Regular listeners will know that I am a (not so closet) futurist.
Today I get to indulge my passion with Future of Publishing author, publishing consultant and speaker, Thad McIlroy. Yes, we both get super excited about mobile, digital, global sales and the creative disruption of indies!
In the intro, I round up my time at ThrillerFest and talk about how Nook has shuttered all international stores except the UK, plus the release of iOS 8.4 iBooks which will have integration with iTunes, which bodes well for audiobooks.
Thanks to Kobo who did a Buy 3 and get 30% off promotion for my J.F.Penn thrillers last week, resulting in getting up to #4 in Mystery & Thriller in Canada, just behind Girl on a Train. My sales at Kobo this month have been super duper 🙂 I talk about tips on how you can potentially get noticed for merchandising.
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
Kobo’s financial support pays for the hosting and transcription, and if you enjoy the show, you can now support my time on Patreon. Thank you for your support!
Show notes for interview with Thad
Thad McIlroy is a journalist, author, speaker and publishing consultant and he writes about the future of publishing. He also has writing in his blood, as a descendant of Kenneth Grahame, who wrote The Wind in the Willows. Very cool!
- How mobile devices are changing the way people read and purchase books, and the increased reach of authors given the proliferation of mobile devices.
- On the new relationship between social media, mobile devices and shopping habits, and the resulting importance of brand and capturing a reader’s attention almost instantly.
- The world in 2025 (see the original Peter Diamandis article here) and the number of people who will be on the internet then and the exponentially increased potential reach this gives authors.
- What World English rights mean to traditionally published authors vs. indie authors
- The creative disruption that indie authors are creating and the benefits of not being bound by traditional rules, especially if we are unaware the rules existed at one time.
- Whether there’s a plateau in the indie book market and thriving without needing to destroy the traditional.
- The role of print books in the future, as well as the current state of the appearance of ebooks and the difficulty in making them beautiful.
- The rise of Apple in the ebook market and the differences in merchandising approaches on Kobo and Apple vs. Amazon.
- Recent changes at Scribd and the popularity of the subscription model.
- On audiobooks, Google Auto and Apple CarPlay and why audio matters for those authors with reasonable sales.
- On the importance of metadata, including the power of a book’s description because it is a metadata field.
You can find Thad at TheFutureOfPublishing.com and his book on Mobile Strategies for Digital Publishing here on Amazon.
Transcription of interview with Thad McIlroy
Joanna: Hi, everyone, I’m Joanna Penn from the CreativePenn.com. And today, I’m here with Thad McIlroy. Hi, Thad.
Thad: Hello, Joanna. I’m glad we have gotten together. We had this in the works for a while.
Joanna: Yes, I know and I’m very excited about this. Just a little introduction, Thad is a journalist, author, speaker and publishing consultant and he writes about the future of publishing. And he also has writing in his blood as a descendant of Kenneth Grahame who wrote “The Wind in the Willows”, which I think is very cool. Yeah, it’s a very cool background that you have there, Thad.
Thad: Thank you. I guess I’m used to it or whatever, we would say. I mean, I’m very proud of the fact that I come from a literary bunch, more so that I come from a publishing background. So many folks that we talk to these days are more recent immigrants into our territory and I’m pleased that I’ve been doing this since I was a book seller at the age of 17. That means a lot to me.
Joanna: It’s awesome. We’re going to talk about a whole load of stuff today.
Let’s start with mobile because you have a new report out on mobile technology which was being released to publishers and I’ve actually put it on my Facebook page and things, but broadly can you just talk about how is mobile changing the way that people read and the way that people shop.
Thad: Great question. There are really two sides that people need to understand. The way I am breaking it down in the report, on the one hand, how people read, of course, let’s talk about that.
But the more profound aspect of it that struck me when I was preparing the report was the social aspect, the how people shop, how people learn about reading, how people learn about authors, and I think it’s fabulous that finally the promise of social media has been reached by this technology.
And so Facebook, yeah, it was great, Twitter, great, fine, whatever, but at the point where people are digesting and getting it in real time throughout their lives, whatever they’re doing, with different devices. That’s something extraordinary.
More extraordinary is the people we’re reaching that we could never reach before, and I know we’re going to chat a bit about the international side of things, but that’s really something remarkable. Ask me separate questions, if you would, about the content.
