More people searched for the term “Kindle” than “iPad” both before and after Christmas. That never happens.
It’s supposed to go “iPhone, iPad, world peace, a different baby sister that maybe isn’t so annoying, everything else.”
Via search trends, twitter and such, the sentiment of entire nations is available for you to measure for free in real time.
Disney villains never dreamed of such power! They resorted to such desperately analogue measures as asking their mirrors.
Last year some countries asked for freedom from dictators. We asked for Kindles. (Polls indicate we’re happy with our dictator at the moment.)
In the previous decade it’s been computing power crunching data that has contributed the most to our understanding of the universe. In space, in economics, in health, in government. We know more things about us as a group than ever before.
Let me ask you then -now that the majority of 18-34 year olds Americans now own smartphones (not bad given total US phone adoption trails the rest of the first world)- do you think the volume of available data is going to increase or decrease?
From the Wall Street Journal:
Crunching millions of data points about traffic flows, an analytics system might find that on Fridays a delivery fleet should stick to the highways— despite your devout belief in surface-road shortcuts.
You probably hate the idea that human judgment can be improved or even replaced by machines, but you probably hate hurricanes and earthquakes too. The rise of machines is just as inevitable and just as indifferent to your hatred.
Business people have been having such fantasies of rationalism for decades. Until the last few years, they have been stymied by the cost of storage, slower processing speeds and the flood of data itself, spread sloppily across scores of different databases inside one company. These problems are now being solved.
“We’ve just got to the point where the technology really starts to work,” says Michael Lynch, chief executive of Autonomy Corp.
What we have to consider, then, is where the technology threshold lies before we can deem ourselves permanently changed as entities. Asked why it’s all kicking off, here’s the answer from the BBC journalist who has been reporting on our own summer of discontent.
“One is the graduate without a future. The second thing is the network; the network is key. The third is something that’s far less tangible but something I have begun to explore – the changes in human consciousness that come about when you are living in a networked society.”
Our attention spans are shorter but we now have instant access to most of the world’s written information, making wrote learning largely pointless. We’ve stopped talking to our neighbours but now have free HD video discussions across the globe. (In a pre-internet world proximity was only ever a proxy for affection, anyway.)
And now the tipping point for the printed word -backbone of western civilisation for a thousand years- is at hand.
Sooner or later you have to ask yourself… exactly when do you become a cyborg?
A million cyborgs with a million typewriters
Take a look at the graph to the below.
Why are these things important? From the same ZDnet article:
In Q1 2008, Facebook only occupied two percent of a typical American’s day. In Q3 2011, the social network takes up eight times more of your typical 24 hours: around 16 percent. Even though Facebook is still a private company, the site already dominates the Internet in a way that makes it impossible for investors to ignore.
As people spend more time on Social Media sites, it would be logical to assume that they would do more Search activity on these sites. Use of portal sites and direct entry (to Websites) appear to have declined as a means to Search for content. Today, most of the Searches done on Facebook are “people” searches, but as Facebook increasingly socializes content and commerce, we would expect people to find rich Search results influenced by social signals from their friends.
“Influenced by social signals from their friends.” Discoverability is moving from gatekeepers like publishers and bookstores toward your own always-own, fully-global social graph.
Cyborgs in a barrel
So a lot of people are consuming social media, Gordon? That’s hardly news, you fat drunk. In fact, social media is well and truly at the peak of its hype cycle.
Well yeah, obviously. I’m not suggesting you are in competition for traffic with social media. But there are two main takeaways:
Think of the above graph as the people walking past a bookstore a few decades ago -they are the potential market.
Because it’s not just discoverability that has changed, it’s almost -more crucially- what we choose to spend our attention on that has changed, become digital, become social. We have options now. And what we consider a book is changing.
I can see the evolution of book publishing in the books on my shelves. Clearly at some point in the 1960s the big publishing houses started to ask: how cheaply can we make books before people refuse to buy them? The answer turned out to be one step short of phonebooks. As long as it isn’t floppy, consumers still perceive it as a book. [Emphasis mine.]
That worked as long as buying printed books was the only way to read them. If printed books are optional, publishers will have to work harder to entice people to buy them. There should be some market, but it’s hard to foresee how big, because its size will depend not on macro trends like the amount people read, but on the ingenuity of individual publishers.
That’s from a moderately famous essay from a couple of years ago. Here’s more:
Economically, the print media are in the business of marking up paper. We can all imagine an old-style editor getting a scoop and saying “this will sell a lot of papers!” Cross out that final S and you’re describing their business model. The reason they make less money now is that people don’t need as much paper.
I don’t know exactly what the future will look like, but I’m not too worried about it. This sort of change tends to create as many good things as it kills. Indeed, the really interesting question is not what will happen to existing forms, but what new forms will appear.
Have you ever dreamed you were on Facebook? Creepy, right? How many waking hours do you spend socially engaging via digital media?
If you’re reading a post containing digital publishing advice then let me hazard two guesses:
- It’s probably a lot.
