Category Archives: Digital Revolution

Platform Capitalism: The New Economy of the Future?

My latest article, just published on Impakter Magazine:

BOOK REVIEW: PLATFORM CAPITALISM BY NICK SRNICEK, PUBLISHED BY POLITY (DECEMBER 2016) 120 PAGES

Platform Capitalism

Platform capitalism is the latest buzzword, replacing what used to be called “eco-systems”. It is also sometimes confused with the “gig economy” or the “sharing economy”, enthusiastically embraced by politicians as the answer to the Great Recession.

Uber, AirBnB, TaskRabbit and the like are viewed as saviors, providing jobs to those who wouldn’t have any or rounding off the pay of those who make too little. Their apps create a digital space where service providers and users meet; the needs of the latter are satisfied by the former while the app owners take a fair percentage off every transaction.

THE BLESSED AGE OF POST-CAPITALISM?

Technology enthusiasts see platform capitalism, created by the digital revolution, as a benign form of capitalism ushering in a new blessed age where people come into their own, workers find instant demand for their services and consumers get what they want at the tap of a button on their smartphone.

Before we go on, let’s get one piece of semantics out of the way: Platform capitalism should not be confused with the “sharing economy” (insofar as it exists at all). Platform capitalism has nothing to do with “sharing” in the sense of an exchange of goods or services at no cost to those engaged in the exchange. Platform capitalism is capitalism pure and simple: You pay for the goods and services you get, nothing is free – even if transaction costs tend to be lower online. Lower but still substantial: Uber, for example, creams off 25 percent of every taxi ride. The difference is that it’s not done through an exchange of cash in the real world, it is done digitally.

And, according to the proponents of platform capitalism, there is an added advantage: The middleman is cut out, costs to users are thus automatically reduced. This is the capitalism of the future, they enthuse. Thanks to the digital revolution, we are into the age of “post-capitalism”.

Not true, argue the critics: The basic exploitative nature of capitalism has not changed. Middlemen are replaced by new gatekeepers. “Many of the old middlemen and retailers disappear but only to be replaced by much more powerful gatekeepers,” complained one disgruntled German blogger.

Is platform capitalism heralding a bright new future or is it just the latest form of exploitative capitalism?

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

Advertisements

Comments Off on Platform Capitalism: The New Economy of the Future?

Filed under Book review, Digital Revolution, Economics, non-fiction, politics, Startups, Tech

SILICON VALLEY: WHAT IT TAKES TO DO STARTUPS – Book Review

Here’s another one of my articles published today on Impakter:



SILICON VALLEY: WHAT IT TAKES TO DO STARTUPS

Book Review: Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley by Antonio Garcìa Martinez (HarperCollins, 2016, 528 pages)

Chaos Monkeys Book Cover

Silicon Valley continues to be hot news in the age of Trump and anti-globalization and it should come as no surprise that a clever book about it by someone in the know, loaded with revelatory insights on how it really works, was going to be a sure-fire hit. And that is exactly what happened when Antonio García Martinez’s half memoir-half prescriptive tech guidebook came out last year on 28 June 2016, becoming an instant “New York Times bestseller”. Considered an “irreverent exposé of life inside the tech bubble”, all the major book reviewers rushed in with praise, from the New York Times’ Jonathan E. Knee (“an irresistible and indispensable 360-degree guide to the new technology establishment”) to Bloomberg’s Ellen Huet (“dives into the unburnished, day-to-day realities: the frantic pivots, the enthusiastic ass-kissing, the excruciating internal politics”).

In short, in just six months, “Chaos Monkeys” has become the most popular and widely read book about Silicon Valley. I was curious to find out whether it merited its sudden glory. I uploaded it to my Kindle (disclosure: living far from bookstores, I am a fan of e-books) and I spent a couple of pleasant days enjoying the read. And I soon discovered that the best passages, literally pearls in the text, had been highlighted hundreds of time by enthusiastic fans. In fact, Amazon in its “about the book” section informs you that (at the time of my reading) 3,769 passages had been highlighted 122,000 times (ah, the joys of Big Data).

It is a clever book with a clever title, and a great read. In case you’re wondering about the title, it comes from the name given to the software procedure used to test the stability and resilience of online services/websites – and this neatly expresses the main message of the book: That tech entrepreneurs are society’s chaos monkeys, out to disrupt the way we live, from photo-sharing (Instagram), dating (Tinder) and movie viewing (Netflix) to transport (Uber), lodging (AirBnB) and space travel (SpaceX).

