How is technology influencing the size and shape of what we read?

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Last night we attended Byte the Book at the gorgeous Club at the Ivy where a superb panel of experts were there to discuss: ‘How is technology influencing the size and shape of what we read?’ We heard from Ravina Bajwa, Managing Editor of Penguin Audiobooks, Benedict Evans, Analyst at Enders Analysis, Richard Loncraine, Director at Heuristic Media and Maureen Evans, Director at Ether Books.

Benedict Evans was quick to point out that there are three key issues in technology influencing what and how we read:

1.)    Distribution of content – digital changes the cost structure, hence it is more economical to be interactive with content

2.)    Ubiquity – pop culture is more accessible

3.)    The changing role of intermediaries – the market is no longer driven by logistics and you don’t need to go through the typical agent-publisher-wholesaler-bookshop supply chain.

Publishers and App Developers are now having to think of more innovative ways to overcome digital challenges; Ether Books have been successful in producing short ‘snacking’ digital content under 6000 words. They are proving that with mobile devices, it is important to also have ‘mobile’ content – short form is much more accessible on people’s devices, however previously there has been a gap in the market for books produced solely for digital. Ravina at Penguin has found the opposite where consumers want longer, unabridged content when it comes to listening to audio books. This has proven to be a huge advantage of digital; they have found new distribution opportunities to get the content to consumers as well as innovative ideas in order to mix sound effects and narrative elements together.

Technology is becoming a huge influence on how and what we read, but how is this going to change in the future and what are Publishers and App Developers doing to drive this forwards?

Ravina from Penguin discussed the launch of the entire Roald Dhal backlist in new Audio Book format. This will feature an exciting cast of high profile celebrities and brand new compositions to highlight his work and really create a picture in listener’s imaginations through the many dimensions of sound. Loncraine touched upon the launch of haptic touchscreens; however, it seems these are still at least a decade away in innovation. Benedict Evans talked about the innovation within App Development but shared interesting facts about the obstacles that still exist to getting your app noticed. For example, across iOS there are about 4 apps downloaded per month per device and only a dollar spent; the real problem is discoverability.

In summary, the future of what we read and how we read is still up for grabs, there is so much innovation out there in terms of devices, apps, as well as inventive ways of using and delivering content. However, it would be wrong to assume that everything will be sucked up into the digital mass, in the same way that when colour printing came out not everything became colour. It was pointed out that the way we feel about our childhood computer is the way today’s children will feel about the iPad; there is a huge generation of developers and technological genius out there that we have no real idea what is going to be around in 20 years time and it’s going to be an exciting journey to find out…

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