Since I first started working in the publishing industry, just four years ago, the pace of change has really ramped up. But whether you are talking about the impact of eBooks, the decline of print sales or the growth of mobile devices and online social networking, the big question is, where is all this change taking us?
The way I see it, the future of publishing is all about using new technology to improve access and break down barriers between writers and their audience.
One of the most incredible things about the web is the way it gives us instant access to a wealth of information and tools; things that were previously only accessible to those who could get their hands on the book or computer hardware that it lay inside. It also offers amazing opportunities to produce your own content, interact with other people and to broaden the scope of the creative process itself. These opportunities are where I’ve been focussing my energy.
I co-founded CompletelyNovel in 2008. It is all about giving writers easy access to the professional publishing tools that have traditionally been only available to publishers who had the expertise to produce them and the money to pay high upfront costs.
We use print-on-demand coupled with a smart web interface which lets you easily create print-ready files. This means that the tech knowledge and cost barriers are lowered enough to make book publishing accessible to anyone.
There are still challenges. For example, you still need to take time to create a high quality product, no matter how much people say a good book writes itself! But in our opinion time spent crafting your product yourself, and learning along the way, is better than time spent just waiting for someone else to agree to do that for you.
Essentially, CompletelyNovel is based on a vision of writers as entrepreneurs—something that the wealth of opportunities for low cost marketing through social media also supports. It still takes work, and you might want to pursue the traditional path to getting published simultaneously, but the possibilities are there for writers to find and sell direct to their audience more easily than ever before, without having to go through gatekeepers.
For the last year, we’ve been particularly interested in breaking down different kinds of barriers—improving access to digital books and other premium content that you would typically pay for, such as journal articles. We’ve developed a product called Valobox. It aims to make eBooks as accessible as web pages by incorporating them much more closely into the web. At the moment, it’s focused on non-fiction and I wanted to share a bit of the thought process which has gone into its development.
The reason behind this focus on digital books is that, whilst eBooks in their current format (ePubs, Kindle files, PDFs etc.) are digital files, they don't really work in a way that is compatible with the way we typically use the web. Online, we are used to being able to access content in one or two clicks. If it's not what we want, we go back, or we move on, but it only takes a few seconds to find out if we are interested in that particular piece of content.
eBooks, however, are stored as files which are separate from the web—this means that, to access any of the content within the book (beyond a free sample chapter), you need to go on to a different site, purchase the book, download to your computer or device and then ensure that you have the right software to read it.
We thought we’d come up with a means of accessing all of the information held within books that would be inherent in every web browser, so there is no downloading or installation of specialist software needed. ValoBox does this by streaming books into your browser and letting you store whatever you purchase in the cloud.
Reading a book in the right context is also something that can add a huge amount of value. We wanted to make it possible for books to be read alongside the relevant information or conversations about its subject matter which were already taking place. So if you write a blog on web design, and you happen to know about a great book on the subject, you can simply embed the book in your blog (like a youtube video) and direct people to the most relevant parts.
The other barrier we wanted to break down was the relatively high cost of eBooks, which puts a lot of people off. So we’ve designed a pay as you go model so you only have to pay a page or chapter at a time. This works particularly well for non-fiction where you might want to read across a few books at a time.
ValoBox is in private beta at the moment, but you can sign up and we’ll send you an invite code so you can try it out. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
So in summary: lowering the barriers to enable the production of content by anyone, making access to that content much easier, and developing new ways to pay so that the creators of quality content can be rewarded...that's where I see the future of publishing going.