Let’s get Americans reading again!

Americans are increasingly turning away from books.  According to the Atlantic, the percentage of Americans who didn’t read a book during the past year tripled from 8% in 1978 to 23% in 2014. Literary works (fiction and nonfiction) fared the worst, with 40% of Americans admitting they did not read a single literary work in the past year.

There is a solution: mobile.

People spend more time than ever on mobile devices. In 2012, Americans spent 60% more time in front of their television sets than on mobile devices. But by 2014, mobile surpassed television to become America’s favorite platform.  People spend more time on mobile devices, especially smartphones, than any other entertainment outlet, and this trend is only growing.  The first step to getting Americans reading again is to embrace this change and put content on the mobile devices where people already spend their time.

The publishing industry will have many opportunities for growth as it undergoes the same evolution that challenged the music, movie, and TV industries. As it shifts first from hard copies to digital downloads and then to mobile services, the book publishing industry will witness the emergence of new players that bring about true mobile innovations, much in the same way services such as Spotify and Candy Crush Saga have with their superior mobile offerings. They have fundamentally changed their respective industries by designing solutions that optimize the advantages and limitations of the device and context from their very inception; others who have simply forced an existing solution onto different devices (i.e. porting a PC or console game onto a phone rather than creating a mobile-specific game) have not fared nearly as well. The best services open up the possibilities of the platform, affecting users’ lifestyles by changing their behaviors, routines, spending habits, etc.

Books on mobile: possibilities and some real-world examples

So what exactly constitutes a mobile revolution in the publishing industry? Putting book content on mobile screens where Americans increasingly spend their time gets us a part of the way there, but the mobile platform presents so many more possibilities.  Here are just a few:

  • Bite-sized stories: People typically use their phones in many distinct, short sessions throughout the day. Mobile stories need to be designed accordingly, with this pattern of bite-sized consumption in mind. For instance, the “mobile novels” app, Hooked, offers captivating short stories that can be read a few minutes at a time.
  • Multimedia: Mobile is great for visual content, evidenced by the popularity of Instagram.  Other apps like Steller exemplify the ways in which multimedia storytelling enhances the user experience.
  • Serial publishing: Unlike the traditional publishing model, authors don’t have to complete a book before publishing on mobile. They can launch first and keep adding new chapters, similar to new levels of Candy Crush or episodes of your favorite podcast. The serial publishing model also leads to higher user engagement.  
  • Freemium business model: As Chris Dixon eloquently points out, the content industry has much to learn from the gaming industry, notably the business model. Mobile games have mastered app monetization with the “free-to-play” (F2P) or freemium model, consistently topping mobile revenue chartsKakao Page, the leading mobile content marketplace in Korea, successfully applied the freemium business model to books. Top authors make over $90K a month from freemium sales on Kakao Page.
  • Interactivity: Mobile is fundamentally a social communication platform, and mobile books can capitalize on this. On Wattpadan uncurated self-publishing app, readers follow writers and can comment on any part of the book. Episodean interactive books app, allows readers to choose their own adventure as they read.

These are just a few of the exciting possibilities the mobile platform brings to the publishing industry.  As individual authors and the publishing industry at large embrace these changes, more people will read books again — though how they read may radically change.

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