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How will Tablets and Kindles change reading? March 26, 2012

Posted by jeremyliew in Uncategorized.
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The first attempts to capitalize on a new medium are always simple ports from an old medium. The first TV shows were newscasts – basically the same as radio, a guy reading the news. The first e-commerce sites were cataloges ported to the internet, with the same copy and a single picture. But over time, content that is customized to each medium comes to the fore. Now we have the sit com, the police procedural and the reality show on TV, and flash sales, subscription commerce and daily deals online.  So how will Tablets and Kindles change the way we read?

The first generation of eBooks were simply ports of regular books. But Amazon has already started to experiment with a new format, the Kindle Single:

exceptional ideas–well researched, well argued, and well illustrated–between 5,000 and 30,000 words.

They recognized that the economics of print publishing have forced books to be 80-100,000 words long. Anyone who has read a business book knows that this does a disservice to both reader and writer. Some ideas have a natural length less than 100,000 words, and extending them to book length does no good to anyone. But the economics of book publishing, and the public’s willingness to pay for a “small book”, forced this convention. Ebooks have no such constaints, and allow authors to write at any length. Byliner is taking a similar approach, trying to build an eBook centric publisher.

Other companies are recognizing that eBooks lowers the barrier for self publishing more than ever before. Companies like Blurb and LuLu both started out supporting physical book self publishing and now also support eBook selfpublishing.  Fan Fiction is another related opportunity.

The WSJ noted another unexpected consequence of tables and kindle reading that is emerging, more to do with content and genre:

Electronic readers, and the reading privacy they provide, are fueling a boom in sales of sexy romance novels, or “romantica,” as the genre is called in the book industry.

As with romance novels, romantica features an old-fashioned love story and pop-culture references like those found in “chick lit.” Plus, there is sex—a lot of it. Yet unlike traditional erotica, romantica always includes what’s known as “HEA”—”happily ever after.”

Kindles, iPads and Nooks “are the ultimate brown paper wrapper,” says Brenda Knight, associate publisher at Cleis Press, of Berkeley, Calif., a publisher of erotica since 1980.

Why has tablet reading unleashed a surge in the erotic romance genre? Because online commerce has made buying the books less embarassing:

Ms. Benson says the digital format helped her get over her embarrassment. She reviews romance books for Smexybooks.com and erotica for the website Heroes and Heartbreakers. Even so, she says she wouldn’t read these books in print if she were in view of anyone. “Some of the covers are very explicit,” she says.

Erotica on the Mischief Books site is tagged with icons. Handcuffs denote “kinky”; an upraised palm means “discipline.” The HarperCollins imprint says it plans to publish at least 60 e-titles a year. “It used to be a long walk to the counter with an erotica selection, but now that’s a thing of the past,” says Adam Nevill, Mischief Books’ editorial director. (HarperCollins, like The Wall Street Journal, is owned by News Corp.

Another dimension for innovation has been around engagement. Many children’s books and apps have become highly interactive, including those from publishers like Callaway, Duck Duck Moose, and Oceanhouse Media.

I’m really excited about the ongoing innovation in reading and expect to see some very valuable companies created in this area. We’re seeing experimentation around length, authorship, genre and interactivity. What do you see as the most innovative companies in the eBooks space?


1. Peter Moore - March 26, 2012

Good thoughts, as usual. I’ve thought for awhile that if I were still a venture investor, I would be looking to back a new publisher focused on using the e-book medium to right-size business books, because I agree that almost all business books would be much better in < 50 pages. Everyone would be happier except for the incumbent publishers.

2. Paul - March 29, 2012

I think eBooks are just starting their voyage as the new way of reading.  There is SO much more that can be done on an iPad that makes the reading experience more engaging, fun and frankly useful.  Education is a no-brainer as a big opportunity for this type of content, but regular books for consumers are huge as well.  

Not sure if you guys have seen the books out of Open Air Publishing (www.openairpub.com). These guys are honestly executing well, creating VERY high end content in an innovative way.  This is what eBooks should be all about.  Each one is under 10 bucks and I’ve purchased all of them.  

Push Pop with Al Gore (www.pushpoppress.com) is doing some interesting things as well in the space with the awesome book on the environment they have.  Backed by great people as well. 

3. Jyasper « jyasper.com - March 30, 2012

[…] seeing experimentation around length, authorship, genre and interactivity. What do you see as the m&#11… in the eBooks […]

4. I read everything - April 2, 2012

I’m a big fan of Subtext (http://www.subtext.com) — allows sharing of annotations and Web content over ebooks

5. TaoPow - April 7, 2012

I think the really interesting question isn’t whether the shift to a device-oriented reading environment leads to shorter or more atomic content, but whether it changes the nature of how we consume that content.

Books evolved in the linear format we experience them in today because of the limitations of physical media. Aside from “Choose Your Own Adventure” type books, or books with no natural narrative (like dictionaries or encyclopedias), they’ve always been front-to-back (or some variation thereof depending on the language).

In the same way that Wikipedia is the evolution of how we experience an encyclopedia, I’m looking forward to seeing how authors experiment with fiction in an environment where digital consumption is the norm. I have no idea where it’s going to go, and I doubt it’ll replace the way we currently consume written narrative, but I’d be pretty surprised if we didn’t start creating, in parallel, new ways to experience it too.

6. Big data and publishing / e-books | Thoughts & Rants - May 7, 2012

[…] ventures recently published a blog post on how tablets and kindles will change reading. It’s here. Go read it […]

7. WSJ recognizes the surge in fan fiction « Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog - June 18, 2012

[…] posted in the past about how tablets and kindle will change reading. Friday’s WSJ had a big story on the fan fiction phenomenon that is well worth reading. One […]

8. Gary McCoy - June 18, 2012

I think our company is in the conversation. We built the PULP platform for Neal Stephenson and Greg Bear’s “The Mongoliad” transmedia experiment and now spun it off for other writers with a focus on SciFi. The response so far has been very positive and we haven’t seen much that compares favorably in some key areas — and we are looking every day.

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