We now have devices like Kindle Fire HD, iPad, Kindle, Nook HD that enable reading ebooks easily and relatively well. We have ebooks flourishing and continuing to grow rapidly. We have entire armies of self-published authors rising up – hungry for a piece of the reader pie.
Books are going through a very interesting Transition. Perhaps Transitions. One of the biggest challenges is ‘connecting’ Authors with Readers.
- The number of readers is increasing. Perhaps eventually ebooks will reach a state of equilibrium with paper books. By then, the number of people reading books and ebooks might be double the number of people reading books before eReaders arrived. When you consider children, college students, people with weak eyesight, people with weak hands, people who had lost touch with reading, people who can only afford free and cheap books, and similar groups of readers, a doubling doesn’t seem out of reach.
- There’s really astonishing growth in the number of authors. To be precise, the number of authors publishing their books and reaching readers has grown exponentially.
- If you check out Twitter (Kindle Review at Twitter – follow us, we follow back), there might actually be more authors on Twitter than readers. It certainly seems that way to me.
This influx of authors, who are finally getting a shot at reaching readers, leads to a very obvious problem.
Too Many Options for Readers
Imagine you are checking out the Hot Dog stands and Ice Cream stands at a country fair. You used to have -
- A number of big companies (the Big 6) running the stands.
- A few smaller companies running their own little stands in the corner.
- Readers lining up at these stands. For every 100,000 or so readers, there were perhaps 1 or 2 stands.
- Key: The Reader to Stand ratio was roughly 100,000 to 1. Even if we are generous and include all the smaller publishers, the ratio was still at least 10,000 to 1.
- Key: There was a very well-established hierarchy. Everyone knew Sally makes the best lemonade and Rob makes the best burgers. Everyone knew the stands to go to, and what to expect from each.
Now we’re transitioning to a world where -
- Tom, Dick, and Harry and their aunt Daphne and her three sisters and their 2 cousins all have stands. Their best friends, their high school classmates, their great uncle, their dog, and their alligator are thinking of setting up stands too.
- Pretty much anyone who wants to set up a stand, can set one up. Everyone who ever wanted to set up a stand, is thinking about it. The number of food stands and drink stands are exploding.
- Readers don’t know where to line up. They still have the Big 6 stands they are used to, so they often go there. However, the new stands are intriguing and the food is ridiculously cheap. That yellow stand which sells Crocodile Corndogs for 10 cents each seems mighty tempting. As does the red polka dot stand with lamb burgers for 50 cents. Pretty much everyone wants to check out Billy’s Free Lemonade Stand.
- Key: The Reader to Stand ratio is changing fast. We’re down from 10,000 to 1 to 100 to 1. This is a huge change. Now, for every 100 readers, there’s one stand. That’s 100 times more stands than there used to be. New stands keep popping up. We might even reach a stage where there is a stand for every 10 readers.
- Key: No one knows which stand to go to, other than the old established ones from the Big 6. There are 2,371 stands selling home made mango ice cream. Which one is best?
If we tune out all the noise, we can identify and focus on the two main challenges -
- How does a stand accurately convey its quality and options to readers? How does a stand even let people know it exists? Perhaps the only space it could get is in the dark corner behind the rollercoaster. Perhaps the only people who even notice it are the ones not enjoying the ride.
- It’s absolutely overwhelming for readers. Firstly, choosing a stand is terribly hard. Secondly, what the food will be like is a complete unknown. If a random stranger on the street stopped you and offered you a free cheeseburger, what would your first reaction be?
We have created huge problems for both Authors and Readers. Too much choice for readers. No way to know quality for readers. Too much competition for Authors. No way to convey quality for Authors.
Three of the Big Challenges for Authors
The first challenge, and for most authors the insurmountable challenge, is to get Discovered.
No one can buy your book if they don’t know it exists.
This is a core truth. A tautology if you prefer fancy words.
Users can’t buy your book if they don’t know it exists.
This is the step that most authors get stuck at. It’s also the step that kills most companies, most bands, most artists, most technologies.
Discovery is Step 1. The reader discovers the book. Then good things happen.
If Authors do get discovered, there are several new challenges -
- How can readers figure out if the book is a good fit?
- How can readers gauge quality?
- How do readers know if it’s worth the price?
- How do readers tell if the book is properly edited and formatted and typeset?
- How do readers know if it’s worth their time?
A reader finds a book. Then a reader needs data points to make a Decision.
Decision is Step 2. The reader decides to buy the book. Then the author gets read, hopefully.
