The Future of Publishing will be on a Hybrid of Platforms

pexels-photo-289738.jpegA terrible dystopian future has begun … the people have commenced to burn their books into raging bonfires. Only this time, the acrid smell of smoldering plastic fills the air, as the angry crowd throws their Kindles and e-readers into the dancing flames, happy to erase their libraries of demonizing fiction…. Although this scenario is clearly fictional, if some censored future generation decides to destroy their literature, they’re going to have to do a lot more than burn paper pages. The future of publishing will not be limited to either paper or digital formats alone, but will rely on a hybrid of both. The debate as to which method will be victorious is tired, and believing that there will be only one approach is simplistic. We see today, in the futuristic world that we live in now, that publishing methods rely on a variety of platforms, which are both dictated and sometimes conflicted by consumers, publishers, and authors. Having all available avenues at our disposal will see publishing continue to grow on a hybrid of innovations.

When Amazon released its first e-reader on November 19, 2007, some people began forecasting the death of the print book, while others believed the Kindle would not be successful at all. The first Kindle edition sold for four hundred dollars, and almost six hours after it went up for sale, it completely sold out (Engadget). The argument that print publishing was on the verge of extinction had become compelling, yet the debate as to whether or not digital publishing would be accepted continued to be contested. But as each year has passed, we’ve seen that despite the discussions, digital imprints have earned a place in our society. In 2011, Amazon announced that for the first time ever, e-books were outselling paperbacks, at a hundred and fifteen Kindle e-books sold per one hundred paperbacks (PC World). The sales and numbers have fluctuated, lending the argument that one method might eventually prevail over the other. Authors, agents, and publishers have had differing perspectives on what would be the best method to sell their works in the future.

For many authors, having the ability to sell their compositions on a mixed medium of platforms is the best solution. They embrace the digital revolution, but also rely on the benefits of traditional publishing, and believe the two can coexist peacefully. They sell their works digitally and independently on Amazon, as well as signing a paperback deal with a publishing house. Best selling author, Hugh Howey, whose first novel, WOOL, has sold in the millions, was one of the first authors to coin the term “hybrid author.” On top of that, he was among the first authors to be allowed by a publishing house to retain his book’s e-book rights while signing on with a major trade publisher to sell the paperback edition. His thoughts in a 2013 interview with Publishing Perspectives about the future of publishing, entangles both print and digital methods. “They [e-books] should not be seen as competition to print and other formats. Giving away an e-book with every sale of a hardback would do wonders for the hardback market” (par 1). Just days after his statement, Amazon announced their Matchbook program, which offers bundling the e-book edition of a novel with the paperback at a reduced rate or for free. The prospect of being a hybrid author is alluring to even the most seasoned writer, as the royalties from Kindle e-book sales are high, and without a middleman, the author can retain all of the compensation and make their own choices about marketing (Kindle Direct Publishing). To make it even more appealing, Amazon allows for e-books to be added to their library free of charge to the author or publisher, and has integrated an easy to use platform for integrating the work onto their system.

Despite the appeal an author might have toward a hybrid contract, many publishers are not willing to sign them on, as the loss of e-book revenue is not worth their effort. As a result, a large number of independent titles are coming out as e-book only, lending a much larger library available to readers in digital format. Howey states, “Publishers seem to be circling the wagons and backing away from print-only deals. They have enough books to take all the rights. For that, I don’t think they want to set much precedent with the print-only deals” (par 17). Howey’s first book, WOOL, was already a best seller before he was able to compromise a hybrid contract, which was unheard of at the time. For a publisher, taking on an already selling e-book and marketing it as a paperback reduces their workload, but also lowers their bottom line. To that end, I concede that despite it being a profitable exchange for both the author and publisher, it is a difficult option to obtain. But with the rise of independent authors selling compelling e-books, the number of hybrid contracts will persist as the face of traditional publishing continues to shift.

One of the biggest challenges for an author who might consider adapting to a hybrid contract, is getting the information needed to make such a decision. The general public is often not presented with a comprehensive look into the sales and numbers of e-books vs. print, or how specific subgenres are fairing within the larger genre fields. What the public is given is what the trade publishers are allowing them to see. With Howey’s success in first digital publishing and then hybrid publishing, he and several other authors have developed a website to try and report the most accurate sales numbers across all avenues of the trade. Their site, Author Earnings, complies data from all retailers and avenues, to try and dispel misinformation about the paperback vs. digital argument. Data released in 2016 by traditional publishers, and offered to the public, showed a large increase of paperback book sales compared to their digital counterparts. According to the publisher’s numbers, almost eight hundred million paperbacks sold compared to just over two hundred million e-books (par 3). Yet, when individual genres are studied, the sales of adult fiction are nearly divided, with e-books taking close to forty nine percent (par 6). What Howey’s site revealed, is that the report did not include independent authors, Amazon Imprints, or print on-demand books sold on Amazon. The publisher’s numbers had been compiled from traditionally published sources only. When all sales were compiled, a dramatic rise in digital imprints was evident. In the case of adult fiction, over three hundred and twenty five million e-books were sold, compared to just over a hundred and forty million paperbacks (par 33). Despite these numbers, there are many instances where print still prevails over digital. In the cases of juvenile non-fiction, juvenile fiction, and adult non-fiction, the numbers are dominant toward paper. Although I concede that print is ahead in these avenues of sales, it is not enough to show that digital publishing is by any means struggling. And while the reasons behind the difference in sales can be debated, such as the typical lower price point of independent works, largely in the adult fiction category, the number of total sales cannot be debated. The future of book publishing will continue to see a trend of both digital and print based material.