Joanna: Yeah, sure. So in terms of reading, for example. I read on my phone because I live in central London, I commute and I have the phone like this up to my face on the chin.
Are the people who are predominantly reading on mobile, are they urban, city dwellers? Is that where the shift has happened with mobile reading?
Thad: With mobile reading, I would say the shift has happened in Africa or India. But then where it’s profound is outside of North American and Western European countries where you have options, I have options. As a commuter, certain things are preferable, but we have to really compare it against countries where that’s it, that’s the only screen they’ve got. And we’re reaching out to those people and that’s pretty amazing.
Joanna: We’ll be talking a little bit about reading and we’ll come back to the international stuff.
But what about shopping? How are people shopping now on their phones and why has that changed things in publishing?
Thad: The shopping goes along with the social media very much hand-in-hand. The way, I think, publishers and authors need to think about it goes along with social media very much hand-in-hand. The way I think publishers and authors need to think about it is that there’s a one, two, three in terms of getting an impulse, let’s say from Facebook, that says, “Okay, Joanna’s got a new book out. Oh, I love Joanna’s stuff.” Click, and before they know it, click over to shopping, click to receive, click to reading.
That’s something that, again, publishers are not used to visualizing that. They are used to a very slow, analog process that moves things. Someone was saying to me here in Australia the other day, “They use trucks.” They still use trucks and I can’t believe that. We’re on mobile, we don’t use trucks.
Joanna: There you mentioned impulse. So the fact that people might be on Facebook, see something from an author, click a link to buy, and that’s the sale. It moves much more smoothly on mobile. And it’s funny because I had an email from an author.
He said, “What do you think is the positives of doing a physical book tour are?” And I said, “I don’t think anything is useful unless it has a clickable link to it.” What do you think about that? Is that true or is branding awareness still lethal?
Thad: Branding, good old branding. I believe completely in the impulsive side. I’m with you 100%. It’s got to be that people can be able to take action instantly otherwise the impulse is lost.
And I love the notion that’s repeated in a few different places I use now in my presentations, that you’ve got five seconds. That’s it now, five seconds to capture the interest of a viewer, let’s say, on a mobile phone. You may have then an additional 12 seconds to make the sale.
But if you haven’t got them in the first five seconds, you’re not going to get them at all. And when you get them, you’re not going to hold them long. And while you’ve got them, if they don’t have the ability, they are not going to go off and load another site or load another app and search for the book, no. You’re right, click.
Joanna: So the other exciting thing about mobile is the international side and I’ve actually sold books now in 68 countries, which is just super exciting, and many of those in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, South America.
What do you see as the future? Do you see the U.S. and the U.K. as just being a drop in the bucket of digital? Do you see those countries being the major places for mobile sales?
Thad: Very, very complex problem that you’ve alluded to there. Are the U.S. and the U.K. the major markets? Of course, they are today. Tomorrow, sure.
But when you look at the demographics on English-speaking people around the world, you’ve got roughly 750 million between the obvious English-speaking countries. You’ve got another 750 million people using English as a second language. More astoundingly, by far, you’ve got 2 billion people studying English in different places in the world.
And you talk about 68 countries, indeed That gives you a sense of the kind of interest there is out there. It’s great that your books are achieving so much penetration outside of the obvious markets. And when you talk about 68 countries, is that English language purchasers?
Thad: Wow. Give yourself a little pat on the back there. That is great that you can do that. But anyone listening should say, “Why am I not doing that?” That’s the question.
In the mobile report, I lay out the demographics, but we have to be thinking about how we reach through social media than how we actually retail the books internationally. That’s something that very few publishers have a properly robust handle on.
It’s not enough to just say Apple has stores all over the world, and Amazon does, too. I think we’ve got that covered. There’s much more than that. And then the delivery and the support, and how are you going to reach people within those different nations with their unique cultures and their unique approach to reading, and that’s the final part of the equation.
Joanna: Marketing to different countries is a big deal. But again, that clickable link idea. Anything you put on Twitter is accessible all over the world. And like we said, this is English language. Where I have failed that is marketing, say, in German or Spanish because that’s not my language, but luckily English is the most international language. So that’s very cool.
Also, I referenced Peter Diamandis’ article on “The world in 2025”, which I sent you and I’ll include in the show notes for everyone. And he talked about the potential. So 2025, you’re a futurist, I’m a closet one, it’s seems a way off, but it’s not that long, it’s only 10 years. And he’s talking about 8 billion people with Internet access coming with Google Loon and Internet.org.
