Reading on the cloud: how cloud publishing adds value for readers
If there’s one thing we know about tech businesses, it’s that one can’t build a business on technology alone. The mere possession of a technology, however wonderful it may be, isn’t a sufficient foundation. To build a business on a technology, one needs to offer a convincing value proposition to one’s customers.
One needs to ask, therefore, what value does this service offer? In particular, what additional value does it offer, compared to competing services? And how can we communicate that value?
This posts applies this line of reasoning to the business of publishing books on the cloud. By ‘cloud publishing’ I am referring to a means of publishing whereby the content resides on internet servers: the process does not require readers to download content onto their own devices. How, then, can such publishing add value?
To answer this question, I will use for the purpose of a case study the service offered by 24symbols (through which we distribute titles from both our imprints). If you’re not already familiar with their service, I invite you to explore it now (the free reading service is funded by advertising revenue, so won’t cost you anything). The site is a work in progress (the catalogue needs – and doubtless will – grow), but offers a window on cloud publishing.
First, it provides accessibility. Cloud publishing enables readers to read books wherever they may be, provided only that they have an internet connection.This chimes with modern lifestyles, where readers may wish (or even expect) to be able to access content wherever they may be – in an office, at home, whilst commuting, or on a business trip or vacation.
Second, cloud publishing provides portability. Because content need not be downloaded onto any device, one can continue reading whilst switching between devices. One can start reading a book on, say, a desktop on campus, continue on a iPad on the train, and finish on a laptop in the study at home. Perhaps a better description of this benefit would be continuity. It enables readers to continue reading not merely wherever they wish but also whenever they wish.
Third, the cloud provides lack of hassle. There is no need for readers to plan ahead, making decisions about which device(s) to use and to take with them. Moreover, one can start reading instantly, without needing to wait for content to download. And this removes that momentary anxiety after one has pressed ‘download’ and waits to see that the process completes itself without any ‘this file cannot be opened’ -type messages. Perhaps we should define this benefit not merely as lack of hassle but also in terms of enhanced confidence.
Fourth, the cloud provides freedom to explore. One can click on a book and read as much or as little as one wishes. This is certainly more accommodating than browsing print book in a bricks-and-mortar store – and more so than the useful-but-limited ‘search inside’ functions on Amazon or downloadable widgets from classical e-books stores such as Kobo.
Fifth, the freedom this provides freedom from all-or-nothing decisions (downloading the whole book or not being able to read it at all, at least beyond the few pages provided by widgets). The cloud supports fractional reading: readers can select from a book the passages most pertinent to their needs.
Sixth, cloud publishing provides personalisation. You can alter fonts, register favourites, bookmark highlights, and gain recommendations based on selections.
Seventh, cloud publishing provides socialisation. Readers can, for example, share recommendations via social media sites such as Facebook.
Overall, we can, without becoming simplistic, summarise the benefits of cloud publishing as greater freedom (deriving from the first five benefits identified above) and greater humanisation (derived from the final two of the above benefits): cloud publishing provides a freer, more humanised, reading experience.
Does this fundamentally change the nature of publishing? No, in the sense that what still counts, as most essential, is the provision of great content. Does it provide a sufficient foundation for a business model? Well, that depends on how much value readers attach to the benefits. When I survey the list, the value seems to me not inconsiderable. What do think?