With Apple Homepod now launched, and Amazon Echo (Alexa) and Google Home already taking the market by storm, voice technology is only going to grow.
In today's article, Katie Ernst from Select a Story gives an overview and talks about how you can even create stories for the platform.
Everyone’s heard of Siri and Cortana, but Amazon Alexa and Google’s Assistant are game changers. In the future, just about everything in a person’s home, car, and work will be controlled by voice. Sound futuristic? Not at all. This is happening now.
Are these smart speaker things honestly a big deal?
Nearly 35 million of them shipped in 2017, and it’s projected that in 2018 an additional 56.3 million smart speakers will be sold.
What speakers are selling the fastest?
Amazon is leading the pack, but as you can see, Google is making big gains. In fact, in the most recent data, Amazon dipped below 70% market share for the first time and Google is now approximately 25%.
Sure there’s huge growth, but only tech nerds have smart speakers, right?
On the contrary. By 2020, 75% of homes will have smart speakers, and the growth estimates to date have consistently underestimated smart speaker sales.
This isn’t even to mention voice assistant adoption on phones. Google Assistant alone is available on over 400 million devices, and according to a recent Pew Research poll, currently 46 percent of Americans use voice assistants.
I get it. Voice is having a moment. But what does this mean for authors? And what about Siri? You haven’t mentioned her at all.
The reason Amazon Alexa and Google Home are game changers is that Amazon and Google have opened their platforms for independent development. Think: independent publishing, but through a voice assistant. Siri and Cortana do not allow for this, which is why, frankly, they’re being left in the technological dust.
As a concrete example: I recently co-founded the publishing company Select a Story. Select a Story produces interactive audiobooks written by authors for Amazon Alexa and coming soon to Google Assistant. Think: Choose Your Own Adventure audiobooks you can talk to. Pretty cool right?
The user hears a scene and then at the end of it they’re given two options. Let’s say, “Do you: fight the dragon or run away.” The user then says either “fight the dragon” or “run away” and the scene that corresponds to their choice plays next.
This is repeated until they get to an ending of the story. At that point, they can start over to see what happens when they make different choices. Many players will go through three or four full story paths in one sitting.
Creating interactive stories is only one of infinite possibilities for authors developing for a voice assistant. Authors could produce prequels to their books exclusively for Alexa or Google Assistant. They could provide additional content. They could create a game or a quiz about their books.
Moreover, while Select a Story hires voice actors to professionally narrate all of its content to create a rich experience for the user, authors wouldn’t have to. Alexa and Google Assistant can read text in their own voice making the cost to produce a voice application much lower.
That sounds neat and all, but, umm, how do I make money off of it?
I’m so glad you asked. This would be a lot of work if there were no monetization options.
First, Amazon has instituted developer reward payments for voice apps that are high performing. Think: the way KU pays out, but for developers. However, if you thought Amazon was opaque with its KU payment formula, just wait until you dive into the waters of developer reward payments.
Last year, the highest compensated developer was paid about $100,000 by Amazon, but no one has any idea what goes into their reward payment calculation (other than to surmise it’s some combination of number of users and engagement).
Second, Amazon recently announced that developers will be able to create a subscription service. So for Select a Story, as an example, right now we only have one interactive story available: Cinder/Charming. In Cinder/Charming you can play as either Cinderella or Prince Charming and go on multiple adventures as either character.
In the coming months we are working with writers to release dozens of additional stories. Thus, we could make two or three of them free and then charge the user a fee for stories beyond the free stories or we could provide some other incentive for subscribing, such as having a larger number of options within each story for subscribers.
Third, Amazon currently does not allow for advertising in its voice apps, but it is likely coming eventually.
Finally, voice apps provide a vehicle to essentially advertise your traditional writing. For instance, with Select a Story when the player gets to the end of a story they will be prompted, “If you liked this interactive audiobook by Author X, you will love their novel Such-and-Such. Say yes to buy it now.” This is obviously huge.
You spoke a lot about Amazon. What about Google?