Unquestionably, the author’s persona was as much part of the excitement as his bracing writing style. Described as an “industry provocateur” on his Amazon book description page, he has lived up to his reputation and become something of an industry guru: today, whenever big news or scandals roil Silicon Valley, journalists rush to ask him his opinion.

 

Garcìa Martinez started his working life as a strategist for Goldman Sachs, survived three years and surprised everyone by abandoning New York for the West Coast. After learning the ropes at an IT advertising outfit called Adchemy, he launched his own start-up AdGrok with a couple of engineering pals (called “the boys” in his book). Ten months later, after raising some venture capital and before even making AdGrok operational, he sold it to Twitter for $5 million. However, it was not an unmitigated success; his team broke up, “the boys” went to work for Twitter to develop AdGrok while he accepted a more lucrative position at Facebook as product manager. Tasked with leveraging Facebook’s user data to make its advertising more effective and fix its monetization problem, he was outcompeted by a colleague and fired – the circumstances of his firing make for fascinating reading.

The description of what Facebook is like, what happened there and why he eventually left and landed an advisory position at Twitter is certainly one of the more interesting parts of the book – anyone thinking of joining Facebook should read it very carefully, drawing lessons from it.

The rest on Impakter, to read it, click here.

Comments Off on SILICON VALLEY: WHAT IT TAKES TO DO STARTUPS – Book Review

Filed under Book review, Digital Revolution, Publishing, Startups, Tech, Uncategorized

To Self-Publish and Perish: Buried Under 3.4 Million E-Books

 I finally found where Amazon reveals a hidden (and juicy) statistic: the number of ebooks available in the Kindle Store. If you’re an Amazon Associate, you can easily find it too but to make it simple I took a screen shot of the page where it shows, this one dated August 16, 2014:

Look at what the red arrow points to: “Results from Amazon Kindle Store…3,376,174 results”. That’s how many ebooks are stocked in the Kindle Store as of now: 3.4 million.

And by the time I had finished writing this blog post (one hour later) that number had climbed to…3,376,186! It took one hour to add 12 books, one new title every five minutes.  In 24 hours, the number had climbed to 3,378,960, that’s 2786 more books – let’s say, 2,800 a day, that’s over one million books per year – and probably growing at an exponential rate that I cannot calculate for the moment; I haven’t got the data though Amazon does (I wonder whether they are as scared as I am).

You can bet that in 10 years time the number of titles in the Kindle Store could be anywhere between 20 and 40 million books.

This is as many books as Google is said to have scanned globally, drawing from all the world’s libraries (the latest reported figure dates to last year and was 33 million books).

Surprised? I’m not, not really. Internet guru Jaron Lanier, in his fascinating book “Who Owns the Future” suggests that we should eventually expect as many writers online as there are readers. If he’s right (and there’s not reason to believe him wrong), we still have some way to go. But it will surely happen, and probably sooner than you think.

It’s also very instructive to look at the list of titles provided using the filter “new and popular” (the one I used – but there are other filters too depending on what you’re looking for) and you’ll see that Daniel Silva‘s “The Heist” (the 14th book in the Allon series) comes on top: it was published on 15 July 2014 and already got over 1,200 customer reviews. Not unsuprisingly it is is ranked #51 in “paid Kindle” and #1 in several subcategories including mystery and suspense.

By the way, “The Heist” is published by one of the Big Five (Harper) and priced at an average $14 which is standard for traditionally published books. That price, high in relation to the average price for self-published books (which according to Smashwords is around $3.99), does not seem to have impeded its sales or ranking. This is not to say that traditional publishers can get away with any level of high prices – I would argue that a level beyond $14 is damaging and ensures that some excellent writers, like William T. Volmann, perhaps our times’ major “fabulist”, is not as widely read as he could be. His latest book, Last Stories and Other Stories, is priced at over $22, a price equivalent to the hardcover.   That places him well beyond the reach of the average e-book reader, in practice excluding him from any exposure in the Kindle Store. Don’t be surprised if his book is sitting at #42,967 Paid in Kindle Store in spite of the boost it has received in the mainstream media, most recently the New York Times (see here).

