“Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success.”
— Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich
[Pre-Reading Note: This is a fairly long post about the future of books and digital publishing. I’ve included a bunch of facts, figures, links, charts, trends, and opportunities, as I see them. If this stuff doesn’t interest you, you may want to skip this one.]
What most excites me about today’s digital publishing landscape is how fast the space is evolving.
For one, there’s the potential of the ebooks themselves. Most ebooks today are merely trying to replicate the experience of written books, but on a digital device. The current version of Tales of Iceland included. But the opportunity for ebooks is so much greater. As Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife, muses about electronic books:
"[They] will be gorgeous, but right now…It’s a bit like the early printed Bibles after Gutenberg which they tried to make look like the hand-illuminated ones.”
The opportunity of course is for ebooks to evolve into something much more interactive and engaging. While this is happening in select niches, the majority of ebooks are still a far cry from their potential.
A Peak into Books of the Future
Here are some of the most exciting examples of innovative ebooks I’ve found that hint to the future of digital publishing:
Children’s Storybooks. Lazy Larry Lizard by Australian Wasabi Productions is one example of children’s interactive storybook apps I’ve started to notice. Some, like Lazy Larry Lizard, are enhanced with both sound and animation, giving a tactile and engaging experience that can hold a child’s attention. For example, you can poke Larry the Lizard and he moves around. How cool is that?! It’s also kind of creepy.
Interactive Travel Guides. Powered by startup Inkling, Lonely Planet has released several interactive Best Trips guidebooks for iPads and iPhones, offering highly visual and dynamic road trip itineraries for several places including Italy, France, California. Each one features hundreds of high-res photos, display real-time weather, and provide up-to-date restaurant information via Foursquare.
Stephen King, Digitized. The world has been waiting to see how Stephen King would enter digital publishing. A couple months ago he released Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, an illustrated digital book designed specifically for Apple’s iBooks, featuring John Mellencamp’s original songwriting and T Bone Burnett’s musical direction. This fiction thriller includes graphics, sound effects, and behind-the-scenes video with the digital book’s creators. It sits somewhere between a book & a movie. A mook. Or a boovie? We need to come up with a better word that doesn’t sound so dirty.
Dynamic Comic Books: DC Comics (Batman, Superman, etc.) recently announced DC2, their answer to the future of comic books. Their “dynamic artwork” will be layered into comic panels to give readers a more tactile, interactive experience. The technology will debut with the new digital-first Batman ’66, based on the 1960s television show.
Education Enhanced. This is one of my favorites. In his brief and excellent TED talk, Mike Matas paints a nice picture of the next generation of digital books, using the ebook he created for Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth:
The Big, Fat Opportunity in E-Publishing: 12 Trends
In addition to the exciting potential future of interactive and digital books, the overall ebook market is very ripe and in its infancy. Even for non-interactive and futuristic ebooks. Because I’m utterly obsessed with all of this, I’ve gathered an unhealthy amount of reports and statistics.
I’ve found 12 Trends that I believe paint the picture for a big, fat opportunity in publishing, especially digital publishing:
1. Ebook adoption in the US is growing steadily.
By December 2012, 21% of the US was reading ebooks, up from 17% in 2011 (Pew Research Center).
2. The market is reacting with more ebooks.
Ebooks made up 20% of the U.S. consumer book industry in 2012, up from 15% in 2011 (BookStats), representing $3.04 billion of a $15.05 billion market (BookStats).
3. Ebooks are becoming a notable revenue source for traditional publishers.
Ebooks accounted for 23% of publisher revenue in 2012, up from 17% in 2011 and 1% in 2008 (Digital Book World). Although growth has slowed, I doubt we’re ever going back to a day where ebooks don’t exist. Just like we probably won’t go back to a day where the internet (or some form of it) doesn’t exist.
4. From a consumer’s perspective, the line between professionally self-published and traditionally published is starting to blur.
