Hey Siri, What Should I Read Next?

The topic AI, as I am beginning to appreciate, is a Pandora’s Box. Once opened, it cannot be contained. And although AI promises to simplify complex things, it inadvertently contributes to adding complexity to our ‘once simple life’.

To imagine the next possible confluence of AI and Publishing, we first need to evaluate the most urgent need for publishers. What is the most persisting need?

Considering that publishing industry is going through a big shift, the fight has moved beyond two key parameters—content and availability. The age-old cornerstone of publishing—find great content and make it available to as many readers as possible, usually through extensive distribution network. Earlier, a book had to compete for shelf space. The possible field was limited to bookstores and newsstands. But the market is different now. With the innovation in eCommerce and Amazon’s hold over the market, the concept of shelf space has disappeared. Every book fends for itself now. Distribution is one of the strongest assets of publishing industry, but with Amazon in the picture, it’s no longer a unique advantage.

The publishers still hold advantage over content; but not for long. Amazon has single-handedly revolutionized self-publishing, breaking one of the strongest barriers of entry—a publishers stamp. Anyone can publish now. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the publishers.  Some really promising writers have emerged through the cacophony of indiscriminate self-publishing. There’s a low-risk opportunity for publishers.

But going forward, the fight has moved to discoverability now–It is all about the reach now. And that’s where AI can really benefit the publishers. The market can no longer be limited to geographical boundaries, or demographics for that matter. With Machine Learning and NLP, it’s becoming increasingly possible to not only track what people are buying, but also why they are buying it. This deeper, non-linear understanding of human behaviour is leading the way to behavioural marketing. With the use of AI, publishers can expand their reach with better, more focused marketing.

Publishers can benefit a lot from AI. From content curation, to SEO, user generated data (reviews, ratings, categories), to email marketing and social media reach; these tools can not only to make publisher’s lives easier, but to make them better at their jobs. The optimization of processes and faster turnaround time not only yield better results for businesses, but they also help by being relevant for the consumers, leading to better informed buying decisions and higher conversion rate.

AI has already had a tremendous impact on the way users conduct online searches and discover books. This in turn is changing the way marketers create and optimize content. Innovations like the Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple’s Siri, and Microsoft’s Cortana make it easier for people to conduct searches with just the press of a button and voice command. That means the terms they’re searching for are evolving too. The publishers need to observe this user behaviour closely. How people search of books is important to ascertain how buying decisions are made and where the actual buying takes place. With help of AI, publishers can re-establish a more efficient purchase funnel for the readers.

I think publishers need to smart here. The industry is going through a disruption right now, with the driving force in the hands of tech giants, who can’t necessarily be identified as publishers. For all the waves Amazon is making, it couldn’t have gotten where it is today, without the groundwork of traditional publishing. To me it seems quite clear that the publishers need to embrace AI, because it is bound to get them anyway. It makes sense to stay on top of the game, rather than play catch-up all the time. If there is a remotest possibility of publishers regaining the ground lost to Amazon, it is through the AI. It is the only thing that’ll level the playing field once again.

Anumeha Gokhale

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