Now that the author has sold a book, the challenge is – How do we delight the reader and retain the reader and get future purchases?
Delight & Retention is Step 3. Delight the reader so you retain her as a reader.
If we look at Step 1 (Discovery) and Step 2 (Decision) – There’s not very much the author can do without outside help.
- Discovery – The Indie Authors that are mastering marketing and social media and getting themselves discovered are anomalies. Absolute superstars, and yet anomalies. We can’t realistically expect authors to also become marketing experts.
- Currently, that’s what it takes to get Discovered. It’s not scalable.
- Decision – If an Indie Author does get discovered, how on Earth can that indie author convince the reader his/her work is worth the reader’s time and money. Things like Title, Cover, Description are proxies for book quality, but not good ones. Reviews are useful only when they are in sufficient number and when they are well written.
- Indie Authors in addition to mastering Marketing, have to master the Decision step. Things as obtuse as getting/coercing reviews out of reviewers.
- Both Steps are very hard. Both Steps are critical to convince readers to read your books.
The interesting thing is that both steps can be solved by Curation.
Curation – the Missing Link between Readers & Authors
We are seeing readers increase and we might see an eventual doubling of readers. We are seeing the number of authors grow exponentially.
We are not really seeing any big improvements in curation. We aren’t seeing significant increases in the number of curators.
Three Big Curation Problems
The first, and perhaps unsolvable, problem is that the number of books have increased so rapidly that curation becomes 10-100 times more difficult. It’s almost impossible for the existing curators to handle the new curation needs.
The second problem is that curators have to develop trust. They have to figure out how to reach readers. They face the same Discovery and Decision Steps that Authors do. The absolute best romance novel reviewer in the world perhaps has a blog that only 238 people in the entire world know about.
Yet, that one person could help 3 million readers a year find the best romance novels.
The third problem is that crowdsourced curation is being done as ‘sell-side curation’ and not ‘buy side curation’.
Sell-side curation - Curation done by the companies selling the books. This is a big problem because there is a clash in incentives. There isn’t any real financial incentive to be more efficient in curation – in fact, there is a financial incentive to be rather inefficient.
If Amazon & B&N are right only 33% of the time when recommending titles you end up buying. That means 67% of the time they sell you books you don’t end up finishing, perhaps not even the first chapter. They make money regardless.
Buy-side curation would be curation done by people who spent their hard-earned money on the book. It would be curation done in the right Curation Environment and within a suitable Curation Ecosystem. Yes, all reviews in the Nook and Kindle Stores are from people who bought the book. However, the system is set up to avoid things like ‘Formatting Scores’ and ‘Typographical Error Counts’. Things that would be absolutely obvious and necessary in a buy-side crowd-sourced curation model. These are completely, and perhaps intentionally, forgotten in sell-side curation.
Would a sell-side curation engine ever include ‘X% of people finished this book’?
I don’t think so. Because if readers saw ’10% of people finished this book’, half or more of the ones likely to buy it, wouldn’t.
Would anyone care to guess what percentage of books bought at Amazon and B&N are never finished?
Perhaps more than half.
What percentage are never read beyond the first chapter?
How good is a Curation Engine if it’s selling people books where 50% of the books are books the reader won’t ever finish?
A Buy-Side Reader-focused Curation Engine would include things like ’29% of people didn’t read beyond the first chapter’. That would save everyone who’s on the fence. The Sell-Side would never add this information. Well, perhaps they will once they realize that this would lead to more readers and happier readers and more sales from readers.
What is Curation?
This is a tough question.
Let’s start with what Curation is not.
- Curation is not some algorithm showing you things you might want to buy. That’s sales.
- Curation is not impersonal. It has to be aligned with the reader’s tastes.
- Curation is not complicated. It has to be easy to use and easy to understand.
Curation in ebooks should focus on connecting readers with the books and authors that are the best fit for them.
It’s part match-making and part magic.
Curation should work on both ends -
- Authors should be matched with the readers most likely to appreciate and enjoy the author’s work. Authors should be matched with as many such readers as possible.
- Readers should be matched with the books and the authors they will enjoy the most. Readers should be matched carefully, while keeping their best interests at heart (best use of time, best use of money, ease of experience, long-term enjoyment of the author’s works).
Curation is the bridge connecting empowered readers (who have more options than they can handle) with newly free authors (who now have all the freedom in the world but little clue how to reach readers).
Where does the Kindle fit in Curation? Where do devices fit in Curation?
The foundation on which a Buy-Side Curation Engine could be based is recommendations and data input and usage data from real readers.