But the publishing field is not limited to fiction and non-fiction alone, or to an author’s preferences toward publishing contracts. The field is wide and expansive, and no avenue has felt so much of an impact as journalism. The decline of the newsroom and the printing press has been largely reported as digitalization sunk its roots into nearly every American household. In 2013, two business school professors, Robert Seamans and Feng Zhu, released a study titled, Responses to Entry in Multi-Sided Markets: The Impact of Craigslist on Local Newspapers, examining the monetary effect that Craigslist had on localized newspapers between the years 2000 to 2007. Seamans is an assistant professor of management and organizations at the NYU Stern School of Business, and was once appointed to the White House council of economic advisors. Zhu is a professor of business and digital innovations at Harvard. They have both written extensively on innovation and competitive strategy within the high-tech field. Together, they came to the conclusion that Craigslist alone took away five billion dollars in classified-ad revenue (par 1). But does that mean that the newspaper is going to die when faced with emerging technologies? Addressing that question during a TEDx Talk, Tom Rosensteil, who is the founder of the Project for Excellence in Journalism at the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., and co-founder and vice chair of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, stated, “I believe that what has disrupted us will now begin to save us. The audience will determine the future of news” (TEDx Talks, 0:53). During his talk, he stated similarly to Sieman’s and Zhu’s research paper, that ad revenue decreased 75% between 2000 and 2012, largely because of Craigslist, and that reporters working in physical newsrooms had decreased 30%. Despite these discouraging numbers, he believes we’re entering a new age of enlightenment in journalism, akin to the invention of the printing press, or to broadcasting.

No other avenue of publishing has seen such a varied degree of platforms, from the news on paper and digital screens, to audio, and to visual. Journalism now stretches its roots to all corners of the Internet. Rosensteil goes on to state, “Technology is bringing new audiences to news, that probably would not have consumed news in older formats” (9:35). He demonstrates this by explaining that the average age of a print newspaper reader is fifty-four, while the average age of a newspaper reader on a mobile device is thirty seven; and the average age of a reader using only a mobile device is thirty three. The majority of people reading a newspaper once a week, which he claims is half the population aged eighteen to forty, read it digitally.

With the argument that print newspapers are in decline, I asked two local reporters, John T. Ward, and John Burton, their thoughts on the future of journalistic publishing and the news at large. Ward started Red Bank Green in 2006, a hyper-local, Internet only, news source. Previously, Ward worked for The Asbury Park Press, The Star Ledger, and free-lanced for magazines. Burton is the senior reporter of the Two River Times, where he has worked for over fifteen years. Ward told me, “When it comes to delivering news, print remains only in places where [digital] hasn’t yet claimed the majority of consumers, but it will happen, as devices and bandwidth prices decline and younger consumers crowd out older ones. Print will likely never be eliminated entirely, but it will survive as a boutique offering” (November 11, 2017). Burton has similar feelings, despite that he works for a print based paper. He stated, “… the newspaper and magazine industry continues to be in a state of flux as it has been for about a decade. What’s at hand is that audiences are continuing to move toward digital, especially younger readers, who’ve come of age using maybe only the digital platform for their information and entertainment” (November 22, 2017). But on a more promising note for print publications, Burton believes that newspapers in small suburban and urban areas have not only been doing well but thriving, since they serve the needs of the immediate population. He uses the work of the Hartford Courant following the Sandy Hook shooting, five years ago, as an example of excellent journalism and photography following the wake of the tragedy, and how that specific local paper served the needs of the community by delivering information that was relevant to them. The one thing that Burton, Ward, and Rosensteil all agree on, is that journalism will not disappear altogether, despite the changes we’ve seen with the advancement of digital means. For Rosensteil, the news of the future is based solely on how and when the reader wants to read it, whenever the reader wants to read it, and on any and all platforms available.

With the advancement of the tablet and touch screens, people again began reading long formats of print journalism, whereas before, in the fifteen years of internet use prior, the population had a large decline in long format reading, which hurt the newspaper industry significantly. The average time spent on any one webpage was approximately thirty seconds. Now, with the population again interested in long formats of reading, many news sources are again beginning to thrive. To illustrate this, Rosensteil explains that at the time of his speech, which was in 2013, there were currently four hundred and fifty newspapers that charged for digital subscriptions. Three years prior, none of them did. On top of that, newspaper subscriptions rose five percent from 2012 to 2013, which was the most significant rise in over ten years. Three billion dollars of revenue in 2013 came from digital means, which were sources not available when the newspaper began its physical decline. Burton adds to the discussion, by explaining that many newspapers have adapted micro-payments, charging readers pay per article. While there is no doubting that newspaper publishing took a hard hit, and many lost their jobs because of it, the face of journalism has continued to evolve, and it stays now in a hybrid of many platforms.