How will that shift the publishing landscape and the creative landscape, because these people will be readers and creators?
Thad: Yes. The numbers are another thing that I think everyone should pause to turn off the radio and the TV and just sit there for five minutes and think, I’m not reaching hundreds of thousands. My audience is not a few million. My potential audience now measures in the billions. And it’s unfathomable within publishing as we’ve known it and the conception that we can be reaching so many in publishing sense.
It’s a rounding error now. If you’re off by .05% in terms of your projections, there’s another 150,000 people represented by that .05%. In the old days, that meant you sold one less book. I don’t think we can underestimate the impact of those sheer numbers, that’s certainly underlying it. I’ll put a comma there.
However, I have these projections, these predictions. I did look up that document as you’ve mentioned it earlier, and if we want to chat about that a bit more, he’s one of the futurists who I actually two thumbs down here.
Joanna: Yeah. And why is that?
Thad: I think folks who are interested in the future of publishing need to be aware of the breathless. The breathless predictions are the ones that are going to stir you wrong. Okay, I was a little bit breathless, maybe we both were on the 8 billion, so we’ll say that that’s okay to be breathless about, that’s a big number. But he gets breathless about it, and he talks about the trillion censor economy.
And so we’re hearing a lot these days about the Internet of things. To me, this is vastly overestimated in any kind of real near term for authors or publishers to worry about. I’d leave that one off to the side. Perfect knowledge.
The idea that we’re going to be able to filter the information explosion into something managed and manageable, I don’t go with that. There’s some of those things where he’s beyond what I would consider credible. He also talks about artificial intelligence, which I think is another topic hugely overrated. People should be looking at expert systems, not artificial intelligence. So that’s the end of my rant on him.
Joanna: Yeah. I think why I picked the 8 billion people with Internet access because that does seem like it will happen. You’ve seen the pictures now of the Maasai Mara warriors in their gear with a cellphone. And we went to India and there’s people in the market who are very poor, but they still have a cellphone because people want connection, they want knowledge, they can find it that way. So to me, it seems more like just a practical thing, the Internet connection. And people will jump on it. So that’s exciting.
But just moving into that, because publishers right now, the old guard are still obsessed with these territories. So most authors will sell rights to U.K., Commonwealth, U.S.A., Canada. And if you sell World English, which some authors do, they don’t publish in all countries. So you know, my World English really is World English, but for most authors, that doesn’t happen.
Are the publishers changing their perception of what publishing is in this global space?
Thad: One of the topics I’d like us to be able to return to is intended by this challenge, let’s say. The traditional publishers who I am increasingly down on, several practices that are so entrenched in the traditional world of publishing that are obsolete and now very detrimental to authors and to the publishing industry as a whole, is this notion of territorial rights.
And of course, it comes from an important, valid tradition. There were important reasons why it developed the way it did, and not in any way making fun of the background of this practice, but it’s something where today, publishers heading off to Frankfurt in the tens of thousands to chat amongst themselves as to which countries these things are going to be published in and translation rights and heralding a big deal like that. It’s becoming quaint to do it that way, when indeed we have this global audience at our disposal. With the technologies that there are now, we don’t need to fly to Frankfurt to reach them.
Joanna: I think it’s just about parties, isn’t it? Frankfurt.
Thad: It seems that way. Parties and ego – publishing.
Joanna: Yeah, it’s part of the fun. But it’s interesting. Like you said, you were a bit down on traditional publishers there.
You described self-publishers as a creative disruption in your report, which, I think, is actually a lovely phrase. I like being a creative disruption. What do you mean by that and how are indies changing things?
Thad: I am a self-published author. I love self-published authors. I love what’s happening with self-publishing. I mentioned at the beginning that I’ve got a 40-year-plus career in publishing so I should be. But anyway, I’m pleased and I’m excited because there’s a point where you either go to the bright or go to the dark, and I went to what I think is a tremendous brightness in our industry now.
Of all of the new talent that’s coming in, and most wonderfully there’s fantastic talent, there’s new flavors of talent, new volumes of talent, but mostly what’s really exciting is people coming in. It’s not that they are ignorant, it’s that they are so excited because they haven’t got the rules to get in their way.
They come in and saying, “I just wrote this and I want as many people as possible to read it,” and that’s possible now. That’s why self-publishers are such a disruptive, creative side for the business and it disrupts the traditional power structures.
