The last big step change in publishing was the accelerated transition to digital formats - eBooks, PDFs and the like. In a similar way, the music industry moved from CDs and Vinyl to be largely dominated by digital formats like MP3 and FLAC.
We’ve already heard from academic publishers that Professors and student bodies no longer wish to buy the whole text book, but only the 2-3 most relevant chapters. In publishing we are therefore moving metaphorically from album to single sales - or increasing book granularity.
There are other obvious parallels to be considered though, as Spotify has further shaken up the music industry by giving access to an enormous library on a subscription basis. No doubt Amazon is figuring out how to deliver its own ’Spotify for books’ service via Kindle. It’s a frightening fact in the UK that the average number of books bought per capita is currently less than ’1’ - so any means to drive up book sales should be welcomed.
This then opens up the next evolution and its obvious parallel with music playlists. You can imagine academics being able to set the curriculum by ascribing key chapters (singles) to a specified reading list.
I remember when I was at university, and the constant internal debate about whether to buy the book or borrow from the library or even just browse and absorb in the library on an adhoc basis. Once an academic publisher launches their ’Studify’ portal, it will be as if all students’ dreams have finally come true. They will be attending classes with their tablet of choice / kindle in hand, and can instantly gain access to all the necessary study materials - neatly categorised into Curricula or Reading Lists, and paid for on an affordable monthly subscription.
Don’t think that this won’t impact on consumer book sales either. How many of us have read one or two chapters of a book before realising that said book holds no interest for us - and cursing a failed investment.
Magazine publishers have already taken advantage of the online subscription route, and book publishers need to be aware of the opportunities in that area. With a subscription model we can also see the reintroduction of the old fashioned weekly serial - where you release a chapter at a time, or deliver engaging topical stories like Sherlock Holmes as it appeared in the Strand Magazine back in its day.
Personally I am still a fan or Trilogies, Omnibuses and Albums, but I can very much appreciate the need for ’singles’ too. Publishers can also innovate with the format, and try to make their titles more immediate and topical - writing within current events for instance.
The next big battle in publishing will be who gets first mover advantage in launching their own publishing version of Spotify! Including of course a clever way to set up, index and share their own Reading Lists (by chapter as well as book).