Three Ways Music’s Past Informs the Future of Books

Digital forces are changing publishing faster than Bruce Wayne morphs into Batman as he slides down the Batpole. (Yes, that fast!)

But you don’t have to be a genius to figure out how this is going to play out. Just look back on the music business a decade ago, around the introduction of the iPod. That history puts a lot of perspective into today’s news — and suggests what might happen in branded content.

Barnes & Noble retail revenue dropped 10.9%: Can you say “Tower Records?” Look, I love Barnes & Noble, as I adored Tower Records in its heyday. And I have nostalgia for the days of going into a store and feeling tangibly surrounded by music. I’d hate to see that disappear for books. But it will.

I started buying digital music and stopped buying CDs, as did millions of others. I’ve now stopped buying physical books, preferring digital. As will millions of others. People still buy CDs and they will still buy books, but not enough to keep open megastores on expensive real estate.

Brands considering putting out books need to think digital and how to get noticed on e-book sites — not how to get on shelves at B&N.

Fifty Shades of Grey, which started as a self-published e-book, kicked butt in 2012Oh, and then there’s the book on the history of TV dramas that started out self-published and just got picked up by a Simon & Schuster imprint. These things mean that do-it-yourself, viral books are the future and the big publishing houses are toast, right?

Well, that’s not really what the music industry showed us. Remember when we all thought record labels would quickly become irrelevant and we’d be listening to obscure bands we found on the Web? The story ended up being more complex. Music is now a rich mixture of big-label acts and artists who make songs on their MacBooks and find an audience through social media. The labels can back marketing campaigns and big tours and still play an important role in giving us our Lady Gagas and Rihannas and Taylor Swifts.

So if past is prologue, major book publishers will go through a lot of changes and pain, but they will emerge as an important filter and promoter of mass-market authors.

For brands, that means that while self-publishing can work, you could probably do well to hook up with a publishing house — for now, and for the future.

todd

E-book readers like the Kindle are losing out to tablets like the iPad: That means that books could be something different than they’ve ever been. E-readers delivered a book-like experience: text only; a one-way conversation of the author talking to you; no interactivity. A book on an iPad could be packed with moveable graphics and videos and links and additional information, and could allow readers to rearrange the story or add material or who knows what.

But we also thought that would happen to music. Todd Rundgren, Aerosmith, Prince and others experimented with letting fans remix their songs or get pieces of songs or suggest stuff. By now we know that just a small percentage of people want to do such things. Most just want to press play and hear a song.

Message for brands: There is an opening now for trying to create the “new” book — something that takes advantage of a tablet’s connectivity. But in the end, most people will still just want to read a good story.

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One thought on “Three Ways Music’s Past Informs the Future of Books

  1. David Yaun says:

    Love No World Order, and actually have the CD-I (!) version as well as a first generation portable Philips CD-I player. It was never fast enough to allow any meaningful remixes. Interesting concept but like many TR ideas both ahead of its time and not necessarily well-supported by the technology of the time.

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