Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Are we Running out of Intellectual Bandwidth?

Online Newspapers.  E-Books. Streaming Movies. E-mail. Social Media. Skype. List-Servs. Blogs.  
With all the information we seek out electronically, are we exhausting our ability to keep up with it?  Are we at the tipping point? And, will this new direction of how books could be delivered to us help or exhaust us.  Check out the following article by Ryan Tate re-posted from Wired.com

The Future of Books Looks a Lot Like Netflix

Image courtesy Apple
Image courtesy Apple
Struggling against plunging prices and a shrinking audience, book publishers think they’ve found a compelling vision for the future: magazines.

Today, the San Francisco-based literary startup Plympton launched an online fiction service calledRooster. It’s sold by subscription. It’s priced by the month. And it automatically delivers regular content to your iPhone or iPad. In other words, it’s a book service that looks a lot like a magazine service. And it’s just the latest example of how books are being packaged like magazines.

With Rooster, readers pay $5 per month in exchange for a stream of bite-sized chunks of fiction. Each chunk takes just 15 minutes or so to read, and over the course of a month, they add up to two books. The service builds on the success of Plympton’s Daily Lit, which emails you classic literature in five-minute installments.

Originally, as part of a partnership with Amazon, Plympton focused on selling its serials one volume at a time. In other words, you’d sign up for a series like “Hacker Mom” for $3.99, receive each episode on your Kindle, and then be done. The company then moved to subscriptions after co-founders Yael Goldstein Love and Jennifer 8. Lee realized Plympton knew far more about its readers than any traditional publisher.

Whereas an old-line book maker sells to bookstores, Plympton deals directly with customers. It knows their email addresses and could at least theoretically use their reading and purchase history to tailor the content of subscription streams (though with only one subscription channel, the company has no immediate plans to do so). Meanwhile, production costs are significantly lower with ebooks, and distribution is essentially free. That means more money can be plowed into online marketing for subscription channels. So, whereas the idea of mailing a monthly batch of books was ungainly in the old physical book market, it has become feasible in the ebook world, feasible not just because digital distribution is easy but because online publishers know and build audiences better.

Rooster follows in the footsteps of the whole-book literary subscriptions offered by indie Brooklyn outfit Emily Books, the all-you-can-eat genre subscriptions offered by F + W Media, and more general subscriptions offered by the likes of Oyster and Scribd. Tim Waterstone, owner of the UK bookstore Waterstones, has also announced Read Petite, a forthcoming short-fiction streaming service.

So now that we know that it’s possible to deliver books like magazines, to sell them like magazines, and to target them at clusters of readers like magazines, the big question looms: Do book enthusiasts actually want to engage with literature the way they engage with magazines? And can they afford to? After shelling out every month for Spotify and Netflix subscriptions, for New York Times digital, for electronic tablet magazines, for immersive online videogames, for online file storage, and, oh right, for high-speed internet, will people sign up for yet another monthly charge? Will they have the intellectual bandwidth to consume what they bought? And will they come to trust or despise the online studios pushing books onto their phones and iPads?

Those are difficult questions to answer. But such is the world of modern book publishing.

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