Ingram Blog

Emerging Technologies and What Your Publishing Business Can Do About Them Today

By Taylor Hale, Customer Experience Manager
The pace of innovation these days is breathtaking. The lifespan of a company on the S&P 500 was about 60 years in 1960, now it’s just 12 years. The cost to launch a tech company in 2000 was $5,000,000, and now, thanks to cloud computing, it’s basically $0.(1)

And yet, according to business leaders, the book industry has remained relatively stable through these changes. Print sales are increasing slightly, while eBooks hold steady at around 20% of the market. The Big 5 are largely meeting expectations, while independent publishing goes from strength to strength. We seem to have weathered the technological revolution with aplomb.

So as the next wave of life-changing tech hits consumers and supply chains, how are we to know which deserve our attention, and more importantly, our money? This series will serve as a primer on the most-hyped trends in tech, along with some ideas on how you can prepare for them today while saving your investment dollars to see what matures tomorrow.

Voice Control, Voice Assistants, and Smart Speakers

Whether it’s smart speakers like Google Home, in-car services like Apple CarPlay, or smart home concepts like Kohler Konnect, voice is increasingly the user interface of choice.

So why now? Apple’s Siri launched in 2011. Why is it that voice control has become mainstream in the last couple of years? One reason is the improvement of machine learning technology and the increase in available speech data. In 2017, Google’s voice recognition tech passed 95% accuracy, which it dubbed the threshold for humans. Couple this with the introduction of low-cost smart speakers, and you have the recipe for exponential adoption – it’s cheap and it’s easy to use.

And the more we use our smart speakers, the more we engage with voice assistants on other devices, like our phones. It’s no wonder downloadable audiobooks have been seeing double-digit growth at the same time.

Increasingly, we also see voice-first devices combined with screens, such as the Amazon Echo Show, smart TVs with home hub capabilities, and Samsung refrigerators with Home Hub. With Cortana and Siri already available on laptops, and Google Assistant integrated with the Chrome browser, how long before voice becomes not only the fastest growing interface, but the primary one?

So how are publishers meant to take advantage of this sea change? The important thing to remember here is the difference between the hardware and the software. Some examples:

The device can tell you a lot about how a consumer might use it, and thus how you might also interact with a consumer via it. It’s mostly the “who, what, when, where”. For instance, it’s unlikely I will want the Sonos Beam with Alexa to tell my nephew a goodnight story because I’m still using it to watch the latest Thor movie. However, I might want to have an Amazon Echo Kids Edition on his bedside table for such a purpose. So, step one :

  • Take a Friday afternoon to map out your core readership, put yourself in their shoes and think about what devices they might be using, what they’re using them for, where they’re interacting with them, and what times of day. Use secondary research (such as industry reports) or primary (such as a readership survey) to confirm or change your assumptions.


The assistant tells you the standards which are used to interact with the device. It’s the “how”. Whether or not your content is returned when your reader asks a question comes down to how well you comply with the rules and interact with algorithms the assistant runs on. Which leads us to step two

  • Get your metadata ready. Keywords that work well for search might not work so well for Alexa. Start thinking about natural language alternatives. Ask people who have read the book to describe it, out loud, and write down and store key phrases – it’ll come in handy later. 

There’s been a lot of hype about voice shopping, the idea that you could simply say, “Alexa, buy toilet paper and send it to the house.” However, according to a study by The Information, only 2% of Alexa owners have tried it and only 10% of those would use voice shopping again.

But this doesn’t mean voice control doesn’t enable new revenue streams. Steady growth in podcasts, news consumption, and audiobook sales show that it does, just not in the straightforward way we first thought. We find consumers often purchase content on one device and consumer it on a voice-enabled one. For instance, buying an audiobook on the Audible App, but listening to it on an Echo, or subscribing to Spotify and listening to a podcast on a Google Home. This gets us to step three:

  • Make sure your brand has some form of audio content available where your listeners are. Now that you know what your readers are using voice control for from the exercise in step one, you can start to think of ways to reach them there. If they’re streaming Spotify, playing content downloaded from the Google Play store, or listening to YouTube audio, these are all monetizable channels of distribution open to you. 

Lastly, there’s enormous potential for marketing in this voice-operated ecosystem, though much of it is still being explored. Whether it’s finding new advertising channels and partners, new platforms for your own channels, or exploring new content formats, there’s a lot of opportunity to experiment. What makes it all exciting and worthwhile, however, is that this is often found time in the listener’s day. Rather than competing with other types of media for attention, it can create new time by facilitating multi-tasking.

We hope you find these low-cost ideas towards developing a voice strategy helpful. What other tactics are you pursuing toward a voice-first future? Let us know in the comments!