Although newspapers are but one example of an educational text, it is not the only platform currently undergoing scrutiny. In recent years, classrooms have seen an influx of digital learning devices in addition to traditional print material. The BBC reported, in December of 2014, that 70% of primary and secondary schools in the UK were using tablet computers (par 1, BBC). In the US, the Energy Information Administration, an independent statistic and analytical organization comprised to gather data to be used in policy making and for public understanding, studied the growth of computers in the classroom. They found that the number of computers per square foot in educational buildings rose 71% between 1999 and 2012, and that 95% of buildings deemed for classroom instruction were using computers for learning by 2012. Publishing for educational purposes is now across both digital and print mediums, in nearly every school in the US.

With the number of computers in the classroom as high as they are, it can be implied that digital technology will soon surpass print learning material, and one day make it obsolete. However, there are arguments that imply paper-based learning to be superior, and there is evidence to back up this claim. An important study as to the student’s ability to retain information on both platforms was conducted by Anne Mangen, whose research delves into the impact of material and technical interfaces on reading for the advancement of education, along with two other researches at the Reading Center at the University of Stavanger, in Norway. Mangen and her researchers tested a random selection of seventy-two tenth graders, by dividing them into two groups and providing them both with identical texts that they had to read and then be tested on. Mangen states, “Main findings show that students who read texts in print scored significantly better on the reading comprehension test than students who read the texts digitally. Implications of these findings for policymaking and test development are discussed” (International Journal of Education Research). Her findings have helped influence teachers and institutions to keep print-based learning alive. Although I concede that in the face of Mangen’s study it appears that print based material is the best avenue for learning text, I do not believe that digital publishing will slow or weaken. Schools that integrate all avenues of academic publishing, both through computers and text, will present their students and teachers with the widest range of educational possibilities.

It can be said that Mangen and her team used a small sample of students, from only one area of the world, and that new technology might have arisen since her study, in 2013, that would better assimilate students to learning from digital platforms. However, science might have an answer as to why students were able to comprehend information from print sources better than digital material, and the results could display why textbooks will never disappear from the classroom, and why many people prefer print material compared to its digital counterpart. In a paper written by Ferris Jabr for Scientific American, the case is made that the human mind correlates to paper material on a subconscious level. Jabr, who is a previous staff editor and now contributor for Scientific American, as well as The New Yorker, and many additional science based anthologies, states “ … the brain essentially regards letters as physical objects because it does not really have another way of understanding them” (par 8), and then he goes on to explain, “Beyond treating individual letters as physical objects, the human brain may also perceive a text in its entirety as a kind of physical landscape” (par 10). Jabr’s article relied on scientific studies to correlate his claim. One study, titled, Incidental memory for location of information in text, was a paper written in 1971 by the award winning educational psychologist Ernst Z. Rothkopf. In this paper, fifty-three students were asked to remember a specific word or phrase from a text, and the results often showed that the students were able to recall the specific word by visualizing where in the text it appeared. Jabr’s article relates how the human mind sees books almost how it sees a trail or something navigational, and keeps track of text akin to a topographical landscape. Digital screens present a challenge, because our minds don’t make the same subconscious connections. But does this mean that schools will favor print based material if they are the superior for learning?

While print based texts have clear benefits for a student’s comprehension, digital innovations have adapted to maximize their cognitive impact. Tablets and reading devices have attempted to mimic physical material as closely as possible, to enhance the reader’s understanding of the material. Another scientific study that Jabr used in his article is titled, Construction of cognitive maps improve e-book reading and navigation, and was conducted in 2013 by three scientists for the Department of Computer Science and Information Engineering, in Taiwan. They found that when using a device with an interactive toolbar and visual pages compared to one without, the participants who used the device with the visual cue-map performed better with reading, navigating, and reviewing material. According to Jabr, as a result from studies such as these, Kindles use what is called E-ink, which closely resembles the chemical composition of ink, and iBooks have a feature that mimics the turning of a page. Tablets and computers will continue to evolve to benefit readers and students.

Despite digital readers attempting to resemble paper material, there is a belief that the human mind might adapt to digital devices just like it has to print based material, from an evolutionary standpoint. Maryanne Wolf, the director of the center for reading and language research at Tufts University, has written over a hundred and fifty scientific publications, including several novels, dealing with the cognitive effects of reading on the human brain. Unlike vision and language, which come innately to children, reading rewrites the circuitry of our minds, by connecting those various aspects that were intended for other purposes. In a video interview with tvo Parents, an online resource educating parents so that they can help teach their children, she explains, “The circuit of the brain changes, is completely malleable, because there is no genetic programing. It’s going to be influenced by what the child reads, how they read, what purpose—and the medium matters” (8:20). To that extent, future generations could have a completely different approach to reading, and be able to comprehend the material on a subconscious level, much differently that we do now. If learning from a predominantly digital medium instead of physical, the visual landscape created when reading might be completely rewritten. The parts of our comprehension relied upon now when learning to read may not be the same used by future generations, and school based learning could sway away from paperback textbooks, preferring a digital counterpart.

