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Publishing: the next 5 years [OPINION]

In the run up to Publishing: the next 5 years, BookMachine will be featuring a number of opinions about what might be next for the industry. This is a guest blog from Ami Greko. Ami recently relocated from working for Goodreads in New York to working for Penguin Random House in London. Outside of the office she founded Book Camp NYC, an unconference for publishing types, and co-created a soup zine (called Stock Tips) that was well over-funded on Kickstarter.  In the next five years, I think we’ll see a wildly successful book-ish tech startup. I don’t mean a startup oriented around books. I mean a publishing startup created by and for those of us with towering stacks of books taking over every flat surface of the home. What’s the difference? A lot. Take the biggest example in our ecosystem: the dedicated ereader (your Kindle, your Kobo, your dusty Sony). We bookish have learned to love these gray rectangles because of what they can doógive instant access to all of the books we’ve ever ever dreamed ofónot what they are. Their deeply plastic souls are miles off from the first promise of digital reading: a book, of a size and shape selected by you, that can magically become any text in the world. Here’s a hot tip. If you read the sentence above and thought ‘there are many well-designed cases that will make your device look like a book’, you are (a) correct and (b) most likely a tech-over-books person. A tech-over-books person is someone who loves both worlds, but in their heart of hearts is more into lines of code than sentences of prose. This is 100% okay! And even wonderful and essential to publishing todayóall of our really good book tech have so far had one of these at its heart and look at the riches we have. Oyster. Goodreads. Wattpad. Epub files. Necessarily, though, a tech-over-books person is going to create something different that a books-over-tech person. Teach can make the Kindle and even understand the book-shaped case, but if you start yammering on about ‘magic books’ in sizes ranging from mass market to deluxe hardcover, they get a confused look on their face and make excuses to leave the conversation. So while book people can find a lot to like in the current crop of tech, we’re not exactly seeing our wildest dreams become realized. A change is coming, though. Startups are being launched by people who love technology, but love books even more. Emily Books is an ebookstore and digital subscription created by two writers. Alexi is an app with book suggestions from the likes of Ali Smith and David Mitchell. Canelo is a digital publisher with three founders formerly of major publishing houses. Are all of these startups going to be runaway successes? As much as I wish them all well, probably not. But it’s coming, the crazy popular company that understands those magic book desires of a reader and can figure out how to realize them. And when it does, it’s going to be fantastic. You can follow Ami on Twitter or subscribe to her newsletter of publishing links for both sides of the pond. – Join us for ‘Publishing: the next 5 years’ in London, Oxford, Cambridge UK, or NYC.

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Ami Greko, Book Camp NYC, book publishing, bookish, future of publishing, Goodreads, Kindle, Kobo, Penguin Random House, Publishing events, publishing types, sont, Soup Zine

Comments (2)

  • Hi Ami – great post. I am one of those folks you describe who loves books AND technology (books a smidgen more), and am doing a startup driven by that. (for the record: The Hawaii Project, a personalized book discovery engine).

    I agree with you that there is enormous room for passionate people to create something beautiful here – and many of the “successful” recent book startups don’t really embody that love of books, at least to me – they are focused on pushing something on me or selling me something. I’m not the customer, I’m the product.

    But I also think we have to be realistic about the challenges of making something a “runaway” success. Amazon owns such incredible mindshare (between the purchasing aspect via amazon.com and the reading experience through the closed Kindle ecosystem, and the reviewing ecosystem via Goodreads) – that it is quite difficult to get mindshare from readers. Do you have any thoughts on how to get access to significant numbers of readers? Without them, the most beautiful, passion-driven product will still die.

    Mark
    (The Hawaii Project on Medium)

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