- It’s probably not as much as your non-writerly friends.
That’s pretty much the key right there. In a couple of years there won’t be any such separate thing as “social media”. Just think of it like “talking” but with ones and zeroes. And the chattering classes need something to talk about.
Every year since about 2006 blogging has been declared dead. Killed by Myspace. Killed by Facebook. Killed by ‘microblogging’ (thank fuck that term never took off).
But the thing of it is… 2012 is something of a blogaissance.
When they first achieved widespread adoption, blogs were principally used as a way of sharing your daily life; photos, opinions, etc; with people you knew or e-knew.
This functionality has been superseded by social media because it is much, much better at it.
Take a look around the magical internets.
There is still a small amount of “ZOMG soooo sorry I haven’t blogged for ages but I’ve been busssssy” but… to a large extent… it’s a dynamic exchange of ideas in mostly written form. It’s publishing, motherfuckers! More here:
You know why it’s the year of the blog? Have you heard of participation inequality? If you have a blog, let me be the first to welcome you to the one place in your life where you are in fact the 1%:
In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.
The obvious takeaway, then, is the best thing you can do if you intend to digitally publish is to digitally publish in blog form. And be all up in the social media. Your audience is now built for shareability. Even your mother posts things to Facebook.
Which is fine, of course, but where is the money?
I bought my last copy of Fantasy & Science Fiction in early 2008.
And I mean my last. I was done with it. Living in New Zealand at the time, it always cost so much more, it arrived a month late which meant you missed all the writing competitions, the paper stock was awful and some issues never appeared making it very difficult to get emotionally involved. Which is a pity because it’s probably the best short speculative fiction compendium around.
Well, well, fucking well. It’s 99p on the Kindle.
The living room rant I subjected my poor partner to as I jammed my index finger into the cover of my final F&SF went something along the lines of “this is bullshit. Look at this stock. Look at it. Why do short story writers have to publish digitally to get noticed and then go through this ludicrous shitty paper step on the way to getting a decent blog audience so they can get an agent and a book deal? It’s a step backwards! It’s like the world’s worst secret bonus level. And it’s a month late. What magical powers are in this fucking toilet paper that we must do its bidding?! It has SCIENCE in the title for fuck’s sake! I am so glad I’ll never work for a traditional media company again and I certainly won’t be buying F&SF again. Done done done!”
I was wrong on both accounts.
Because I can think of few better examples of publications that will be better off in this new world.
- Their horrible, angry, nerdy audience (me) is a technology early adopter
- The media experience is improved in ebook form
- They pay a pittance for their content
- It’s a trusted heritage brand as media sales Gordon would say
- They don’t have to pay for their toilet paper
And without the printing costs, as we learnt a couple of years ago, price moves to the marginal cost of production. Which is how you arrive at 99p with an existing subscriber base.
Which brings me to the recent couple of posts over at Llewellyn about ebook piracy. (Or at least the first one. Based on my father’s advice about never arguing with the mentally ill, I tend to ignore my ranty emails/death threats from the evidently unstable, especially after you’ve won the day.)
Firstly, let me say that I absolutely agree with the anti-piracy stance, obviously. (Although stealing from libraries is better attributed to terrified kids, Christians and retirees who think the books are inappropriate rather than us sticky fingered occultists. They do the same thing with gay books. We’re not all out to getcha.)
Secondly, Llewellyn should be genuinely applauded for being one of the first movers in the occult ebook space -it’s an indication they’ll be one of the winners out of this large market change.
Thirdly, getting back to price, let me also say the author isn’t correct about calculating the cost of ebook production on two accounts:
There are no fixed costs. As Seth Godin said in a recent post, an ebook costs ten bucks to make. An edited ebook costs another hundred bucks maximum on elance.com. The post writer may cost more than a hundred bucks but that’s a different matter. The going rate for editing an ebook is a hundred dollars.
The same thing that happened to music is going to be true of books. The typical ebook costs about $10 in out of pocket expenses to write (more if you count coffee and not just pencils). But if we add in $50,000 for app coding, $10,000 for a director and another $500,000 for the sort of bespoke work that was featured in Al Gore’s recent ‘book’, you can see the problem. The publisher will never have a chance to make this money back.
Sure, there will be experiments at the cutting edge, but no, they’re not going to pay off regularly enough for it to become an industry. The quality is going to remain in the writing and in the bravery of ideas, not in teams of people making expensive digital books.
The second inaccuracy in her depiction of price is that piracy exerts some kind of price pressure. Pirates pay zero. They’re not haggling. Price pressure is only exerted by those who are willing to buy your books. If you’re not selling enough then it’s your customers who think your prices are too high. Pirates don’t care. They’re like Elizabeth Taylor. They never look at the price tag.
The AV component
Because you’ve all been such good little cyborgs (did anyone really make it past me ranting about a 60 year old magazine?), the final resource is one of my favourite nerds waxing passionately about the future of copyright that extends the discussion much further than books and music.