Outside of which method is the best for learning, a school’s decision to bring in a hybrid of paper and digital textbooks, which could help determine the future of educational publishing, is reliant on one big factor: cost. An article written by Nicole Allen for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities discusses the financial impact of textbooks for students, and the advantages of having digital textbooks available. Allen is a member of the Public Interest Research Groups, or PIRG, which is a student organization devoted to discussing and helping to solve a wide array of public interest problems. She states, “According to the College Board, the average student at a four-year public institution spends $1,200 annually on books and supplies” (par 2). Additionally, she explains that in a survey conducted by PIRG, “… seven in ten undergraduates skipped buying one or more required textbooks because the cost is too high, and three-quarters of those students believe that doing so hurt their grades” (par 3). Digital textbooks offer a more economical solution, with the average price forty to fifty percent cheaper than their print counterpart. In a 2012 report published by the Digital Textbook Playbook, which was a collaborative between the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Department of Education, they found that going digital could save an average of six hundred dollars per student, per year (par 25). They take many variables into account, such as print costs, and go so far as to attribute the rise of digitalization to increased teacher attendance and a lower dropout rate.

The debate for which publishing method might prevail will still go on, with some people preferring one platform over the other. The advancement of digitalization has sunk its roots into every avenue of publishing, and will continue to grow deeper as long as technology is still around. Some avenues have transformed, such as journalism, while others remain unhindered, like juvenile non-fiction. But on thing is for certain; we have seen and will continue to see a wide range of platforms across the publishing landscape, leading toward a hybrid of methods, all for the advancement of society at large. We can rest assured, even as the debate goes on, the human race is not yet ready to burn their robotic books in some terrible apocalyptic revolt.

 

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Works Cited

 

“Researcher Maryanne Wolf: Reading is Not Natural.” Tvo Parents, YouTube, January 19, 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-HYayerEeI

“The Future of Journalism: Tom Rosenstiel at TEDxAtlanta.” TEDx Talks, YouTube, May 28, 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RuBE_dP900Y

Allen, Nicole. “The Future of Digital Textbooks.” American Association of State Colleges and Universities, Winter 2013, http://www.aascu.org/workarea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=6308

Amazon. “Kindle Direct Publishing.” Pricing Page, January 1, 2015, https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G200634500

Anderson, Porter. “Hybrid Author Hugh Howey on Self vs. Traditional Publishing.” Publishing Perspectives, September 9, 2013, https://publishingperspectives.com/2013/09/hybrid-author-hugh-howey-on-self-vs-traditional-publishing/

Burton, John. Personal Interview. November 22, 2017.

Coughlan, Sean. “Tablet Computers in ‘70% of Schools.’” BBC News, December 3, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/education-30216408

Federal Communications Commission. “Digital Textbook Playbook.” The Digital Textbook Collaborative, February 1, 2012, https://tablets-textbooks.procon.org/sourcefiles/digital-textbook-playbook.pdf

Howey, Hugh. “Print vs Digital, Traditional vs Non-Traditional, Bookstore vs Online: 2016 Trade Publishing by the numbers.” Author Earnings, 2017, http://authorearnings.com/report/dbw2017/

Jabr, Ferris. “The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens.” Scientific American, April 11, 2013, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/reading-paper-screens/

Li, Laing-Yi, Chen, Gwo-Dong, Yang, Sheng-Jie. “Construction of cognitive maps to improve e-book reading and navigation.” Science Direct, Vol 60, January 1, 2013, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360131512001704

Mangen, Anne, Walgermo, Benton R., Bronnick, Kolbjorn. “Reading linear texts on paper versus computer screen: Effects on reading comprehension.” International Journal of Educational Research, Vol 58, January 1, 2013, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0883035512001127.

Mayclin, Danni. “Computers and Technology use in Educational Buildings Continues to Increase.” U.S. Energy Information Administration, February 3, 2016, https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=24812

Patel, Niley. “Kindle sells out in 5.5 hours.” Engadget, November 21, 2007, https://www.engadget.com/2007/11/21/kindle-sells-out-in-two-days/

Perenson, Melissa. “Amazon Kindle Book Sales Soar.” PC World, January 27, 2011, https://www.pcworld.com/article/218039/amazon_kindle.html

Rothkopf, Ernst Z.. “Incidental memory for location of information in text.” Science Direct, Vol 10, December 6, 1971. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S002253717180066X#!

Seamans, Robert, Zhu, Feng. “Responses to Entry in Multi-Sided Markets: The Impact of Craigslist on Local Newspapers.” NET Institute Working Paper, No 10-11, May 28, 2013, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1694622.

Ward, John T. Personal Interview. November 11, 2017.

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What is the Future of Publishing in the Digital Age?

Publishing_1Ten years in the future, will children be asking Santa for a brand new copy of the Cat in the Hat, or will they prefer to swipe through the pages on their parent’s tablet? For decades, the traditional method of ink on paper has been the only method, but quite suddenly the advancement of personal computers, smart phones, and tablets, have propelled the industry in a new direction. Restricting the world of publishing to one genre is impossible, with the various arms touching upon textbooks, paperbacks, magazines and journals, and of course, the ever-present newspaper. The later has received critical attention, as its decline saw many workers faced with a jobless future. But will digital publishing continue to grow, or will print remain the preferred method?

