Publishing Forecast Part 4

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

We’ve reached the final installment in my publishing forecast blogs. As a reminder, we’ve explored the following book delivery methods:

The double-figure growth of audiobooks.

The potential of using the subscription model with books.

The new book format, the flipback.

Another way to access books is with an item that’s becoming ubiquitous in our homes: smart speaker devices. These devices are just beginning to gain wider acceptance. Here are the numbers according to Strategy Analytics, which claims the speakers “took a giant step toward mainstream acceptance” toward the end of 2017, pushing full-year shipments to 32 million units–up 300% compared to 2016.

Strategy Analytics has also published its estimates for shipments in the first quarter of 2018, pegging them at 9.2 million units–278% growth from the first quarter of 2017.

Device Functions

What are the devices being used for? This chart breaks it down for us:

In-Home Devices and Books

Most of us probably skimmed through the above chart and noted accessing books doesn’t even appear on the list. But, according to an article in Innovation & Tech Today, within a year, books will pop up on the list. That’s because users of the speakers will enter into more complex dialogues with Alexa or Siri. And books will come up in those conversations.

Some samples of conversations suggested in the article include:

  • “Siri, in the audiobook I was listening to on my commute this morning, what other book was that they mentioned? Please download that to my device. I want to read that tonight after work.”
  • “OK, Google, are there any books that discuss podcasting as a marketing device? Find me a good one and go ahead and buy it.”
  • “Alexa, show me a list of books I might like to read next week at the beach. Make sure it’s along the lines of ones I read last year on vacation.”

Bradley Metrock, the author of the article, rather audaciously (in my opinion) writes:

Book discovery increasingly will bypass all the known methods of today and will become reliant upon the AI sitting underneath these popular voice assistants.” [emphasis mine]

The Primacy of Voice

Metrock believes voice will quickly become the way we interact with all our electronic devices, even to the point that writers will use their voices rather than their fingers on the QWERTY keyboard to create their books. And publishers will develop ways to make their books not only discoverable through in-home speakers but also delivered via those speakers so the user will have books read to him or her.

Mr. Metrock closes his article by saying: “Every corporation is studying voice-first technology right now, learning as much as they can. This technology will affect every business. The wrong answer is to ignore the sea change that is happening all around us. Now’s the time to start learning, and not get so far behind the learning curve that it becomes hard to catch up.” Yikes! Really!?

How do you dialogue with your smart device? Can you see yourself asking the device to help you  find a certain type of book? Or have it read to you? What can writers do to prepare for a voice-first world? What should publishers do to prepare?


What method will–within the year–become the most used way to discover books? Click to tweet.

In-home speakers and how they will revolutionize publishing. Click to tweet.

16 Responses

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  1. I have a smart speaker. Her name is Barbaral.

  2. I suppose I’m going to make some enemies and maybe be banned from Modern Publishing for life, but on a few hours’ reflection, here goes…I think that Metrock’s scenario is dreadful.
    * First, using a voice service to find books simply hands more control to those who write the search algorithms. Alexa isn’t your friend, and she neither knows nor cares anything about you. She works for a company that has an agenda that can be both commercial and political. Granted that an qwerty internet search is subject to the same limitations, but you can tailor your path on the keyboard, while arguing with Alexa can be a bit frustrating, and will lead to a quicker surrender.
    * Second, having books read to one is fine in kindergarten, but it’s counterproductive for adults, because what we read is the foundation for the simplified means of communication we use in speaking. Shakespeare certainly didn’t speak in iambic pentameter, but his influence lent grace and nuance to language, which recycled back into literature and kept alive a certain level of linguistic depth.
    – But consider, if what we read is simplified into something that’s appealing to hear…we lose that basis for communication, and we will end up with a lingua franca, a trade language (like Creole. Pidgin, or Swahili) that’s based on simplified spoken communication. We already can see some of that, in the form of hashtags replacing anything like original thought…I mean, someone like Mike Huckabee, a former governor, using ‘craycray’ on national television in place of ‘crazy’, without batting an eye? Seriously?
    * Third, ‘primacy of voice’ essentially kills the author’s literary voice. Reading is not just an absorption of information; it’s a very personal dialogue between author and reader, in which the author’s voice is translated within the reader’s head and heart. When someone reads to me, I’m guided, rather like the movement of the hamster-balls on Disneyland rides, and am simply fed the words sequentially, without the ability to see them in the context of a printed page.
    – As an example, in ‘The Caine Mutiny’, Captain Queeg’s cutting of the target-tug towline while losing focus, berating an improperly-dressed sailor, is an event that is built through several viewpoints, which can be both felt and seen on the printed page…but if I’d read it to you, all you’d get was, “Oh, the captain screwed up’, because the previous wods could not be revisited, savoured, and brought as lights to illuminate the event. It would be kind of like reciting the lyrics to Van Halen’s ‘Jump’, without music or David Lee Roth.
    * I’m not ordinarily a Luddite…I’d way rather use a plasma cutter than a hacksaw if I could afford one…but a descent into a technological one-size-fits-all will hurt writers and readers, and will make the world we leave as legacy a poorer and grayer place, lit only by the tawdry lights of bling.
    * And now, it’s into the wilderness for me.