The Kindle (or for that matter, whatever device the reading is done on) is important for many reasons -
Please Note: All the sharing and connection features would be opt-in. So users who wanted out wouldn’t be forced to participate. Additionally, it would be trends and statistics. No personally identifiable information would be provided.
- The Kindle captures reality. It captures what people actually buy. It captures what people actually read. It captures relationships between books.
- The Kindle connects readers to each other. The network effects, if Amazon and B&N were to enable reader to reader connections, would be incredible. Imagine knowing instantly what everyone else is buying, what they are saying about a book, what they are actually reading. I suspect Amazon and B&N have turned off true social networking features for this precise reason. The stores/platforms completely lose control if real network effects kick in.
- The Kindle is right there. What better time to review a book than right after reading it? What better time to recommend a book than while enjoying it the most? What better way to do a book club than on connected reading devices?
- The Reading Device is the natural place a ‘Decision/Recommendation Engine’ should sit. Each reader should have a personal decision engine that crunches their reading and buying trends and suggests books that are right for them. It would say – Look, Sally. You never read romance novels by Author X beyond the 2nd chapter. So don’t buy this book. Author Z, on the other hand, you devour. Here are 2 books from Author Z.
- This Recommendation Engine would have two parts. The intelligent evolutionary algorithm that is processing all your actions and conjuring up your next reads. This would be on your Kindle. The second part would be the crowd sourced Curation Engine that is figuring out what you will enjoy based on millions of data points from the 10,000 readers most like you (or the million most like you, or the 12 most like you). This would exist in the interconnection of all the Kindles and Nooks and Reading Devices.
- Devices like Kindle and Nook provide companies the ability to figure out Reader DNA and Book DNA and create a near-perfect match. Why is there no progress in these areas? Because these are buying machines and aren’t yet curation machines. These are store kiosks and aren’t yet intelligent servants to readers.
- Fundamentally, a Kindle should be your pet dog (or cat). A reading assistant. Always at your beck and call.
Most of this can be done, albeit rather inelegantly, without the reading devices themselves. However, the most natural place to fit everything is the Kindle (or the Nook).
If a truly efficient Curation Engine were invented, Reading would Prosper Greatly
Truly efficient Curation would result in a lot of good things -
- Readers would read more books they loved. That means their overall reading pleasure would increase. Reading would become more appealing than other activities.
- New Readers would have a greater chance of finding reading true love in their first few books. That means more readers.
- Authors who deserved to get read, would get read more.
- The dependence on bestseller lists and store searches would decrease. As a consequence, the importance of stores would decrease. As would their ability to tilt things in favor of their own ‘chosen’ authors and books.
- The dependence on Publisher approved books would decrease. The importance of Publishers would decrease greatly.
- There would be a better fit between readers and authors. This would lead to reader-focused authors getting more exposure. It would also lead to readers finding the exact right author for them more often.
- The absolute best authors would reach a level of sales and fame that is unprecedented. This might seem antithetical to the idea of a ‘Perfect Match’ Curation Engine. However, the very best authors are a LOT better than the next rung of authors. Curation Engines and eBooks will lead to even bigger Author Superstars.
It might seem that perfect curation would lead to lower book sales, a wider distribution/democratization between authors, less reading, and a general reduction in book revenues.
However, the pleasure of reading would increase. The bang for the buck would increase. The pleasure per reading minute would improve. This would make people tend to read more. We tend to do more of what we greatly enjoy. It would make people read the authors that deserve to be read more often. It would lead to people-created superstars. Sometimes these would be the ones the Big 6 and the Towering 2 are pushing. Sometimes it would be the People’s Champions.
We needed eBooks and eReaders to allow Reading to compete with video games, TVs, movies. They have delivered. Reading is adding readers and authors. It’s flourishing. There has never been a time, ever, when so many people were excited about writing books and reading books.
The next step is a Really Efficient Curation Engine. The Evolutionary Algorithm part tracks your reading habits and your reading reality and suggests new books. The Crowd-Sourced part finds your ‘reading twins’ and helps deliver suitable candidates for your future reading. This Curation Engine really is the next big step. It would greatly increase Reading’s ‘Pleasure Per Reading Minute’ and ‘Pleasure per Dollar’ scores. It would make reading more attractive than many of the other pursuits and passions competing for readers’ time and money.
The next big Inflection Point in books isn’t when Amazon gets 90% market share or when color eInk arrives. It’s when we get an Efficient Curation Engine that pushes Reading well ahead of readers’ other pursuits and passions.