected into the air which rotates around, while a built-in voice assistant is able to answer, “What is the Pythagorean Theorem again?” and the book displays it on the page.

These technologies exist today and are nearing an inflection point where their utility, in many cases, will exceed their cost; and we’ll start to see a lot of experimentation in 2019 with creation of enhanced print versions of books which contain all manner of supplementary media.

Digital technology in publishing is becoming the most important aspect of the business, and understanding the current technologies – as well as the vanguard ones – is now the job description of publishing executives. It’s important for the industry to stay at the forefront of these trends and watch for new ones to emerge, which will shape how stories are told and sold for years to come.

DBW 2019 will take place Sept. 10-12 in Nashville, Tennessee, USA.