Self-published eBooks now account for 12% of the entire digital market (The Bookseller).
5. Reading ebooks is becoming more convenient, with more people reading books on their phones than ever before.
In February 2013, Goodreads reported 37% of cellphone owners read ebooks on them (Goodreads.com).
6. For the first time ever, most Americans own a smartphone.
56% of American adults are now smartphone owners, up from 35% in 2011 and 46% in 2012 (Pew Internet & American Life Project).
7. Yet global smartphone adoption is still in its infancy.
There are 5 billion+ mobile phone users, while only are 1.5 billion are smartphone users (KPCB).
8. And world’s leading cell phone producer is still absent from the ebook space!
Samsung has grown like mad over the past 2 years, and only now are they making a huge push into ebooks with the launch of Samsung Hub, which will be preloaded onto every new device.
9. But let’s not forget about tablets! The number of American tablet owners has almost doubled in the past year.
Last year only 18% of Americans owned a tablet computer. Now that number is up to 34% (Digital Book World).
[It’s also important to note what’s happening to dedicated ebook readers. B&N’s Nook device was recently discontinued. Stand-alone e-reader book purchases fell from 6% to <1%, while in-app purchases grew from 1% to 7% in the same period. (Digital Book World).]
10. Trends 1-9 all point to a somewhat bold prediction: In the US, the market for ebooks will soon surpass the print book market.
PwC predicts this will happen by 2017 (PwC). There are many reasons for this inevitable shift. In general:
- Ebooks are quicker and cheaper to produce.
- Physical bookstores can only stock so many physical books. The internet can stock an infinite amount of ebooks.
- Ebooks can be purchased and read anywhere in the world. Your customer is no longer your local book reader — it’s anyone with access to the internet and a reading device (like a phone).
11. Amazon, the leader in ebooks, is just beginning their global expansion.
Amazon’s physical Kindle reader just (just!) became available in India, the 2nd most populous country in the world. Amazon’s vision is “to be Earth’s most customer-centric company.” They’re doing a great job, yet still in the infancy of their world conquest.
12. The US is leading ebook adoption, but the rest of the world will follow.
And while the US is the 3rd largest country by population (about 316+ million), it still only makes up 4.5% of the world’s total population (almost 7+ billion). Here are the interesting ebook happenings around the world:
- UK: Online has become ‘almost half’ of Hachette UK’s trade sales (The Book Seller).
- Germany: After the English-speaking market, Germany is considered to be the next country/language to be disrupted in a similar way. In 2012, ebook sales accounted for roughly 2.4% of the German book market in 2012, up from 1% in 2011. While impressive growth, it’s still dwarfed by the US’s ebook share of 20% (The Digital Reader).
- Italy: It’s hypothesized that Italy, the world’s 8th largest country by GDP (by 2011 numbers), might be two-to-three years behind the U.S. market in digital book adoption and industry change. (Digital Book World).
- Iceland: This is more of an anecdotal note based on my experience there. Most Icelanders can read and speak English. Yet Icelandic bookstores can only hold a select number of physical books (like any physical bookstore), many of which seem to be in Icelandic. So if someone in Reykjavik wants to read a book that hasn’t been translated into Icelandic, isn’t carried in their bookstore, and isn’t a current best seller, what’s an Icelander to do? Download an ebook from Amazon.com or iBookstore. I imagine this scenario plays out for many countries around the world.
- Columbia: Columbia’s first digital publishing house, E-Libros, was formed only 2 years ago in 2011 (Publishing Perspectives).
So, what does all this mean? We’re only scratching the worldwide surface of the opportunity for ebooks and digital publishing. And because it’s never been easier to publish an ebook as a mere mortal, the opportunity that lies within self-publishing is startling.
How do we take advantage of this opportunity? 3 Tips
I believe any author, publisher, thought-leader, or budding entrepreneur can have a piece of this pie. But first, you need to Choose Yourself and know you can succeed.