Indeed, if anything, books that are priced high and traditionally published seem to occupy the first ranks everywhere on Amazon. And I’m not referring to special cases like John Green’s best-selling “The Fault in our Stars” with over 29,000 customer reviews and a ranking in paid Kindle at #8 for books, although it is noteworthy that its ranking is not the same in the ebook market (it sits at # 3,810). Here I am looking at the Kindle Store only and what pops up in the ranks is often quite different from what emerges in printed books, and why it is so, is a story for another blog post.

In any case, whether looking at the printed or ebook markets, you have to look hard for self-published authors though, undeniably, they are there…Hugh Howey with over 2,000 reviews for his Dust (book 3 of the WOOL trilogy) is sitting at #815 in “paid in Kindle Store”; Bella Andre’s Kiss Me Like This at #642 (it came out in June 2014 and has over 170 reviews); J.A. Konrath’s Whiskey Sour at #1615 (it came out in February 2013 and has nearly 1,200 reviews); Barry Eisler‘s Graveyard of Memories at #5,136 (it came out in February 2014 and already has over 600 reviews) – but Eisler’s book is published by an Amazon imprint, Thomas and Mercer, and he cannot be thought of as a self-published author stricto sensu, though he often sides with indies and famously walked away from a big publisher’s contract a few years ago.

The conclusion? Self-published authors, even the most successful ones, aren’t doing badly of course, but they are certainly not doing as well in terms of exposure as traditionally published authors. Sometimes, a traditionally published author who finds herself retrograded to the “midlist”, with the publisher giving no signs of wishing to renew the contract, may have no choice but to self-publish to survive. This is what Eileen Goudge did and so elegantly explained in a blog post here on Jane Friedman‘s blog, enticingly titled “Self-publish or Perish” (hence the title for my own blog post here).

However, we should remember that if the midlist author’s economic “survival” is ensured, it is largely thanks to the 70% royalty Amazon pays, because it is certainly not remarkable in terms of exposure – I won’t go further in the details and give you yet another ranking, you can check for yourself if you’re curious (here).

Moreover, one must remember that all rankings are ephemeral, they change constantly, and one needs to be Amazon itself (or set up a 24 hour watch for months on end) to figure out which authors have “staying power” and which don’t. So all the rankings I’m quoting here are merely indicative.

Still, some insights can be gleaned. It is particularly interesting to check on the more successful self-published authors and see how they fare today. I checked at random the more famous ones such as Amanda Hocking or John Locke whose amazing success stories (selling “a million copies” in a matter of months) have been instrumental in launching the self-publishing craze.

Well, they are not doing as well today as you might expect. Amanda Hocking has two books going currently for free and her best selling book, My Blood Approves (now traditionally published by St Martin’s) is ranked #34,251 Paid in Kindle Store. John Locke’s Promise You Won’t Tell, with close to 1,200 reviews was going free the last time I checked and his best selling non-free book Casting Call (actually also the most recent, published in February 2014) is priced at $2.99 and ranked #11,195 in paid in Kindle Store. In other words, it’s doing reasonably well but breaking no records.

Why are such famous self-published authors with millions of copies sold – I would say even “iconic” writers – following the free promotion strategy exactly as propounded by self-published author David Gaughran in his excellent guidebook Let’s Get Visible?

I’m sure you can come up with still more striking success stories, and please be sure to highlight them out in the comments, but my point is that the success doesn’t stay on…it waxes and wanes (which is natural) and then falls off a cliff, to use David Gaughran’s striking metaphor. Hence, the authors efforts to revive their books with free promotions. A tough life!

Now if life is tough for the more successful self-published authors, try and imagine what it’s like for the rest of us?

The reason why? Basically the tsunami of books that buries every single newcomer!

No doubt this is another compelling reason why you should follow David Gaughran’s advice. And don’t get discouraged, Amazon has just handed out a candy to self-published authors, making it possible for them for the first time ever to access to the “pre-order” functionality on its website (is this a side-effect of the Hachette-Amazon spat? Who knows…) Regardless of Amazon’s reasons for doing this, it is a big gift, because it means that,  just like a traditional publisher could do till now, you are able to promote your book on all the sites you navigate for 90 days prior to launching, while pre-orders accumulate on Amazon’s site: on the day of release, all these orders are filled at a single go, ensuring a boost to your book, launching it up Amazon’s rankings!