The decline of the newspaper is something widely reported on since the early 2000s’, as Internet and cable television services received a spike. Contributing to the sharp decline was the loss of ad revenue, as free online sources became increasingly available. In 2013, two business school professors, Robert Seamans and Feng Zhu, released a study examining the monetary effect of Craigslist against local newspapers. Seamans is an assistant professor of management and organizations at the NYU Stern School of Business, and was once appointed to the White House council of economic advisors. Zhu is a professor of business and digital innovations at Harvard. They have both written extensively on innovation and competitive strategy within the high-tech field. Together, they came to the conclusion that between the years 2000 to 2007, Craigslist alone took away five billion dollars in classified-ad revenue. Larger periodicals, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, were left out of the analysis, to keep the focus on a local level. In an interview with Forbes Magazine, Seamans states, “The main thing we were interested in studying here was how a disruption to one side of the newspaper business would affect a newspaper’s entire portfolio strategy going forward” (par 5). Newspapers had to raise subscription and newsstand prices, and drop advertising costs, as a means to compete. However, Siemans does not see this as a means to an end for the newspaper business, but as a way for it to evolve to something new. In the Forbes article, Siemans goes on to say, “I wouldn’t say Craigslist is killing newspapers. We hear a lot about how the newspaper industry is dying or maybe a dinosaur. My coauthor and I definitely don’t think that’s the case” (par 8). Although this study is comprehensive, it is now several years old, and there have been no follow up to see if digital subscriptions to any of the newspapers have had a financial impact since the end of the study, in 2007. Siemans believes the newspaper will live on; evolving just like it did after the introduction of the radio and television.

Which brings us to the current stage of evolution for print—the digital age. In contrast to the more upbeat possibility of the physical periodical living on, Jain Karan, the founder of MagFirst and the creative director of Foundr Magazine, believes fully in the advancement of digital publications replacing print. When interviewed by The Future of Everything, Karan had this to say about publishing, “Traditional print publishing is slowly finding itself turning obsolete with the rise of digital book publishing. Soon, printed books will attain the status of collector’s items for the visually interactive race that we are turning into” (par 4). Karan has everything to gain and nothing to lose with the loss of print publications and the advancement of the digital age, which would make his statement subjective. Under his various companies and ventures he has helped launch over thirty digital magazines and over two hundred issues. In addition, Karan works on all aspects of design and strategy for online publications, including branding and strategy. For him, it is easy to make such claims with no evidence to back it up, as he is constantly working in an environment where digital publications are on the rise. In the article itself he did not provide any numerical evidence to back up his argument, and his statement appears to be purely anecdotal, despite him being a big player in the publishing field.

It might surprise Jain Karan to find out that science may not be on his side, and there is growing evidence to suggest that physical publications will not be fading to obscurity when faced against today’s digital technology. In a study headed by Anne Mangen, whose research delves into the impact of material and technical interfaces on reading for the advancement of education, along with two other researches at the Reading Center at the University of Stavanger, Norway, a random sample of seventy-two tenth graders were evenly divided and provided with two texts. One group read the texts on paper and the other read them as a PDF. Mangen stated in the paper’s conclusion, “Main findings show that students who read texts in print scored significantly better on the reading comprehension test than students who read the texts digitally. Implications of these findings for policymaking and test development are discussed” (International Journal of Education Research). To help understand why paper prevailed over the PDF, it is theorized that several factors contributed, including the negative effects of a computers backlight, and that the children found it easier to navigate a physical text. The time it took the children to read and comprehend the material was also significantly shorter on paper verse digital, and Mangen and her team theorize that having multi-sensory access to the material was part of the student’s ease; being able to see and feel the thickness and physical dimension. As a result, she has urged educational boards to not be so quick to adapt computers over physical counterparts. Although the test was conducted only a few years ago, in 2012, and published in 2013, new technology could be available now that was not available five years ago, that might influence Mangen’s study, and her belief that physical material is superior for learning. For instance, using computer screens without blue light, which causes eyestrain, might have a significant effect on the students. Also, the comprehensiveness of her test can be argued, since she only tested tenth graders, and a relatively small demographic of seventy two students. It’s possible that students from other countries or age brackets could change the outcome. The result of her study could influence academic publishers to continue using paper textbooks over digital, and students preferring paperback rather than their counterparts.

But even if a new study were to be conducted, science might have already found an answer as to why print is an easier format for the human brain to navigate. In a paper written by Ferris Jabr—a previous staff editor and now contributor for Scientific American, as well as the The New Yorker, and many additional science based anthologies—for Scientific American, the case is made that the human mind correlates to paper material on a subconscious level. The article begins by explaining how our brains use object recognition to distinguish one letter from another. Jabr states, “ … the brain essentially regards letters as physical objects because it does not really have another way of understanding them” (par 8), and then he goes on to explain, “Beyond treating individual letters as physical objects, the human brain may also perceive a text in its entirety as a kind of physical landscape” (par 10). The human brain sees a book as something comparable to a trail or a path to navigate, and the physicality of a book represents more of a topographical landscape when compared to a digital screen. Two scientific studies are relied upon for evidence of this phenomenon. The first, titled, Incidental memory for location of information in text, was a paper written in 1971 by the award winning educational psychologist Ernst Z. Rothkopf. It studied subjects being able to recall substantial aspects of a written composition to its place holding within the material. Fifty-three students were used for the experiment, and the result showed that when asked to recall a particular word or phrase, they often remembered where in the text it appeared. The second study, Construction of cognitive maps improve e-book reading and navigation, was conducted in 2013 by three scientists for the Department of Computer Science and Information Engineering, in Taiwan. Their study used an e-book reading system with an interactive toolbar and visible pages, compared to one without. The results showed that the participants with the visual cue-map performed better with reading, navigating, and reviewing the material. According to Jabr, as a result of trials such as these, the Kindle uses what is called E-ink, which is made to look as close to the chemical composition of ink as possible, and iBooks have a feature that mimics the turning of a page. An interface made by Jaejeung Kim of KAIST Institute of Information Technology Convergence in South Korea shows each individual page read on the left side and the unread pages on the right side. The reader can also flip through multiple pages or chapters with a swipe of their finger, or curl the paper to represent one hand reading. All of this technology is made to mimic the physical look and feel of paper material. Jabr’s article, written in 2013, has shown us why and how the brain prefers physical material, and it has also explained what the digital world is doing to compete.