Joanna: There was a bit of “us versus them” probably last year and now it’s moved into more of a settled state where publishing is saying, “Actually we’re fine. You guys just get on with your thing, we’ll just carry on with our thing.” The status quo never sticks around for long, right?
How do you see the next step in this rainbow of choices?
Thad: The larger publishers were saying, “We’re fine, you’re fine,” I don’t believe that at all. I don’t think, number one, that the traditional publishers are fine. And everyone wants to think that the e-book revolution has paused, I don’t think it has. And you’re deep in the trenches, you would know that even better.
It’s paused from the point of view of the spectrum, or the particular prisim, let’s say. The traditional publishing looks through, they look at it and say, “It’s leveled off, 20%-25%, we’re fine. And we don’t have to worry about these upstarts anymore.” And I think they are really ignoring some amazing things that are happening out there.
And fine, they are not fine, their businesses have crested, in many cases are starting to move into a slow decline. But it’s not so much about destroying the publishing industry that is, we don’t need to do that. What we want to do is keep building these new things that do not necessarily need to destroy, but will thrive and flourish on their own. Publishing can’t stop that from happening.
Joanna: We see these mergers of the mega-mega publishers, and then we’ve got the indies like myself, I say, at the bottom or on the side, lots and lots of individuals who are doing it ourselves and love doing it ourselves. And then you’ve got the rise of these digital agencies now which are glorified self-publishing companies really, offering better terms but still just essentially putting books in the same place as I do.
Is that the stratification that we’re just going to get to, like one mega-mega at the top that still does the big blockbusters, and then lots of the little ones, and then people like me at the bottom again, creative entrepreneurs – do you see that remaining or is it just going to totally fragment?
Thad: One of the big misconceptions around book publishing in U.K. and U.S. is that the big publishers actually dominate the business. There’s five of them. In the United States, the last robust cataloguing of the number of active or recently active ISBNs by agency, there’s 65,000, just pre self-published authors, 65,000 so-called publishing institutions. And the big five say, “We’re going to write all the rules.”
They can write the rules in part because Barnes & Noble is very much in cahoots in that sense. But Amazon is not, in the end, really in cahoots, despite all of the publicity over the Hachette and all of that stuff, the money means nothing to Amazon. We know that. The publishing part of Amazon is like this. And so within that, the big five, we can’t even see them.
All that matters, of course, would be that customers would complain if those books weren’t available. Well, increasingly I think that, again, they are at the party, they are at their own little party, and a lot of traditional readers go to the same party. But the readers that go to your party are actually, in many cases, a new group of readers, people that weren’t reading very much who are reading more because they are excited by your books and by your presence and your ability to get them excited about your book.
So that, I think, is what people should be considering. To me, the big five, yes, it will come down to the big four, the big three, two, one, perhaps. But mostly they are just going to be shifted quietly off the stage.
Joanna: What about print? Because everyone likes to wonder about print. In my opinion, it’s going to be pretty hardbacks, gorgeous hardback gift editions, and then throw-away paperback-type stuff will be digital. What do you see with print?
Thad: I do a webinar/seminar called Bookishness. And my particular fixation right now on print is to harangue publishers, authors and say, “Print has its role. And let’s not try and make any absolute arguments, but we know that there is an audience that loves print.”
What behooves every publisher and author is to say, “If I’m going to do print, I’m going to make it fabulous. I’m going to make it so beautiful, so exciting to the touch, so visually fabulous on the front cover. And I’m going to put illustrations in pages where people never thought to illustrate books before. And I’m going to make that print book a delightful experience well worth the 25-whatever pounds, dollars it’s going to be.”
The e-book separately needs to be its own delight, which is a topic that we want to touch on is how difficult that is to do right now with all the problems in book formatting. But yes, wouldn’t it be great if we could do gorgeous e-books, which they are mostly not gorgeous, and gorgeous print books, which in too many cases are pedestrian.
Joanna: Yeah, just throw-away. I won’t buy or read throw-away print anymore. The only books I have are big, oversized, full-color, exciting print books. But let’s just come back on that e-book thing because to be fair, most people listening will do print-on-demand with CreateSpace or IngramSpark and we don’t do special print editions right now, unless it’s a very special project.
For example, I would like to print my own paper, make my own paper, print my own books, make the covers. I’d like to do that, that would be really fun.