The problem, however, is endless opportunity and no clear path. There certainly is no silver bullet. But there are some ways to increase your odds of success:
1. Perform Professionally. From my experience with Tales of Iceland, I learned there can be very little distinction between a traditionally published book and a smartly and professionally self-published book. So if you’re going to publish a book, do everything as professionally as possible. Write professionally. Design professionally. Market and sell professionally. Act like a professional. Even if you aren’t a professional. Pretend to be until you are one. Not in a hoodwinky, scammy way, but in an Act As If kind of way. If you act like a professional, who can say you’re not?
There are no longer prohibitive barriers to designing a quality book cover, formatting a quality ebook or paperback interior, printing a quality book, or distributing and selling a book across the globe. Amazon and countless tech startups have made these tools available for anyone eager enough and willing to get their hands dirty. The game has forever changed.
It’s the cheapest and easiest time in the history of the world to perform professionally. I did it. You can do it too.
2. Test Relentlessly. Test out Goodreads. Experiment with Facebook ads and Google Adwords. Mess around on Twitter and Instagram. Give away a bunch of books. Know your target audience and find where they hang out. Do guest blog posts. Post on online forums. Try a provocative cover. Some of these might work. Most probably will not.
Just like it’s never been easier to publish professionally, it’s also never been cheaper and easier to connect with potential readers and test out different marketing strategies around the world. So test relentlessly, listen to feedback, learn from the results, and repeat. And keep going, keep going, keep going. And good things will happen.
Tales of Iceland featured in popular Icelandic paper, The Reykjavik Grapevine:
3. Think Entrepreneurially. If you have the guts, the idea, the time, the desire, and luck, it’s the best and easiest time in the world to publish books. But it’ll take creativity. There are plenty of tips out there; you can find thousands of blog posts telling you how to publish and sell a book, each one exposing all of the “hidden secrets” and sharing time-tested techniques. Feels like I’ve read practically all of them. But the world turns madly ’round and the things that work last week won’t work this week. Fun!
So this just means you need to be creative and think outside of the box. I bet it helps if you don’t actually work in the book publishing industry. You haven’t been trained to know what should work and what shouldn’t. By definition, you’re already outside of the box.
Partner with a local non-profit to help market your book. Work with students. Speak at trade shows. Give away free books in the airport. Have your book illustrated by a local artist. Build an interactive website to promote your book. Fly yourself to London and Iceland to tell people about your book. Show up at Icelandair’s corporate office with a book in tow:
@trinetti You most certainly can! Just drop by our headquarters in Reykjavík – it’ll be a pleasure to see you. Enjoy your weekend!
— Icelandair (@Icelandair) July 5, 2013
Maybe you have some better ideas. What are they? Flex your creative, entrepreneurial muscles.
This is how we’ve approached Tales of Iceland. Sure, there are lots of things we can improve upon. But I do believe the book was published professionally. I think we continue to test relentlessly. And I know we’re thinking entrepreneurially. I say this with a even more confidence today as I recently confirmed book shipments to Iceland’s two largest bookstore chains, Eymundsson and IÐA. Not bad for two guys who didn’t know how to publish a book 6 months ago.
I plan to share some more specific tactics I’ve used with Tales of Iceland in future posts. In the meantime, here are some fantastic blog posts sharing ways you can take advantage of the self-publishing revolution.
- James Altucher: How to Self-Publish a Best Seller: Publishing 3.0.
- Tim Ferriss: How to (Really) Make $1,000,000 Selling E-Books.
- Kevin Kelly: 1,000 True Fans
- Tucker Max: Attention, Authors: I Tripled My Royalties, and You Can Too.
So there it is. The big, fat opportunity in publishing, as I see it. And I’ll be damned if I don’t make an attempt to be a part of it. Who’s with me?
Are you interested in publishing your own book? If so, what specific questions do you have? Let me know in the comments below. I’ll try to gear my future publishing blog posts to answer those questions.