Ferris Jabr is not the only professional writing about this “visual-terrain” reading experience. Maryanne Wolf, the director of the center for reading and language research at Tufts University, has written over a hundred and fifty scientific publications, including several novels, dealing with the cognitive effects of reading on the human brain. She has taken it one step further by discussing how the human brain learns to read. She addresses what we might see with the introduction of digital devices, especially with young generations who are learning to read on both mediums. In a video interview with tvo Parents, an online recourse educating parents so that they can help teach their children, Wolf addresses that reading is not a natural phenomenon in the human brain. Unlike vision and language, which come innately to children, reading rewrites the circuitry of our minds, by connecting those various aspects that were intended for other purposes. She does not give any supporting evidence to validate this claim in the interview, but it’s suggested that her novel, Proust and Squid: The Story and Science of the reading Brain, delves further into the topic. After discussing how reading for children relies upon visual cues in one of its stages—the ability to remember pages and lines when read to, and knowing when a page is skipped—she is asked how the digital age will affect the reading mind. She gives a two-pronged answer, first by stating that no one knows quite yet, and that both herself and fellow researchers are currently studying the emerging generations. That answer shows academic credibility, by not answering a question that is not yet fully investigated, and lends further credence to the rest of her work. Secondly, she goes on to explain, “The circuit of the brain changes, is completely malleable, because there is no genetic programing. It’s going to be influenced by what the child reads, how they read, what purpose—and the medium matters” (tvo Parents). To that extent, future generations could have a completely different approach to reading, and be able to comprehend the material on a subconscious level, much differently that we do now. If learning from a predominantly digital medium instead of physical, the visual landscape created when reading, might be completely rewritten. The parts of our comprehension relied upon now when learning to read may not be the same used by future generations, and to that extent, school based learning could sway away from paperback textbooks, preferring a digital counterpart. This hypothesis relies on educated speculated, since we have not yet seen anything to suggest the human brain is rewiring itself to learn new ways to navigate a digital landscape. As Wolf suggests in the interview, “None of us know what changes are going to happen” (8:00 min).

There is a lot we can speculate by reading Maryanne Wolf’s work. Learning how the human mind comprehends reading is crucial when determining what the future may hold for publishing. But what is going on now, and how can that help forecast the future? Kristen McLean is the executive director of new business at NPD Book, a company specializing in analyzing data over a wide spectrum of brands and markets, for the purpose of organizing the current and future position of the industries. NPD is among one of the largest market research companies in the world, interviewing over twelve million consumers a year and monitoring purchase information from over a hundred and sixty five thousand stores. In 2017, NPD acquired Nielsen’s U.S. book monitoring services, which effectively monitors all U.S. book sales. McLean has over twenty years of experience in the publishing world, and her clients have included Scholastic, Harper Collins, Random House, and Disney. McLean reported for Publishers Weekly after the 2017 London Book Fair, stating that there is no one-or-the-other when it comes to print verse digital. Going further, she asserts, “First and foremost, people still love print books. This is especially true of children, parents, teenagers, and millennials overall. Millennials are also much more likely than baby boomers to favor print magazines and subscribe to newspapers” (par 4). Offering some real numbers to illustrate where the market is heading now, e-book sales were down 27% in 2016 from their peak in 2013. These numbers are based on NPD Book’s analysis, and are used to help track past sales and future trends. It’s speculates that some of the decrease can be attributed to short-form media that can be so easily attained from smart phones, making it difficult for e-books to compete. Despite that, digital is still receiving some encouraging numbers, primarily in fiction, where it represents fifty percent of romance novel sales. To that end, it’s important to look at each and every genre being sold, to understand that the future could look different for each and every aspect of publishing.

