spotify for booksI’m a massive technology geek. I’m always salivating at the capabilities of ‘the latest thing’, the latest of course being the gorgeous new iPhone 5. Yes, I’m a tech-geek. Get used to it.

Salivating aside, I’m actually really interested in the current movements in digital content, and have decided to focus on said topic every now and then on the blog. One of the first things I want to look at is the rise of streaming media, what it means for physical content, and the implications on the book industry. Will we see a Spotify for Books any time soon?

The advantages of streaming

I’ve been using Spotify for the best part of a year now. I pay £9.99 for a Premium account, which enables me to listen to music on the go either through 3G, or offline playlists which I’ve downloaded before heading out. Being a big fan of locally/physically owned content, like every good materialist is, I found it hard to adapt to initially, and backed out once or twice, before truly embracing it.

The result, a year on?

Spotify, or any music streaming service for that matter, severs the necessity to ever buy an album again. And yet, I think I’ve bought more music since joining Spotify than I did beforehand.

The key to Spotify is perception. I don’t think viewing it as a ‘directory’ to dip in and out of helps, and was probably part of my early problems with the service. Instead, imagine you have a library of over 15 million songs. That’s what Spotify is.

I know some people have issues with the reported royalties, but look at it this way: I’ve discovered at least one-hundred new bands I’d consider seeing live via Spotify. Bands I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise, and therefore wouldn’t have bought a ticket to their shows. Therefore, in the long term, the hit the bands and artists take on royalties is surely worth it, right?

Furthermore, one single cent through a streaming service is better than absolutely nothing via piracy. And, in time, the royalties will rise to reflect the growth of the company.

There will always be two sides to the argument, but I urge you to drop those preconceptions and support an innovative movement. Spotify, Rdio, and the like, are doing great things to change the way the music industry thinks, which can only be a positive thing.

Spotify for books?

My obsession with Spotify got me thinking about whether a ‘Spotify for Books’ service could work. We are moving towards a streaming subscription future, that’s for sure. Sky and iPlayer for TV; Netflix and Lovefilm for movies; and of course, Spotify/Rdio for music. Surely books are next in line?

Well, it’s not quite as simple as that. Sure, I’m confident plenty of us readers would sign up to a service where we could ‘stream’ an unlimited amount of books for, let’s say, £9.99 per month. That would be perfect, for the reader. Publishing would take a brave new turn.

However, it wouldn’t be quite as simple for the author. Us authors don’t do live gigs or tours, so we wouldn’t have that to fall back on. Instead, we’d have to come up with our own irresistible alternatives.

How the service could work for authors

For example, say you put your book on this service. Someone reads it, streams it to their phone; that’s cool. Then what? They could just stream the rest of your books. Add them to a ‘playlist’, and that would be that. No ‘sales’, as such, but a reader.

They could then seamlessly share your work with a friend, via Facebook, or email. Their friend reads it, likes it, and adds your stuff to their playlist. But still, no ‘sales’ in a traditional sense.

How to counter this? You could offer a limited edition physical copy of your book as an incentive for the reader. Or an exclusive, signed hardcover pre-release of your next book, complete with making-of videos and live Q&As. All this could work seamlessly through the aforementioned ‘Spotify for Books’ service. The options are endless, and there are real opportunities for creativity.

Of course, the logistics of such a service would be a different matter, and publishers would probably have first dibs on shaping the landscape. But we’re already seeing services like Wattpad gradually gaining momentum. And, as the years pass, we’ll see more content, and more innovation. Give it a few years, and we’ll probably see something that almost uncannily represents a Spotify for Books.

A word on physical media: I wrote a piece a few months back on the ‘death’ of physical content, but I don’t believe this will happen any time soon. There will always be a demand for luxury products. As streaming media and subscription services truly take hold, I think physical media has to, and most certainly will, improve, to keep itself relevant.

And, let’s face it: we’ll never get tired of sniffing new books, right?

What does the future hold for books? Can you see a ‘Spotify for Books’ streaming service truly taking the lead in publishing, or something else?

Image courtesy of Blixt A. via Flickr