Because, as David Gaughran points out, in this environment awash with books, you cannot ever stop marketing your titles – and now you have another tool at your disposal to launch your next book…use it!

Comments Off on To Self-Publish and Perish: Buried Under 3.4 Million E-Books

Filed under Digital Revolution, Literature

Digital Revolution Act Two: TheTrue Nature of Amazon Revealed?

Fascinating report from Author Earnings (see here). In the traditional publishing world, the reaction to that report was rather negative (according to the UK Guardian), putting into question the methodology. But even taking into account all the limitations of this report, it still reveals a lot about about Amazon, keeping in mind that 120,000 books included in the report comprise approximately 50% of Amazon e-Book revenue and that Amazon’s own publishing ventures (five imprints) account for only 6% of the total, a surprisingly small share compared to 38% of the “Big Five” (legacy publishers):

 

OK, Indies account for 31 percent. Fascinating but at the same time frightening: remember, we are dealing here with JUST 120,000 titles (so, out of those, some 40,000 titles are indies) But this is out of a total of how many books in the Kindle Store, 3 million? 4 million? I’d love to know.

Assuming it’s somewhere between 3 and 4 million, that means less than 3% float to the surface and get bought, perhaps even as little as 2%.

The other frightening aspect of this (otherwise brilliant) analysis is the focus on rankings. It really confirms that there are no quality gatekeepers on Amazon, number of sales rule the day! Sales beget sales, historical sales keep a book floating for several weeks, and when sales dip for too long, the book sinks out of sight.

Sales numbers decide whether a book shows up or not in any reader’s searches.

I perfectly understand the logic but I deeply regret it.

It means that numbers trump quality.

Readers navigating Amazon will keep seeing the same books over and over again. If you’ve got a book that doesn’t hit the #100 rank, there’s no hope for you. None whatsoever. Because it means you have no Internet presence, not enough fans to buy your books together at a given point in time so that the ranking is boosted up. Authors with fans acquired in a previous existence as a traditionally published “mid-list author” have an obvious head start in this rankings game, no question about it, and that head start is decisive.

Good for them, but if you’re a newbie, never published before by a trad publisher, beware!

If all this notwithstanding, you do decide to jump into self-publishing, then the two genres that you should write in to have any hope of success, according to this report, are romance and science fiction/fantasy – but especially romance, look at this amazing graph:

Yes, on Amazon, the “Big Five” only seem to do well in thrillers and non-fiction. Thrillers also happens to be the area where Amazon imprints do best. However, for non-fiction, children’s and literary fiction, Amazon imprints are no match to the Big Five, they literally disappear…

Broadly speaking, literary fiction and children’s fiction don’t make the cut on Amazon, it would seem that both kids and persons who like literary reads need printed books from legacy publishers to be happy (I can’t say I’m surprised – that makes sense; ebooks are only good for quick reads when traveling or waiting at the dentist’s).

Of course, all this data needs to be taken with a grain of salt (we know nothing of the rest of what’s on Amazon – from where exactly the other half of Amazon earning stems from, and of course, Amazon won’t tell).

This puts the battle between Hachette and Amazon in perspective, doesn’t it? Some of Hachette authors are surely hurt but it is likely that many are NOT suffering all that much because the majority of their books are not sold in the Kindle Store…

Still, I am shocked that the whole analysis hinges on only 120,000 titles…Your views?

Comments Off on Digital Revolution Act Two: TheTrue Nature of Amazon Revealed?

Filed under Digital Revolution

Digital Revolution Act Two, Amazon vs. Hachette: What Future for Indies ?

The on-going Amazon-Hachette war that started in April is viewed by many as a paradigm shift. The digital revolution is not over yet and the ground is moving, major actors are re-aligning themselves. Whether Hachette or Amazon wins or loses and with what results for authors, particularly for self-published authors, remains to be seen. 