  3. “Writers will use their voices rather than their fingers on the QWERTY keyboard to create their books.” I joke that I type as fast as I can think (50-60 words a minute). I’m not sure I can speak as slowly as I think. Speeding up the process isn’t going to improve the quality of my product.
    *As I recall, there was a push years back to swap QWERTY for a friendlier keyboard. It didn’t gain traction, I thought at the time, because faster wasn’t better.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Metrock is, I believe, pushing us in the direction of living via voice commands to our Alexa, Siri, or Erica (which I just discovered is BankAmerica’s new AI assistant). Remember that some writers still create their manuscripts by writing them out in long-hand. We don’t need to give up what works for us–but we might have to add a step to “translate” our work into a format the publisher can work with. Most writers would agree that speaking a book into existence isn’t the same as writing that book.

  4. Feels like forever since the crises in my life have slowed down enough to check in on this blog. Seems like I have a lot of catching up to do.

    I’m with Andrew on this one. The scenario is dreadful and indicative of a society which has either become too busy to think for themselves or too reliant on technology (and quite probably a combination of both). Yes, I will use my Alexa or Siri to purchase a book or connect to audible, but I already have those books in mind. Perhaps the development he speaks of comes from the closure of brick and mortar stores and the days of old where you browse the shelves disappearing. The people who bought this also bought this feature has become the new way of finding things and unfortunately it is all based on a biased algorithm. I see it as a reality that it will grow as a method of buying books but it horrified me to think that would become the only or most popular way to discover books. And to give permission to buy a book without knowing what it is to Siri/Alexa/Google is awful. As for the authors writing by voice, yeah, that may work for some, but I’m sure I am not the only one who can communicate better when writing than speaking. Even when I have an idea, speaking it becomes a jumbled mess. I couldn’t write a book that way.

    Thanks for sharing this article—it’s the perfect scary story before Halloween. 😅

    • Janet Grant says:

      Crystal, welcome back! I’m sure those of us who are highly selective about what we read aren’t interested in letting Alexa make the choice for us. It’s fine for her to “run to the store” to buy the book, but we’ll tell her exactly which one we want. I didn’t mean to spook you with this blog post!

  5. God works in mysterious ways, and this morning, at His behest, I shall dine on crow.
    * In my comment above, I said, “…having books read to one is fine in kindergarten, but it’s counterproductive for adults…”. What arrogant tosh.
    * Having spent a Night of the Long Knives with no pain medication, and no relief at all, I would have been delighted to have someone – even Alexa – read to me, for I was unable to hold a book (kind of hard when you’re in a foetal position, holding your belly) and too sick to my stomach to watch a DVD. I had to just lay in the dark and listen to the dread and pain within me, and a scary story that was.
    * I do ask your prayers. The demons of the night have remained to greet the dawn, and their visages are rather more terrible to behold than I could have foreseen. I’m in deep trouble.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Andrew, I’m sorry to hear that you’re in a valley of agony. Having a story read to us can be soothing, just like it was when we were in kindergarten. And sometimes it’s just the antidote we need when we’re feeling crushed physically and mentally.