But with e-books, do you have any recommendations on the best, pretty e-book formatting stuff right now? Or when, do you think, we’re going to get that?
Thad: It’s a dog’s breakfast, that’s the only nice way to say it. I’m so disappointed by it. It breaks my heart. And thinking about our chat here today, I was thinking, who does it behoove that e-book formatting is so terrible? And who it behooves is traditional publishers. It’s actually very much in their self-interest that e-books be overpriced, badly produced, suffocated in DRM because everything they can do to throttle the market as much as possible is in their self-interest because they are still in a business model that’s primarily dependent on revenue and profitability of print.
And also, in terms of moving the market, getting reviews, getting authors, publicity, that sort of thing, is based on the ability to send out, first of all, a print version. If they are trying to send out an e-book-only version into the New York Times, it’s not going to get reviewed.
Joanna: You’re saying that the publishers have no vested interest in making e-books beautiful.
I want something that’s easy, that I can output preferably from Scrivener that will just be beautiful, but there’s quite a lot of effort involved. But I do see with Kindle for Kids, with the Textbook Creator, with iBooks Author, the movement is happening. We are going to have to use HTML5 or whatever to make things more beautiful.
I guess my question for you as the futurist is when do you think the tipping point will come when readers will demand this? They will go, “I’m not reading that because that looks crap. That just looks like plain text on the screen. When am I going to get something that looks nice?” And I feel like there will be an avalanche. It may not read as seeing beauty in e-books, we will have to do it for all books, basically.
Will the software, the technology to create beautiful e-books come out of the indie movement? Because we see so many startups. There are a number of companies who say they can create beautiful e-books, but it’s not easy enough for me.
Thad: I think it’s a great point you’re making. As you’re going through that, the one that I keep thinking of that I want to get off the table, so let’s put it on there for a moment. There are some great software tools out there, it’s not that we don’t have the technology to create beauty, given that e-books are primary HTML5 and CSS. We see beautiful websites everyday so we can have e-books just as beautiful as we want. If you look at the EPUB 3 spec, there’s nothing in that specification that would stop anyone from creating the ultimate in e-book fabulousness, that’s not a problem.
The problem, of course, is the e-book vendors. And Amazon is an enemy of the state of authoring, self-publishing. As much as they have been able to revolution there now, we now need to break down their gates, and I don’t know how we are going to do that, they are so powerful. And again, the strangle hold that they have on e-book formats serves them incredibly well and serves everyone else incredibly poorly.
There is a little brief moment where I saw authors staying entirely within the Amazon ecosystem. And maybe there was a brief moment where that made financial sense. It doesn’t anymore, particularly when we talk about international reach. And so you’ve got to move beyond the Amazon ecosystem. But Amazon does everything it can that when you do move outside that ecosystem, you’re left to use tools that are very fragmented.
And I don’t know how you are doing with Barnes & Noble, but the mobile report and the new version of the metadata handbook, I can’t get that onto the Barnes & Noble website because of their support. All I’m using is the EPUB 3 standard features, but Barnes & Noble are way behind on that, and that’s pathetic. So there’s a terrible thing that’s still happening in our business.
And Google’s not faultless in this. Apple has been getting much better of late. In some ways, we could hold them up as a poster child where didn’t use to be able to. So that one’s there as a block. And trying to think when is this going to get cleared up, we have to then say, “When are people going to stop getting their e-books from Amazon?” As a futurist, I never look beyond three years and I don’t see that one changing in the next three years.
Joanna: Although as you say, in the international market, it is different. Kobo, for example, owned by a Japanese company, the biggest e-retailer in Japan, I think, Rakuten, and very much outside of North America, is doing better. And as you say, Apple. My Apple income goes up every month and some months it has been on parity with Amazon which is very amazing. It’s only happened in the last six months. A lot of that has changed.
Thad: Where’s Kobo for you and how important is Kobo at this point?
Joanna: It’s pretty much third or second income every month depending when it is. I’ve worked very hard with Kobo and with Apple in the last year trying to build that up.
I think the authors listening who haven’t seen the sales on these platforms, it’s not as easy as Amazon and that’s the point. Not that Amazon is easy, but you actually have to work on the merchandising. You have to join the promotions. You have to play the game of those other platforms. Just don’t do Nook Press. I’ve stopped using Nook Press and I use Draft2Digital now to publish to Nook because Nook Press, as you say, is just so terrible.
