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Publishing News: Dusting off an old idea for the new digital age

Kindle Serials and data analytics, new Kindle lineup with forced advertisements, and a look at complementary digital publishing.

Here are a few stories from the publishing space that caught my attention this week.

Charles Dickens was on to something

In addition to showcasing the new Kindle lineup (see below), Jeff Bezos introduced Kindle Serials, a new subscription program for serialized books, at the Amazon event this week. Readers will be able to subscribe to books that will be released in “episodes,” with automatic content updates — think Charles Dickens in the age of the Internet. Sarah Kessler at Fast Company took a look at the program and argued that this format could have a profound effect on the way books are written in the digital era.

Kessler reports that each book will have its own discussion board, and “[u]nlike most book discussion boards, [reader discussions] may influence the outcome of the books.” (A recent study project by Latitude showed this to be one of the main demands from consumers in regard to how they want to experience storytelling in the digital age.) Writers, Kessler argues, will be able to put the serialized format to good use, as it will provide them with more data than they’ve ever had before:

“Publishing one segment at a time will enable authors, like app developers, to make decisions based on user activity. Data analytics will push that ability to another level. Do readers have high drop-off rates when a certain character appears? Maybe he should appear less in the next episode. Do they share a certain idea with their social networks? Maybe that idea comes up again.”

Kessler says the rise in book data analytics interest (noting companies like Hiptype) will undoubtedly affect the future of reading and writing experiences, “[b]ut what will change the books themselves are authors. And Amazon’s new serial format, combined with the rise of data analytics for everything, has potential to change their methods.”

Amazon lines up new Kindles, forces “Special Offers” on Fires

The headline news this week was Amazon’s new Kindle lineup event. Cormac Foster has a nice overview spread at ReadWriteWeb, covering the new devices, specs and features. There weren’t any surprises, really — Amazon didn’t come through with a “Free Kindle with Prime Subscription” offer, as some predicted — but Bezos did emphasize Amazon’s focus on providing services. As Foster reports, Bezos “opened the event by saying that ‘people don’t want gadgets anymore. They want services.’ And he explicitly described the Kindle itself as a service.”

Making money off the ecosystem rather than the device is nothing new from Amazon, of course (which makes it even more curious that the $69 low-end Kindle isn’t also offered as a free device with an extended Prime subscription). The fact that the new and updated Kindles, like the old Kindles, come with two prices — with and without special offers — is also no surprise. What is a surprise, as Sam Byford at The Verge reports, is that Amazon appears to be forcing special offers on all the high-end, more expensive Kindle Fire devices — you can’t buy your way out of the ads. Byford notes that the pricing on the Fire line is aggressive ($159 – $499), so maybe consumers won’t mind, “especially as the offers include deals such as a $5 credit for Amazon’s movie and music services.” [UPDATE: An anonymous reader sent Engadget a note; Jon Fingas reports, "Amazon's support has since confirmed to an Engadget reader that the option to remove the ads will be 'announced soon.'"] [SECOND UPDATE: Amazon officials have made it clear that the forced Special Offers will not have an opt out option — John P. Falcone reports at CNET: "... an Amazon spokesperson has confirmed to CNET that there will be no way to buy out of the Special Offers ads."]

The beauty of digital as a complement to paper, not a replacement

ReadWriteWeb founder and editor-in-chief Richard MacManus posted some highlights this week from a recent talk he gave at The Project [R]evolution conference in New Zealand regarding the “reimagination of publishing.” His focus mainly was on web publishing, but he took a look at some recent developments in digital books and magazine, noting two apps in particular: The Atavist and Citia. He writes that the significance of these two apps lies in their approaches to their mediums:

“Neither aims to replace paper. The beauty of both The Atavist and Citia is that they complement traditional magazines and books (respectively).”

MacManus also noted five key drivers for digital books and magazines, including tablets (the iPad in particular); multimedia and interactive, immersive experiences; and Kindle Highlights, noting it’s easier to make highlights and share them. You can read more from MacManus’ presentation here and view his complete slide presentation below:

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  • QuanEconGuy

    1. Dickens as serialization success: a) literacy was nascent b) reading quality time determined by available daylight (candle & oil lamp not really suitable for most folks) c) bound books were comparatively expensive and d) the magazine style publications were easily distributed.
    What I beg of the reading world is to give up on this Dickens justification for the viability of the serialized short format.
    2. Recent data gleaned from reading devices have revealed a plethora of excerpts, freebies, and short form teasers untouched by the readers.
    3. In my sales experience one of the least successful formats was a collected volume of fiction by a single author. Any successful books in this format are anomalies, outliers to the aggregate mean performance. Collections based on a theme or genre do far better (note the “Best American” series) but are still not universally accepted.
    4. The monthly fee for an “all you can consume” notion is an interesting application, which one company is trying to apply to digital magazines, a Netflix for glossies. But that is topical material, not necessarily serialized. One of the big successes of Netflix itself is the trend to watch entire TV series back to back, without weekly waits between.

    So, I think this is worthy evidence to at least challenge the inference that the real consumers will participate in the Serials effort: the market appears to reject the format. And that’s not even getting into the issue of feedback from the typical cranks who comment obsessively on websites, and the studies done to reveal that 33% of recommendations are phoney. Crowdsourced entertainment may have severe limitations.