    • Oh, Andrew, as a nurse it’s not hard to picture you in my mind. How long Father? I’m glad for input and I too am in with what you wrote, other than reading to someone is good primarily for children. I read to my patients who not only enjoyed the story but the sound of my voice. It was very calming to them. Maybe Barb could tape herself reading you something of your favorite that you could listen to when she is out at work or errands. I’m so sorry you are in such pain. Prayers, my friend.

    • So sorry for your pain, Andrew. You’ve been dealing with this a long time it seems. I’ve dealt with some pain, too, when the nights were incredibly long. Much better now. I hope–and pray–that God gives you long days and nights without it. On the other, I had a friend tell me one of my books was on Alexa’s reading list,. And she reads it! I had no idea. And her reading is terrible. 🙂 but during the middle of the night, it might not be as bad. Not that I’m recommending mine, I’m just letting you know that if you have a Kindle, Alexa is there for late night reads.

  6. Janet, wow! I don’t use a smart speaker device at home and probably never will, unless it’s my phone which I use Google assistant on sometimes.

    Unfortunately, I think we will be using more and more AI. But, I do think the man is audacious in stating book discovery will be reliant on AI; although, it is my concern that eventually in order to save the trees, and other enviromental green reasons, AI, with audible or digital reading will be promoted more and more.

    To me there is a missing component that occurs in the brain when we write long hand or on a key board as compared to just speaking the story out. I have tried that, and sometimes I like the stream of thought, but then again seeing the words as you create just lends another level of involvement by the author.

    I love my hard cover books. I surely hope they are always available, but time will tell. We’ve, especially those of us 50 years old and above have seen changes we never dreamed of, like no more phone booths.

    Janet, your post has certainly given us all something to think about. Thank you.

    • Janet Grant says:

      I don’t think physical books are turning into dinosaurs any time soon. We all love them and enjoy collecting them. If they were going to disappear, they would have done so when digital books came on the seen.
      Same goes for our QWERTY keyboards. We won’t give them up without a fight.

  7. This is an interesting thought, and I do believe that there will be some element of this that gains traction. I’m still considered part of the younger generation, and thus far I have only seen smart speakers as a subject for comedy videos. (Alexa for Seniors, anyone?) That being said, I don’t think it will overtake the world as quickly as the article implies.

    However, I do see a lot of potential here. Imagine listening to the audible version of a John Maxwell book, hearing a book recommended and being able to download that book by just asking Siri. Or finishing a novel and being able to download the next one in the series with one sentence to Alexa.

    I think this could also increase the cross-promotion abilities of authors and publishers. Much like the pages at the end of a paperback that have “more by Bethany House” or “More by Francine Rivers” or the algorithms on Amazon “If you liked this you’ll like…” I think that would be great for publishers and authors alike.

    As far as the speaker reading to you, I think it will most likely connect to a service like Audible and play a good, recorded version of the book. This will go right along with the growth of audiobooks that we have already seen.

    I don’t really see anything scary here. It is a trend to keep an eye on, but I suspect that the companies such as Google and Amazon will make it pretty easy for us to utilize the technology as it develops. In fact, they may end up doing a lot of the work for us by adding additional features to the listings on Amazon, Author Central and Audible, etc. that streamline into their speaker products.

    Thanks for the insight, Janet! It is interesting to think about.

  8. I do not own a ‘smart speaker’ or use Siri on my telephone. I find Siri utterly annoying.

  9. ha ha! I don’t even have a cell phone, much less a smart device, so I don’t interact with voice unless I’m talking to a person. I have no doubt that everyone else will, just probably not me. Although, I adore my Nook and pretty much only buy books for myself in ebook form, I do not like tablets and only want the kind of Nook without a backlit screen. My husband might eventually get there, but I’m certainly not in there demographic being in the stone age and all.