Have you tried Draft2Digital? That’s an excellent platform.
Thad: I’m making a note as we speak. That’s great. Thank you.
Joanna: That’s basically the way to get on Nook now.
But just on Nook, do you see it disappearing in the next three years? I’d love Kobo to buy it, as many people would, but what do you think about that? Do you just see it go on and we’re left with Amazon, Apple? If Google Play have a real go, they might make it then, but they just don’t seem that interested. So what about Nook?
Thad: I had missed the scuttlebutt that would have Kobo buying the Nook, and that makes so much sense because of Kobo’s lack of penetration in the U.S. market. It’s the only major market where they are not a presence at all. So certainly it makes economic sense for them to do that and no other major player does it make sense. We got so excited.
I just wrote a new blog post on Barnes & Noble and the calamity that that company is, as much as we love them. They are still the player in the United States market when it comes to print. As long as that’s going on, Barnes & Noble, who do a great job at that, are an important player. They’ve already said, “We want to throw the Nook baby out preferably not with the bath water.”
They are looking for someone to buy it, but right now what they are offering is a pig in a poke because it’s like, “You want this crummy hardware that’s an OEM, on top of everything else, our failed software system?” But they have this large catalogue of existing business relationships and that’s powerful.
Kobo’s already got that but what they would gain then is a market presence that they don’t have in the U.S. market. Yeah, so Kobo, okay. Let’s call up Michael Tamlin. Well, I’m sure he’s thought it through. Give him the vote.
Joanna: Another thing I wanted to ask you about because we’ve just seen, I think it was yesterday, Scribd cutting a whole load of romance books from their catalogue.
Thad: Wasn’t that interesting?
Joanna: Yeah, because basically romance read is a bankrupt thing, their subscription model. It’s hilarious that they didn’t see that coming.
Thad: It’s wonderful.
Joanna: Yeah, but it’s also really bad for those authors who they’ve cut. What it does show is the growing popularity of subscription models. I look at the music industry and they are like five years, maybe even 10 years, ahead of us in terms of the publishing industry. But the shift to people getting rid of their mp3 collections. Like I’ve heard people say – in fact I’ve just done it – “I’ve just removed my music from my computer because it’s easier to have streaming services, even just find stuff in your iTunes catalogue.”
Do you see subscription models like Scribd, Oyster, Kindle Unlimited being the future for publishing?
Thad: Very good question, very important, very timely. Let’s go with you just removed the music from your computer because you can work with streaming. If you took all the e-books off your computer, could you join simply Scribd or Oyster and be able to access all those titles? No, because their libraries are still limited.
And when you consider those services, I look at two sides. If we look at the music side of the business, the essential promise of Spotify/Pandora, etc. and Apple is that they can offer essentially everything. There’s very little tension in terms of not being able to find stuff that you really want to find because without that, they are not going to succeed. That’s the nature of the way people consume music.
On the other hand, we look at the Netflix model which says it’s essentially a small curated collection. Netflix does a good job of making it seem like it’s a larger collection than it is. You actually look at the number of titles they have available at any one time, it’s very modest and I’m sure you’ve had the – if your experiences with Netflix are equivalent – where you go, “Have they got this?” No, they don’t. Does that make you cancel your subscription? No, because you’ve got enough other entertainment available on that service.
Now with books, I say that book reading is far more similar to the music model whereby, talking for myself, I can’t join Scribd or Oyster because they don’t have, and I know they don’t have, many of the books that I would want from the last few years that I haven’t had a chance to buy and read. And I know that ongoing, they’re not getting the front list of any number of publishers.
Therefore, that’s what’s so interesting about the romance. I thought it was a great story because it said that romance readers, we’ve already always known for the most part, the largest number of them tend to stay within that relatively walled garden of romance reading. That’s great, so do a lot of mystery readers, science fiction, etc. So within romance, these folks were able to migrate their passion on to a site that was giving them tons of stuff at, in the end, a much lower price than they were having to pay for all those individual books.
It said to me, “Isn’t it interesting that romance remains such a powerful business that it can force a company as well funded as Scribd to pull back and have to change their business model essentially and alienate a bunch of customers, threatened a lot of other authors implicitly and a lot of publishers implicitly.” So I was actually pleased that the readers of romance were able to make that, force that move. But it brings in the stark relief. The problem for all of us writers, readers, is Kindle’s subscription services really substitute for owning our own libraries.
