Burning Books - the path to disruptive publishing

19th July 2018
Burning Books - the path to disruptive publishing
Simon Richards

Disruption. The one word above any other that makes Venture Capitalists sit up and take notice with all the implications of amazing new processes that create a brand new and hopefully lucrative user experience.

I love to write. And if there’s one area of my world in need of disruption, it’s book publishing.

Crisis, what crisis? 

But publishing is already seriously disrupted, right? Amazon Kindle and Ebooks … isn’t that disruption on a nuclear scale?

Well, yes and no. Sure, Ebooks in all their forms have been transformative. But I’m not talking about something as basic as the translation of existing content to digital platforms. The disruption I crave is more fundamental. It’s changing what a book actually is, and how we consume it. Not just sticking it online.

It’s also not the disruption of creating a book that the user didn’t have to bother actually reading. That already exists: the audiobook. More interesting is to look at what a book actually is in the first place.

Last week, I was in Shanghai. Walking down the street there is a dangerous business. Not just because of the constant stream of electric mopeds, but because everyone is staring at their mobile phone screens as they meander down the sidewalk. Taxi drivers are swiping left as they change lanes to the right without batting an eyelid – everyone’s fingers dancing around as they move from one piece of micro-information to another.

So, if the modern world can barely get through a Tweet without getting bored or distracted, why are mainstream book publishers still pumping out books that are 80-90,000 words long?

Time to change

The simple answer is that people live longer than it takes for fashions to change. There are still plenty of people alive who choose to read a normal ‘book.’

But they too could benefit from some disruption – especially in the way we pay for books.

Online you can often get a free sample – a few pages or a chapter - but that’s rarely enough to know if you want to finish the whole thing.

So my idea of true disruption is Pay Per Word reading. I want to be charged 2p per page, then once I’m happy it’s good enough, get a discount for the whole thing.

If I’m into Jack Reacher, who currently features in more than 20 books and plenty more short stories and novellas, why should I have to buy them all separately? Each one I buy should be part of a seamless experience, and the more I read the cheaper it gets.

And if some publisher gives me some BS about a new book and it ends up being a stinker, he should pay a penalty and I should get my money back.

And last but not least, I want to do away with arbitrary delineations of what constitutes a book, or a ‘novella’ or ‘short story’. I want to sign up for something, and keep going until I get bored.

All the above ideas are tried and tested techniques in other industries. They represent what people actually want as opposed to how some publisher thinks he or she can maximise their profits. Now that’s real disruption.

Simon Williams is a digital marketing/user experience specialist