Think about how we discover new books today: someone tells us in person about a new book; via social media, an advertisement, or media outlet; an algorithm tells us, within the context of an existing purchase – “Buyers of this book often bought ‘XYZ’ book” or “an author you purchased from previously has other titles available.”
But in the not-too-distant future – less than one year from now – we can add another important method of book discovery to the mix: voice assistants. And they’ll tell us what books we’ll like.
The Future of Voice-First Book Discovery
The basic queries people make today to Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant, Apple’s Siri, and others – turn off the lights, set an alarm, show me a recipe, play me a song – will evolve. They’ll change, in what will seem like the blink of an eye, into much more conversational, extended dialogues.
We will trust these assistants, despite all the noise about privacy and security. We will trust them deeply with very personal information, which will give them unprecedented context that they’ll use to answer questions we ask and to provide information.
If you wonder how that’s possible, consider how many people still use Facebook (a demonstrably untrustworthy company, from some vantage points) simply because they provide a service that adds value to many people’s lives in a way you can’t get anywhere else. We talk a good game on privacy, but we trade it away without hesitation; humans always have, and always will, for the sake of both convenience and belonging.
Publishers, small and large, across all types of publishing, will soon be confronted with the reality that many people will find their next book by saying the words, “Alexa, what book should I read next? Download me something good to my device!”
Of course, that’s a little simplistic. In actuality, there will be a vast array of types of context-dependent conversations people will have with their voice assistants that will serve as the vehicle of book discovery:
- “Siri, in the audiobook I was listening to on my commute this morning, what other book was that they mentioned? Please download that to my device. I want to read that tonight after work.”
- “OK, Google, are there any books that discuss podcasting as a marketing device? Find me a good one and go ahead and buy it.”
- “Alexa, show me a list of books I might like to read next week at the beach. Make sure it’s along the lines of ones I read last year on vacation.”
Whether through Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, Cortana, Bixby (Samsung’s voice assistant), Mycroft, or any others, the premise is the same: Book discovery increasingly will bypass all the known methods of today and will become reliant upon the AI sitting underneath these popular voice assistants.
Why is voice technology – or, more properly, voice-first technology – the future?
When we’re born, all we have is our mother’s voice. And then, we develop an inner voice. Thus, it always stood to reason that, as computing evolved, the arc of its evolution would be toward voice-first interfaces.
Screens will be there sometimes, possibly most of the time, and then sometimes they won’t. But you’ll soon be engaging with computers using your voice, first, and then other input methods (QWERTY keyboard + mouse, touchscreen, etc.) secondary, if necessary.
What Does Voice-First Book Discovery Mean for Publishers?
It’s not a bad idea to create an Alexa skill or Google action – the vernacular both companies use for voice applications created for their ecosystems. You can use tools like Alexa Skills Blueprints or Storyline to do so right now, without having to know any code.
Using these tools, you can create voice experiences out of your content, whether you’re Penguin Random House or whether you’re the much smaller Bleeding Edge Press (both of which will be at Digital Book World 2018, Oct. 2 – 4, 2018 in Nashville, Tenn., among countless other publishers). This will allow you to get your content into these ecosystems, and allow learning to take place that will help you understand the changes in metadata, the changes in production, and the changes in marketing that voice-first experiences will require.
What will also become apparent is the interdependence with audiobooks and podcasts. Content from audiobooks can be used in podcasts; podcasts can drive traffic without much friction to download audiobooks; and both podcasts and audiobooks can be activated and engaged with via voice assistant in ways that will surprise and delight users right now, today. And all of it lays a foundation for content being available in the new world of voice search.
If you’re an executive at a large publisher, your understanding of this technology is essential. If you’re an independent publisher (whether solo author or small company), voice-first technology represents your potential advantage over larger companies. If you’re in scholarly publishing, or producing an academic journal, this technology will revolutionize your field. Same goes for any other type of educational publishing, including textbooks.
In fact, every corporation is studying voice-first technology right now, learning as much as they can. This technology will affect every business. The wrong answer is to ignore the sea change that is happening all around us. Now’s the time to start learning, and not get so far behind the learning curve that it becomes hard to catch up.
Bradley Metrock is CEO of Score Publishing, which owns and operates Digital Book World (DBW). DBW is the annual gathering of the wide world of publishing, and the 2018 event will take place Oct. 2-4 in Nashville, Tenn. at the Music City Center. The conference and expo will bring together as many as 1,000 decision-makers from across the global realms of publishing and technology (including independent authors). Registration for DBW 2018 is available at http://www.digitalbookworld.com. Metrock’s company, Score Publishing, also owns and operates VoiceFirst.FM and produces The Alexa Conference. For VoiceFirst.FM, Metrock hosts the popular podcast This Week In Voice, which discusses the week’s news in voice technology, the evolution of voice assistants, smart speakers, and the proliferation of voice-first technology in our modern lives. See http://www.thisweekinvoice.com.