Joanna: And I guess for me, I like having stuff in the cloud. I own thousands and thousands of e-books, but they are available in the cloud and I can always get them back on my phone or my Paperwhite or a tablet. So the cloud for me is better than a subscription model. I like to know that they are there, even though of course we don’t own any, but we own a license to read an e-book.
Thad: We own them. As far as I’m concerned, we own them.
Joanna: Yeah. Finding it again is much easier. I like that much better to have things in the cloud. So maybe it’s the cloud services rather than the subscription, but I agree with you. But then I pay Netflix subscription and Amazon Prime. So I watch some Amazon TV. I watch some Netflix TV. And then if we can’t find it in either of those, we look at iTunes and download movies that way. Like you said, you become a consumer across the different platforms.
You could have your subscription for your mass market consumption, and then you buy your extra special stuff when you do that. So maybe that’s the way forward.
Thad: It’s pretty expensive though. You see the bills add up when you have to take that approach.
Joanna: Yeah, that’s true. But me and my husband have this rule which is if it’s a book, then you don’t have to question it because books are always worth the money.
Thad: Good, that’s good. I like that rule.
Joanna: I could talk to you forever because I’m so excited about all these things. I do want to ask your opinion on audio books because I’m really excited about audio with smart phones.
Podcasting is growing. We’ve got Google Auto and Apple CarPlay coming in 2016, streaming audio Internet into cars. What do you see happening with audio books and have publishers picked up on this yet?
Thad: Audio books are one of the wonderful successes of the last several years. It was a category that if you track it, as you’ve been tracking it for some time, it actually was on a frightening decline. And I kept pondering why is that because there was such good production working down and there was a wide variety of titles available. You need to go back five years. Smaller compared to today, but already it was a good library available.
It was trickling off and then something, I don’t know what tipped, where people suddenly realized, “These things are fantastic, they are so portable, they are rich. You can listen to them anywhere, you can synchronize that.” All the features that are coming in have turned this format into something exquisite. And now, the marriage with the print books is also fantastic, to be able to read and listen. Works really well for a lot of people.
I see audio books having just the brightest possible future. And when you consider the future of publishing, it’s one of the ways in which you can imagine the augmentation of the text-only experience. And when we think the so-called enhanced e-book, a lot of folks have tried to create that enhancement through audio, which is the wrong way to do it. You’ve got to make the audio stand alone, and then come back to the print version in order to figure out the best kind of coupling that that will have.
For any author with any kind of legs, that is selling a reasonable quantity of books, they have to look to that audio book option because you’re able to reach a lot of audiences that you couldn’t reach currently. Plus, you’re able to bring those customers, readers bring them closer. It increases the passion that they have for your work.
Joanna: I’m glad you’re excited about it, too. I think it’s just an upward curve. Almost like we saw with the Kindle. There’s that famous picture of Jeff Bezos with the graph when the Kindle curve just overtook print and I feel like that with audio. We’re just on this growth curve.
And also, it’s much easier to stand out in audio because there are so few books actually have audio versions. And I feel like the publishers are taking this really slowly. But most new authors I know who publish with traditional publishers, sign away audio rights and never get an audio made.
Thad: Oh, good. Well, then you’re tracking those numbers better than I am and that’s really interesting what you’re saying. I’m sure you’ve pinned that down. I have this view of the garden where I’m looking at the stuff that does get produced and haven’t been considering the relatively low percentages. That’s troubling, but as you say, that’s the opportunity.
Joanna: Yeah, exactly. So one last question, you have this brilliant report on metadata and the word metadata, for indies who have done a few books, we understand quite a lot about metadata and we actually sometimes understand it better than publishers, right?
There’s so much in your report around big data analytics, metadata, but are there any things, like specific things, that indie authors should be watching out for, or things that you recommend that will help indies stay ahead of this metadata curve?
Thad: Wow, that’s a tough one. You’ve seen, you’ve been in the metadata muck enough to see just how messy this thing can be. And I’ve been talking to folks about metadata for some years now. It is just as ugly as it seems, so the advice I always have to folks when I speak to them first time about metadata and they say, “This sounds really complicated and awful,” and I say, “Yes it is.” Let’s start with that. It is as awful as it seems. So if you prepare yourself on that basis, that this is niggly, it’s data, it’s data structures and it’s really fussy, then now we’re ready to go on the journey.