Fifty percent of any market is a big stake, and we can see actual sales numbers compared under various markets, thanks to a website named Author Earnings. The site is hosted by several independent authors, who gather data with the idea of getting the real numbers on a variety of publishing platforms. The most notable founding author is Hugh Howey, who’s self published novel, WOOL, shot to best seller status as an e-book. Despite winning numerous awards, and being arguably the most well known independent author, he has worked to help give insight for other authors and publishers. In their report, US trade publishing by the numbers, based on Digital Book World’s 2017, shows that print dominated the 2016 market compared to e-books. Close to eight hundred million trade paperbacks were sold, to just over two million trade e-books. For Howey, who has made his fame primarily as an e-book author, to release this information reluctantly lends credence that he is releasing the most accurate information available. But in contrast to the previous numbers, when broken down to genre, trade e-books sold forty-nine percent of adult fiction, which is basically half of the market. So why is there such a large discrepancy from total sales to adult fiction? We can see that coming primarily from three other markets: Juvenile non-fiction, which e-book only claimed six percent; juvenile fiction, at twelve percent; and adult non-fiction, which is at twenty four percent. Much of the contribution to adult non-fiction paperbacks is attributed to the growth of adult coloring books, which have gained in popularity. Howey and his team of authors indicate that while these numbers are substantial, they do not include independent authors, and those numbers are rarely released to the public or relied upon by publishing experts, who have the power to sway the industry. The report states, “To truly understand our market, we need a complete picture of US consumer book buying behavior” (Author earnings). According to their information, total sales remain with a preference toward print, but when it comes to adult fiction, the numbers start to change. Once independent authors are included, along with Amazon imprints (Amazon has it’s own publishing company, not listed with traditional publishing houses), the number jumps to a whopping seventy percent of US sales for e-books, compared to forty nine percent for trade only. While these findings are impressive, they do receive much criticism. Some of it is garnered from the site’s contributors being independent authors, which could make them biased. Additionally, Amazon is not so quick to release all of their numbers, so there is speculation that his sales numbers may not be a hundred percent accurate with the independent titles.

But even with the more widely available statistic of trade adult fiction being nearly divided, we see that both mediums will continue to grow. Technology will continue to progress both industries, much like how print-on-demand is now how many books are printed prior to shipping. Publishers Weekly touched upon some of the emerging technologies after the 2017 BookExpo, when several experts met to discuss the future of publishing. One of the panelists, David M. Ewalt, who is also a contributing editor to Forbes Magazine and a prolific tech writer, spoke about the use virtual and augmented reality in the future of publishing. He jokes that these technologies “will destroy books completely” (Publishers Weekly). Using an informal tone throughout the article might make his analysis sound less academic, but it connects to the audience by lightening the mood, and makes it easier to understand some of these emerging sciences that might otherwise be confusing. Although the technologies that Ewalt discusses are still in their infancies, he sees devices such as the Oculus Rift and the New York Times 360 video journalism as ways to offer writers and publishers whole new means to tell stories and distribute their products. Such platforms like Altspace VR, which is a virtual world, where people from all walks of life can meet up in real time, in the form of a digital aviator, can be instrumental for meeting whole new audiences. An author could give a book reading in augmented reality to an audience ten thousand miles away, and publishers could construct virtual bookstores, where the online currency is indeed real. Although some of the tech Ewalt mentions is currently up and running, much of what he suggests is based on speculation, with no concrete evidence to back up his suggestions. As these technologies are still being developed, it will be interesting to see what shape they take, and how the public perceives them.

The future of publishing will take many forms. There is nothing to suggest that paperbacks will be disappearing any time soon, with all of the evidence pointing to the contrary, and e-readers are here to stay. With the decline of print journalism, and the rise of its digital counterpoint, we can hope to see new jobs created. The future of academic textbooks also remains unclear, with scientific studies remaining positive for paper material, yet digital translations remaining significantly cheaper. But an uncertain future is not such a bad thing, not for consumers, who get to enjoy a wide spectrum of innovations that will continue to emerge as publishing is brought into the next stage of its existence … or maybe we’ll just continue to read print.

 

***

 

Note from the author

As you might have guessed, this article was in fact a paper I wrote for an English class. Yes, I am going to school at the time this article is being published, and I intend to continuing going to school, in one form or another, until the day I die. Why stop with a degree?

 

***

 

Works Cited

“Researcher Maryanne Wolf: Reading is Not Natural.” Tvo Parents, YouTube, January 19, 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-HYayerEeI

Bercovici, Jeff. “Sorry, Craig: Study Finds Craigslist Took $5 Billion From Newspapers.” Forbes, August 14, 2013, https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffbercovici/2013/08/14/sorry-craig-study-finds-craigslist-cost-newspapers-5-billion/#25d39ecc7d02.

Hastreiter, Nick. “What is the future of publishing?” The Future of everything, May 22, 2017, http://www.futureofeverything.io/2017/05/22/future-publishing/

Howey, Hugh. “Print vs Digital, Traditional vs Non-Traditional, Bookstore vs Online: 2016 Trade Publishing by the numbers.” Author Earnings, 2017, http://authorearnings.com/report/dbw2017/

Jabr, Ferris. “The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens.” Scientific American, April 11, 2013, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/reading-paper-screens/

Li, Laing-Yi, Chen, Gwo-Dong, Yang, Sheng-Jie. “Construction of cognitive maps to improve e-book reading and navigation.” Science Direct, Vol 60, January 1, 2013, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360131512001704

Mangen, Anne, Walgermo, Benton R., Bronnick, Kolbjorn. “Reading linear texts on paper versus computer screen: Effects on reading comprehension.” International Journal of Educational Research, Vol 58, January 1, 2013, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0883035512001127.

McLean, Kristen. “London Digital 2017: The Future of Publishing Is…” Publishers Weekly, March 13, 2017, https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/international/london-book-fair/article/73010-london-digital-2017-the-future-of-publishing-is.html

Read, Calvin. “BookExpo 2017: The Future of Publishing Is Now.” Publishers Weekly, Ewalt, Dave, May 31. 2017, https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/bea/article/73828-bookexpo-2017-the-future-of-publishing-is-now.html

Rothkopf, Ernst Z.. “Incidental memory for location of information in text.” Science Direct, Vol 10, December 6, 1971. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S002253717180066X#!

