Simon Dunlop, founder of social reading service Bookmate, discusses how the e-reading market is changing and what tomorrow’s readers can expect.
Wave after wave of innovation has crashed over the music, film and TV industries in the last decade. The way people buy, consume and share content has changed rapidly.
As a result, many established industry players have bitten the dust and upstarts with business models and methods of distributing content, unimaginable even five years ago, have filled the void. Conspicuous by their absence during this upheaval are books. Of course e-readers have changed how we can all buy and read books, but the fundamentals of how books are created and how we interact with them has changed little. Authors write books, we read them.
However, the seeds of disruption have already been sown. Startups in the ebook and e-reading space, such as Bookmate, provide additional services that are geared towards engaging readers in a new way and creating new reading behaviour.
The size and quality of mobile phones now makes reading books via an app a comfortable experience and opens the e-reading market up to a wider consumer base, particularly people who do not want to invest in an e-reader. Reading behaviour changes when people read on their phone: it becomes more spontaneous as people fill the gaps in their day by opening a book on their phone rather having to plan ahead by taking an e-reader with them. It becomes more social as people are used to using social and game features on their handsets and expect to find this functionality inside a mobile e-reading app.
Put simply, mobile e-reading needs to be much more than just a way to access a library of books, they must focus on the experience around reading itself. This is where social and messaging features play a major role. Social media is an element that has, so far, been mostly neglected in this space. By giving readers the opportunity to share their favourite quotes, what they are reading and message favourite passages to friends, e-reading apps are mimicking the social aspect of book clubs.
Another change is the advent of subscription-based models. Much in the same way Netflix and Spotify have transformed how consumers pay for films, TV and music, subscription based models are likely to become the norm in the e-reading market. Amazon recently announced Amazon Unlimited and Oyster is gaining attention in the US. Subscription changes the way readers read. It removes the monetary decision from reading, as long as your subscription is current you can browse freely throughout the catalogue, dipping into as many books as you like. In short, people read more books, more often. This reflects trends in the ways we access information today, reading from multiple sources. This is true accross the whole library, but is particularly true of certain genres e.g. non-fiction such as cooking, hobby subjects, business literature.
These changes are particularly important in markets outside Europe and the US. Consumers in developing countries where piracy is rife, don’t have a culture of paying for digital content, so ebooks are much more difficult to monetise. By building a sticky social layer with features like author pages and book playlists, coupled with access to ebooks via subscription on their phones consumers are more inclined to pay: they come in search of a book but they stay for the all the other features.
E-reading apps also open the door to much greater interaction and information for authors and publishers. On one hand a range of customer information and reading habits provides a wealth of insights that can inform marketing activity and on the other, authors can potentially interact directly with their readers via social functions. It is possible this new relationship between authors and their readers could even inform the type of books that are written.
The e-reading market across the world will look very different in five years. Services that are nothing more than libraries of books will find that to crack non-Western markets and continue to grow their consumer base in Europe and the US, they will need to provide more. Those that don’t change will find their market share eroded by startups that offer increasingly demanding consumers more.