And people say, “Well then, what’s metadata?” and you give them the easy answer: title, author, price, pub date. And they say, “Okay, so that’s metadata?” Yes, it is metadata.
But what I’ve learned, authors, it would behoove them to learn, I understand why they don’t, is to recognize that it goes way deeper than that. And the deeper they are willing to go . . . I know they say, “Would I recommend social media or metadata?” Well, of course, I’d recommend both, but if you’ve got to choose one, okay, social media, but make sure at least you’re metadata basics are right.
If you have misspelled something or you’ve added an extra spacebar, you are potentially depriving a lot of your potential customers of your book because it won’t come up properly in a search. It is that niggly, to use that word. So the basics of metadata are tremendously important. To go deeper is to open up a lot of important opportunities. The obvious one being when people talk about the descriptions of their books, most people are clued in to the idea. Yes, I need to include a description of my book as part of the metadata stream.
That little box with the description of your book, that’s one of the most powerful tools you’ve got. And can we separately talk about descriptions? Recognize that that’s a metadata field and that’s going to populate throughout the universe as your book travels out there, and you need to pay attention and you need to go deep on that. It’s like building the house without the foundation. It truly is. It’s corny, but it’s true.
Moving forward, big data, it’s out there, it’s going to be a factor in publishing for the self-published author. Don’t give it another thought right now. It’s really not in your bailiwick to worry about big data. There’s nothing in particular that you should be doing with big data. So thank gosh, there’s one thing where we can say, “Don’t worry about it, it’s fine. Come back later.”
Joanna: Yeah, come back later. Well, it’s interesting then because we’ve just seen Amazon move to, in Kindle Unlimited, paying per page read. So obviously they are now monitoring all that type of stuff. It makes me think that we all use right now the description, the keywords, categories, all that different metadata, but the e-books are metadata, the whole contents surely is metadata.
We don’t have time to go into AI in terms of that way, but machine learning, which is one step before AI, and Amazon is now using for reviews, do you see that the whole book will be the metadata of the future?
Thad: Yes, I’m with you on that. Many people declare that a heresy to say that the book itself is metadata, but of course it is. If everything else related to the book is metadata, is not the book itself and is not part of the process of the discovery of that book, the contents of that book? And wouldn’t it be great? To me, the perfect author website has all of the contents of the book on the site. Now, how do we do that without it being stolen? Okay, that’s an issue.
But if you want your site to be discoverable to the umpteenth factor, then somehow that has to all be searchable by Google. Then it has to also be categorized by semantically and all sorts of things like that, which is another layer of big data complexity. I would turn to you for advice, how can an author put their whole book online and have it searchable without having to worry about it being stolen?
Joanna: I wouldn’t worry about it being stolen. I’d worry about it being priced matched. I think stealing work is relatively easy. You can just download the Kindle file and break it open and take the text, which of course is happening by pirates all over the world. But you’ve given me an idea there. There are a lot of authors who will publish everything on, say, Wattpads and then will sell the book. But the difficulty we have is the price match because if you’re book is available for free, Amazon will sometimes just price it for free. So that would worry me more. But you saying that, that’s brilliant. I now want to go and put or at least you could put half the book.
Thad: You’re not putting the book on, you’re putting the text of the book. It’s something different. It’s not zeroing out the price of the book.
Joanna: That’s a brilliant idea. I’m going to do that.
Thad: Okay. You’ll see that you’ll show up in Google searches in some truly unexpected ways. You’ll find that it works magic. It won’t do it immediately, but over time, more and more people from more and more unexpected places all over the world will find their way into your book because things will show up in searches that come from your books, particularly non-fiction, of course.
Joanna: That is super, Thad. I really enjoyed our chat. It’s been amazing. And maybe we can do this again next year and have a look at what things have changed and move things forward. That was a lot of fun.
Thad: I’d look forward to that. That would be great. Thanks so much, Joanna.
Joanna: Tell people where they can find you and your books and things online.
Thad: The easiest place to find me is in my main website, TheFutureOfPublishing.com, just as it sounds. I managed to get that URL years ago, I don’t know what I was thinking. So, TheFutureOfPublishing.com, that’s the place to go.
Joanna: Fantastic. Well, thanks again for your time, Thad.
Thad: Well, thank you. It’s been wonderful.