 

Bob Rector
In short, Amazon is shaking up the publishing industry and a lot of people don’t like it. I blogged about this last week, (see here), and got a remarkable comment from Bob Rector, who’s not only a talented novelist (if you haven’t read Unthinkable Consequences yet, you should) but also a successful playwright (Letters from the Front, an award-winning play that toured the world for 15 years) and a veteran film director who first became famous with “The Now Explosion“, historically the first experiment in music video.
He has a uniquely upbeat take on the changes happening to the publishing industry, no doubt because of his long experience, and I wanted to share it with you. This is what he wrote (I love his uplifting conclusion and I added the highlights): 
Claude, your blog post “The Author-Reader Amazon Revolution:Mirage or Reality?” is a very informative and sobering article that once again leaves my head spinning about the book market today. But also conjures up some memories along similar lines.
A little less than 40 years ago I jumped through these same kinds of hoops but in a different medium: film. I was part of a small production company that decided to make a low-budget feature film for theatrical distribution. The timing was right because several G-rated low-budget ‘outdoor-adventure’ films had done very well, chief among them was Grizzly Adams. The attraction to this genre for the filmmaker was that Mother Nature provided all the sets and most of the players (wildlife) for free. All you had to do was get the cast and crew to a really spectacular location and tell a reasonably entertaining story about a hero single-handedly fighting man’s abuse of nature.

I was chosen to write, direct, and edit for the simple reason that I had more experience than anyone else involved, plus I was still riding on my fame from The Now Explosion. The film was titled Nature’s Way but before its release was changed to Don’t Change My World.

We made the film for next to nothing, just like today’s indie authors produce a book. In its initial screenings audiences responded very positively but to go into wide release, we ran into the same obstacles that indie writer’s face. We weren’t MGM or Universal or 20th Century Fox and they owned the game.
The major studios had long-established relationships with movie theaters around the world, as well as marketing and distribution operations that ran like the proverbial Swiss watch. On the other hand, we were, in effect, knocking on the door of each individual theater. They didn’t want to deal with someone who only had one film to peddle and no marketing machinery behind them. We eventually did sign with a small independent distributor who managed to get our film released nationally but playing at only one or two markets at a time, so the money generated trickled in and seldom covered expenses. Plus the theaters, since they were dealing with a small fry, slow paid, and sometimes no paid, us – something they didn’t dare do with the majors. When we protested they simply said, “So sue us.”
The sad fact of life was that the audiences who saw the film loved it, but getting it in front of an audience was a constant uphill battle that cost more than we could possibly make, especially since much of the time we never saw the money that came into the box office. By the time the theater took its cut (much more severe than Amazon’s take) and the distributor took his cut (always with extra expenses added) and the advertising agencies took their cut, nothing was left (sound familiar?).
The film finally generated significant revenue when it went into non-theatrical release, primarily on cable channels like CineMax (HBO). It was also broadcast by the BBC and several other operators in Europe. The US Navy purchased a hundred or so 16mm prints for showing onboard their ships. A specialty distributor who provided inflight movies for airlines licensed its use. Same for a distributor who supplied films for college campus theaters. And finally the film was released to the newly emerging home video market. The point being, we had to search out and broker all these deals ourselves.
And the same is true for indie publishers/writers. Anybody who has been in business, whether it’s selling books or selling paper clips, knows that it’s never easy and you have to work at it continuously.
Selling is ALWAYS job one. During the 15 years we toured our play Letters From the Front around the world, selling and marketing was a nonstop daily job – and I mean every single day.
So I guess I come to this issue with a little different and perhaps more cynical (based on experience) but realistic perspective.
If there’s money to be made, then big money is going to control the market. Always. Never been any different since the beginning of commerce. Might makes right.
Will fair play come into play? Don’t count on it.
The question to indie writers/publishers is: what are you going to do about it? Throw up your hands and say the deck is stacked and I don’t stand a chance so to hell with it? Or, I have right on my side but I can’t win so I might as well not play? Are you going to take Amazon and the other major players to court and sue them for what you believe are unfair practices? Good luck. They each have teams of lawyers just waiting to bury you.
Before you jump to the conclusion that I’m being dark or negative, please don’t.
As the old saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat (although why anybody would want to baffles me). Most of my professional life has been spent finding alternate routes around established institutions, with varying degrees of success. My first rule is to never let somebody else define my pathway to success. If I’m going to fail, I want to fail on my own terms. As far as indie publishing is concerned, my wife (a fellow author) and I are still experimenting and searching out alternative paths. It will take time but it always does. I’m confident that we’ll find a way that works for us. We’ve done it many times before.
The threshold we’re shooting for is not just to make money for ourselves, but to make money for somebody else, preferably a large well-funded organization. That’s what we’ve done before. We found a way to make money for major companies with our product, lots of money. Then they started writing checks to us, big checks. I’m not saying this is the only path. We’re all supposed to be creative people — so be creative about this too!
To be exceedingly trite, we don’t look at this as a problem, we look at it as an opportunity. A huge ground-floor opportunity. And we don’t expect anybody or any organization to do the heavy lifting for us. Maybe we’re naive. We’ll see.
Letters From the Front stars Bobbi Kravis and Bob Curren meet with troops at Ft. Lee, VA after a performance and distribute free letter writing kits (source: “Why Letters from the Front is so important today”, click here

