By Natalia Erokhina
Last week, from October 23-24 the 5th Books in Browsers summit took place in San Francisco, California. This cozy and vibrant event is focused on the new generation of internet publishing companies and provides an excellent outlook on the top technical trends that impact the publishing industry.
Morning coffee, a cheerful kick off by Peter Brantley from The New York Public Library, and informative keynote by Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, created a foundation for the variety of lively conversations during both days. Despite the activities of the giants such as Google and Amazon, overall publishing industry is at the stage of experimenting and exploring successful ways to convert digital initiatives into significant source of income.
Some of topics covered during the summit could serve as an interesting starting point for the reflections on how to create and monetize new forms of publishing.
Standard as Cooperative Innovation Tool
An impressive talk on the cultural history of standards, delivered by Matthew Battles, metaLAB at Harvard, beautifully led to the conclusion about the importance of the term and the concept behind it for the future of the industry in the technological era. Indeed, from the ancient times, canvas, weights and measures served as a framework for artists, or scientists. Even from a broader perspective, standard represents an agreed level of quality and, especially in the epoch of Big Data, when the amount of available information rapidly increases, it is one of the key factors that differentiate a valuable piece of work.
According to Battles, “Standards are world-making…they operate with each other in order to create new cultural forms”.
Experimental Business Models
Existing technological capabilities, such as animation, sound integration, interactivity, allow converting a paper book to a digital version with significantly extended functionality. A PhD student from UC Berkeley, Mitar Milutinovic, author of the PeerLibrary project, whose research is dedicated to user interfaces for collaboration, pointed out however that the real life experience from reading a book is even more extensive, and, transferring these experiences from offline world to the web, as well as creating unique ones which can only exist online, would help to create a new publishing ecosystem.
The book, or more specifically the content of the book in this case, would be only a part of a publishing platform, while a set of open APIs can help building new ways of communication between readers. This opens an opportunity to explore disruptive for the publishing industry business models and ways of monetization.
Another unusual approach of creating a book, introduced by Katie Zhu of Medium, is similar to creating “a mixed tape.” The main benefit mentioned by the author of the speech is uniqueness of each piece.
Personal Digital Traces: Benefits vs Lack of Privacy
Analysis of user reading behaviors brings significant value added to the advertising efforts. It helps the seller in identifying the target audience, its interests and preferences.
Apart from this classical usage of data, there is another type of consumer for this information: the reader him/herself. Personalized data that is captured by software and hardware can be a stable source of motivation for individual improvement.
A fantastic dialogue between two consequent presentations of, Richard Nash, a publishing consultant, and Nicole Ozer from ACLU of California, touched upon the benefits and privacy issues raised by the existence of reading data analytics.
On one hand, the more information there is at the disposal of an individual, the more consciousness is in the user choices and the opportunities to socialize. For example, in his talk, titled “The true quantified self: give users their own damn reading data,” Nash mentioned several start-up companies, which collect reading data and visualize it for the user. One of them, Roundview, allows to build real-time reading profile, explore preferences of the others and connect with people based on similar interests.
On the other hand, Ozer pointed out that the same trends of data analysis can create serious privacy issues, which, due to the evolution of the internet, are not addressed by any existing law. The question remains open: how do we exploit technology to its full potential while at the same time protecting user’s privacy? Finding the balance, defining what data is really required and in what amounts, was mentioned as essential for retention of the customers.
Emerging Technologies for Publishing
To conclude it may be interesting to have a look at the emerging technological solutions that might affect the publishing industry in the near future. Web, e-readers, smartphones and tablets are already actively used for content consumption. In addition, increasing popularity of wearables such as, for example, Google Glass, may lead to appearance of multiple similar products. How should the content be adapted for the users to read it conveniently and what would be the next DRM solutions? Appearance of these new technologies may create both: additional market opportunities and challenges for the industry.
Natalia Erokhina, formerly of ABBYY, is a recent graduate of the Hult International Business School. She lives in San Francisco. She can be reached via her LinkedIn profile.