Publishing and social media – a match made in heaven?
You’ve already heard my views on the subtle ways that realtime media, user-generated content and networks are fundamentally changing the world of journalism. As digital technology weaves its way into every part of our lives, it’s also starting to drastically change consumer behaviour – and with it, the industries and products around us.
The publishing industry has seen some dramatic changes over the past year, and that shows few signs of slowing down in 2012. A few years ago, it was simple – books were published by publishing houses, we bought them from bookshops or online retailers such as Amazon and the author was paid a small royalty for every sale. It was a formula that worked on a basic level.
Yet as social networking has grown into an integral part of our everyday lives, we have become accustomed to new habits and behaviour. Social offers a sense of immediacy, giving updates and samples of short-form content at the click of a mouse. Crucially, it also offers a route to content-sharing, bringing word-of-mouth to the forefront and allowing us to see (often in real-time) what our friends are listening to and reading.
So the publishing industry has had to adapt. The development of the Kindle and portable tablets such as the ipad have catered for our desire to find what we want easily and download it at the touch of a button. If a friend recommends a book, it can now be in front of you in a matter of minutes.
However, it isn’t just the way we read that is changing, it’s also what we read. The proliferation of content available online is making it increasingly difficult for publishers and authors to make themselves heard above the noise. There’s simply so much to read at any given moment, that to attract attention and create buzz requires a more personalized approach.
Crowd-sourced publisher Unbound has taken an interesting direction with regard to this, giving individuals the option to finance a prospective book, in exchange for certain access and privileges once the book is published. You can pledge a certain amount for an autographed copy of the book, an invite to the launch party or a meeting with the author, for example. This is a smart move for a number of reasons, not least because it gauges the potential popularity of a project early on, giving the company an advantage in a hugely competitive market.
But the main reason crowd-sourcing could be the lifeline the publishing industry needs is that it taps into the inclusive world created by Twitter, where barriers between those in the public eye and the people who admire them are completely removed. Involving the public directly with a project automatically creates a key bond and makes them more likely to talk about it – creating that all important online buzz and helping to drive future sales. This integrates the project effortlessly with social media, avoiding the age-old problem of how to effectively communicate commercial messages via a ‘personal’ channel.
Social media is beginning to break down the autocratic nature of mass media, creating a more level playing field where more power resides in the hands of the individual, not those with privileged access to distribution networks. Any industry that creates and distributes content – music, books, newspapers and more – needs to be aware of this fundamental shift and not only learn to talk directly to their audience, but most importantly, be aware that they can – and will – talk back.