It’s been a while since I wrote about e-books, magazines and newspapers, but the fast-changing world of digital literature hasn’t slowed any. PC Magazine recently published an interesting article by Chandra Steele about “books as a service.” Steele cites the “service-product continuum,” along which products like movies morph into services that are available on demand, are streamed and no longer have a physical form (in books’ case, a hardback or paperback copy; in movies’ case, a DVD or theater experience). The author states that “Books are naturally expected to be more consumer-oriented as they enter the service industry, whether in terms of price, availability, accessibility, or even content.”
What are some of the pros and cons of “books as a service”? While e-content is generally less expensive for the consumer, it’s also less profitable for the author as he or she gets a percentage of a smaller price tag. And while e-content can often be shared, there are also hordes of barriers to sharing in the form of digital rights management (DRM). For example, perhaps you can only view the content on certain devices, or share it a limited number of times with other consumers using the same platform.
Potentially, one interesting benefit of digital content as a service is the ability for authors to involve the audience in the direction and outcome of the story. Citing Charles Dickens writing in the day of the magazine serial novel, Steele envisions novelists crowdsourcing plots and characters to see what the public prefers, thereby increasing his or her potential sales in at least two ways: one, by producing consumer-driven content, and two, by generating a buzz through social media.
In fact, the latter could be a real winner for e-content generators: the “perpetual book release.” In today’s media world, yesterday’s content is quickly forgotten, thus the ever-increasing rush for sequels, prequels, tie-ins, spinoffs and content that rides the wave of popularity of the original. With a perpetual book release, a novelist could introduce one chapter a month, and then enjoy 30 days of voting and discussion on characters, plots and other aspects of their work before releasing the next chapter the following month. Like a throwback to the days in which novels were published a chapter at a time in magazines, and like episodic TV shows, authors could enjoy months and even years of the limelight as fans both anticipate and direct the future of their favorite digital media.