Comments Off on Digital Revolution Act Two, Amazon vs. Hachette: What Future for Indies ?

Filed under Digital Revolution

Too Much “Noise” on the Net: is “milq” the Answer?

 We can all agree that we are bombarded with information and that most of it is useless. It’s coming at us from all directions: Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Goodreads, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, Tumblr, online magazines, blogs, the list is endless. 

We’re deafened with “noise” on the Net.

And in all that “noise”, do you find what you want to read? Not often, and when you do, you may try to save or bookmark that gem on your computer but most of the time you just lose it.

That’s where milq comes in. Or would like to try to come in. 

Instead of a timeline or feed or wall, the way you have it on Facebook, or picture boards like you have on Pinterest, you get “beads”, i.e. topics where you can upload your find, whether a video, an article, a song. Their landing page looks like this (my screen shot):

A very minimal design, and easy to navigate. It’s also very easy to join, just let the app access your Twitter or Facebook data and you’re done. 

Is it of any use?

Three weeks ago, the New York Times took note, (see here) and remarked, without really reaching any conclusion, that milq is intended to “separate wheat from social media chaff”. That’s a nice way to put it, but does it do it?

I tried it from my own standpoint and interests: remember, I’m into books, I like to keep abreast of social trends (how else could I write a book set in the future like Forever Young?). 

Well, I was thoroughly disappointed. 

Basically, the “beads” are a series of virtual shelves showcasing stuff about the same topic or theme, or to use their exquisite terminology, they are “collectively curated channels of culture”. And the stuff uploaded by someone with a big Internet presence gets precedence over the little guy. Also, their business model foresees that they “sell” beads to businesses – for example they’ve already got Condé Nast interested in topics, sorry, I mean “beads” linked to their magazines.

I tried to find the bead about books and that’s where things started to unravel. I stumbled upon a vast series of beads on bizarre topics, all phrased as questions (this apparently is meant to attract people’s attention) – here’s an example:

“Movies that made me want to become a filmmaker” or “genre stew”? To be honest, I have never seen a film that made me want to become a filmmaker, as to “genre stew”…I’m not sure what that means anyway nor whether I want to waste time to find out (even if some people feel enthusiastic about it).

Finally I found the books bead:

You’re told that Pamela Talese created this bead in February of last year and the picture of books surmounted by chocolate candies suggests the bead is going to be yummy. 

Wrong, the bead is meant to be…musical! Yes, it is about books but only if expressed in songs: the introductory blurb says it’s “about books, their characters, authors, poets, and playwrights. Also-librarians, bookworms, comic-book collectors, folks hooked on the phonics but SONGS ONLY please. There are many fabulous interviews on this topic-but words to music keep the story moving.

This songs-only approach is highly restrictive. Result? Very few posts over a year – maybe a dozen or two dozens, I didn’t count them. 

Another restriction is that you can only share or comment on the posts, with no hope of response. NO real discussion. This is not a give-and-take forum-like website. Just a place where you collect stuff, the way you collect pictures on PINTEREST – with the possibility of starting your own bead, provided it is highly visual or musical or both – authors addicted to the written word are warned!

Did you try it? If you did, please share your experience!

BIG NEWS! Part 4 of FOREVER YOUNG is OUT, see here – now all 4 parts are published on Amazon and all major e-platforms, the full book is out! 

You can start reading Part One for free on Wattpad where I release a new chapter every day – 5 chapters published so far, click here to start reading. And if you like it, please “vote” (that’s how “likes” are expressed on Wattpad) Many thanks!