Seamans, Robert, Zhu, Feng. “Responses to Entry in Multi-Sided Markets: The Impact of Craigslist on Local Newspapers.” NET Institute Working Paper, No 10-11, May 28, 2013, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1694622.

 

 

Martini, anyone?

It’s been a while since my last post, so I thought it’s a good time to let you all know what I’ve been up to.

On top of writing, I’ve been a career bartender for the past fifteen years or so. I’m lucky to be working in a busy Irish bar, in Red Bank new Jersey, where I began as a waiter when I was twenty two.

A few months ago, I decided to go back to school and finish up my degree (surprisingly, the credits that I earned nearly twenty years ago are still valid!). As part of my first class, which was a public speaking class, I had to make a demonstration, tape it, and send it to the teacher. Well, if there’s one thing I know, it’s how to make a damn good drink. So here it is, me teaching a group how to make a martini. Please remember, this was taped on a phone in a bar, and I had no plans on sharing it, but then I thought … why not? If school has been preventing me from writing a blog post, here’s an opportunity to share with you all what I’m currently up to. Also, keep in mind that this was for a class, so I was obligated to show the audience, use sue cards, and speak in a certain way. But after the intro, it gets more interesting, and the camera clearly shows me making the drink. Also, that guy talking on the phone in the background, oblivious that I was taping, eventually stops.

So, grab a glass, pour a drink, and find a good book to read … Here’s the link: Martini

 

 

Alternate ending to THE AFTER WAR & Audiobook giveaway.

Underground

I have two things for you:

1) I’ve decided to release an alternate ending to THE AFTER WAR, free to anyone who would like it. I’m still getting it organized and formatted, but if anyone wants a copy when it’s ready, please email me and I’ll put you on the waiting list. Warning: It contains spoilers, so if you haven’t read the novel, please wait until you have done so.

2) I need your help winning an award contest, and if you help, you will be entered to win an audiobook copy of THE EXPERIMENT OF DREAMS, straight from audible. I hate asking for help, but in this case, it’s the only way to win the contest. I’m up against three other books, and whoever gets the most Likes and Shares on a Facebook post (combined) wins. To be honest, I don’t care all that much about the contest itself, but the winner gets a big bump in promotion through the site, and a chance for more lucrative awards and reviews in the future. Go to: Underground Book Review’s Facebook page, and scroll down (about four posts) to the one mentioning THE AFTER WAR. Like and/or share that post, and on April 16th (easter) I will randomly select a winner from the list of people who liked and shared. It’s that easy.

 

Thanks for your help. Here’s that link again: Underground Book Review. Good Luck!

 

All the best,

Brandon Zenner

And the winner is …

Mystery_character

Just an hour ago, I had my three year old daughter pick one folded piece of paper from a pile of folded papers, and she alone decided the winner of the contest.

But before I announce the winner, I have to humbly thank each and every person who participated. This was a fun contest, and if you didn’t win—do not fret! I will repeat this contest again, sometime in the future, and any reviews you have already written, or are planning to write, can be included then. 

And now for the announcement … the winner is …. John Zur .

Not only does John have a really cool last name that will sound good in a novel, he read all of my books in record time. Seriously, weeks. He’s a way faster reader than myself. Congratulations, John!

Well, that’s it for now. Although the contest has ended, if anyone out there is still interested in receiving copies of my books in exchange for reviews, all you have to do is ask. I am happy to oblige.

All the best,
Brandon Zenner

Want to be a character in my next novel?

books

I was talking to a friend of mine today who told me about a really cool promotional contest that an author friend of his had done, and I thought, hey — why not give it a try? It’s easy to enter, and the end result will be that your name could be used as a character in my next novel.

So here it is: all you have to do to enter is review my books on Amazon. That’s it. Honest reviews. Either Amazon US or UK, but the more the merrier, including Goodreads. To top it off, during this promotion, if you do not own one or several of my books, I will gift you any of my books for free. To be more clear, the reviews would have to be for the following: THE EXPERIMENT OF DREAMS, WHISKEY DEVILS, or THE AFTER WAR. Review one, it puts your name in the hat once. Review all three, and you have three chances to win. After you post the reviews just shoot me an email: brandonzenn@gmail.com, with a link. You can also use that email address to contact me for one of my books, and I’ll gift you an Amazon copy right away, absolutely for free. If you’ve previously reviewed all three, you’re already entered. Just email me to tell me so. THE AFTER WAR and WHISKEY DEVILS have far less reviews, so those are preferred … so … review one of them, and I’ll double your odds. To be clear, review all three, and you have five chances to win.

Here is a link to my Amazon page to navigate to all of my novels: Amazon

As of now, the tentative date for this contest to end is April 1st, 2017. But if I am told from readers that they need more time, I will extend the deadline to include everyone who would like to participate. The winner will be selected at random.

At this stage, I can’t say what the role will be for the character in the book, when the book will be released, or what the book will be about … I like to remain mysterious. At the moment, I am working on one novel and a short story or two. The winner will be contacted in that regard.

Good luck, and feel free to contact me with any questions, anytime, about anything. I would love to hear from you. I think this is a fun contest and I hope you decide to participate. The reviews do not have to be long or sappy. Short, fast, and honest works fine too.

All the best,
Brandon Zenner