Google currently doesn’t have many (any?) monetization options, but Google has been behind Amazon every step of the way, so it is likely that similar monetization options will be coming soon for Google.
Is there a lot of competition?
No. Now is the time to get into this space. In the U.S. there are currently 25,000 voice applications for Amazon Alexa and about 500 for Google Home. But only about 15% of them are games. The rest are apps that control your smart home or music apps or news apps, etc.
So let’s say that for Amazon Alexa there are 3,750 games. But wait, it gets better. Sixty-two percent of Alexa voice apps (they call them “skills” if you want to be in the know) have zero ratings in the skill store.
As you can see, only 22% have two or more ratings. Why is this? This space is so new, most developers are just tinkering around. They have no writing or creative background. They make a simple voice app that has a short quiz or that plays fart sounds and they never even think about promoting it or monetizing it. Thus, the constellation of real competition is maybe one hundred voice apps, being generous.
Can you imagine starting out in self-publishing and you only had one hundred books to compete against? It’s unreal.
There’s not a lot of data on the average time spent using these voice apps, but I recently attended the Alexa Conference. The best Alexa developers from around the world attended, and many shared their personal stats. Most developers consider an average engagement of two-three minutes to be impressive.
Since Select a Story’s release one month ago, our average length of engagement has been approximately 15-20 minutes, with many users playing for more than an hour in a single sitting. This is nearly unheard of.
Why is our engagement so high? I am convinced it’s because there are so few creatives developing voice apps. I have a writing/publishing background, not a coding background. I know how to write and edit compelling narratives.
Just as knowing how to bind books doesn’t mean you’re the best person to write one, knowing how to code doesn’t mean you should write the content for voice apps—especially one with narrative elements.
Has anyone had success doing this yet?
As I mentioned, this is all very new. Amazon only announced monetization options less than six months ago. Even so, there are a few voice apps that stand out, but I’ll focus on one. The Magic Door is an interactive story on Amazon Alexa developed by a husband and wife team. The husband has done the coding and the wife has written the story.
As far as I can tell from their bios, neither has any writing background. Even so, there is such a hunger for this type of content that The Magic Door has attracted more than a million users. Imagine a million users playing your interactive story and being presented with a buy option of your novel at the end.
When I played The Magic Door for the first time, my reaction was, “this is cool, but if creatives were behind it, it could be so much more.” And that’s what Select a Story has set out to do. We publish interactive stories written by authors, not web developers. If you’re interested in writing for us, please reach out. If we publish your work, we pay you.
Or you could always produce a voice app yourself.
I’d like to create a voice app, but I don’t know how to code. Do I need to?
There are more and more programs popping up that allow you to make Alexa skills without coding. Storyline is one such program and they keep adding additional functionality to their product all the time.
Although, I’m not going to kid you. If you don’t know how to code, right now, creating a quality voice app will be difficult. My husband and I co-founded Select a Story precisely because I have the creative background and he’s a software developer.
You could also look into teaming up with an independent developer to help you create your voice app and either pay them outright or propose a split of your profits the way that many voice actors do for audiobooks.
Because this is such a new area, there aren’t established channels to find such a person, but if you email me, I’d be happy to put you in contact with people I know working in the space.
As you can see, there are a number of hurdles to overcome if you want to create a voice application. Coding knowledge is a huge plus. It’s brand new, so there aren’t established channels to find developers or voice actors. Moreover, how do you promote these skills? Someone jumping in will have to figure it out all on their own, but I guarantee you.
The ones who do will be reaping huge rewards. Getting in on voice this early feels like a cross between getting in on the beginning of the internet and the beginning of the self-publishing wave. My company, Select a Story, is going all in on voice, and in a few years, I guarantee you will see exactly why we did.
Katie Ernst is the Co-Founder and CEO of Select a Story, a publisher of interactive audio, print, and e-books. Select a Story’s first interactive novel, Cinder/Charming, is available now on Amazon Alexa.
To start, say “Alexa, Open Select a Story.” Coming soon to Google Home.