Enhanced by Zemanta

3 Comments

Filed under Digital Revolution, social media

Readers vs. Watchers: The Digital Revolution is Not Over

Lately a huge controversy has developed around the theme “Indies are Beating Traditional Publishers”, and one publishing guru, Mark Coker,  the father of Smashwords, has loudly predicted that self-published authors will outrun traditional publishers by 2020, see here. Indie authors, carried forward by the digital revolution that has lowered production costs and leveled the field, are in a feisty revolt led by Hugh Howey; find all the rebels on his Author Earnings website here.

This race between indies and publishers, no matter how exciting, obscures something much bigger: the sea change that is investing the entertainment industry as readers lose out to watchers.

We’re into a brave new digital world where the written word is losing out to the image.

Evidence of this vast change is still anecdotal, but putting all of it together, it adds up.

Take ebook sales. After years of exuberant growth, ebook sales started to flatten out in 2013. I’ve blogged about this before (see here). At first, I thought it was nothing to worry about: a physiological slowdown that indicated the market had reached maturity, that it was better balanced between printed and digital books (good news for the publishing industry!). But now I’m convinced the situation is actually much more serious than that.

It’s the book market’s very survival that is threatened.

Why? Look at what’s happening to the entertainment industry and more generally to our cultural life. Particularly noteworthy:

  • people are about evenly divided between readers and watchers: those were the results of a recent survey carried out in the UK and reported by the BBC (see here) and it’s obvious that the divide is very likely to be the same in the US or any other Western country;
  • the performance of the tv and videogame industry suggests that more and more people watch films and play videogames and less and less people read books.

The videogame industry is huge and has become as big as Hollywood. It is projected to grow from $67 billion in 2013 to $82 billion in 2017, a change happening largely at the expense of the movie and music industries (see this interesting article here explaining why this is happening).

TV is no longer an ‘idiot box’. The ponderous New York Times itself in a recent article signed David Carr (see here) came out with that arresting statement. Look at what David Carr has to say about TV’s “New Golden Age”, here’s a screen shot of a high point in the article:

What a feast indeed! There’s no doubt that TV series, like House of Cards, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones etc are entertaining and well worth watching.

What is worrisome is that more and more intellectuals who were once upon a time big readers now binge on TV series. I know I have – I recently enjoyed for several weeks the Danish political TV series called “Borgen” centered on a fascinating female politician. My consolation is that it is considered “the hottest show in Europe” (see here). And here’s the trailer, you can get it no matter where you live:

In our brave new digital world, the image is displacing the written word, it’s as simple as that.

The ebook has proved to be a neat way to make the written word more accessible to people – on your mobile devices the written word can now follow you anywhere, in the waiting room at the dentist’s, on the plane, in the bathroom, in your bed.  

But the written word has to fight against films and music and videogames, a tough fight!

As to the suggestion that Smashwords is a big success and therefore we shouldn’t have to worry (see article below), there’s no secret: the number of writers who decide to self-publish is increasing exponentially and Smashwords is the platform of choice for them – user-friendly and able to upload  ebooks everywhere, from Apple‘s ibook store to Kobo to Barnes and Noble (though you still have to upload yourself on Amazon’s KDP).

But please note: Smashwords’ success does not translate into increased sales for ebooks worldwide. The two aren’t related.

Don’t get me wrong. The flattening of ebook sales is not for tomorrow morning, there are still big markets to conquer, in particular India, the country that reads the most in the world, see the reading data here.

I’m talking about a long-term trend, that is affecting the written word in all its forms, including blogging. It is now well known that blogs based on the written word alone have much less traffic than those lavishly using videos and photos (see tips #9 and #25 in this comprehensive how-to article for bloggers, click here).

Images win out every time!

The handwriting is on the (digital) wall. This is the end of an era that opened with Cervantes’ Don Quixotte in 1605, the first great novel of modern times, and was propelled by Shakespeare, Molière, Voltaire, Dickens, Goethe, Tolstoy, Tolkien and so many fabulous writers over the next four centuries.

How this new video trend can ever be reversed, I have no idea.

Any suggestions?

Personally, I do see a silver lining: writers will always have a lot of work on their hands, even in this new image-obsessed world: because the images must tell a story, and writers are the story-tellers par excellence

++++++++++
Win a book in our Scavenger Hunt. 8 books, more than 30 copies total. I’m one of the authors sponsoring the hunt with “Crimson Clouds”.  Come and play, click here
++++++++++
Related articles
Enhanced by Zemanta

2 Comments

Filed under Blogging, Digital Revolution, Literature