C:\ Thinking in an http: World

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From Publishing Perspectives:

The “Battle for Attention”—part of the title of Bookwire‘s conference report from Frankfurter Buchmesse—became a lot more vivid for many professionals participating in the digital evocation of the trade show last week.

That’s because the enormous fair, which draws more than 250,000 people annually in its physical setting at Messe Frankfurt, was, for once, almost entirely online.

. . . .

Without those beloved print volumes propped on shelves in stand and after stand, without the gliding moving sidewalks between halls, and without the beeping of catering trucks moving in reverse, the center of international publishing for a week was just a click or two from your Netflix and Amazon Music accounts.

. . . .

[W]hat Videl Bar-Kar, who heads up audio at Bookwire GmbH in Germany, presented Thursday (October 15) was the result of survey work that reached 2,335 people in Germany aged 16 to 65 about their media use. In addition, 1,000 consumers of ebooks, audiobooks, and/or podcasts were surveyed about their usage patterns.

A recording of Bar-Kar’s presentation, like others in the Frankfurter Conference series, has not been posted for review, so as yet we can’t offer you a link to see it. Frankfurt’s organizers say that these recordings of four days of conference programming and other events will be available “soon.”

. . . .

What develops as you look at the report is a question of the wisdom of gauging podcasts along with audiobooks and ebooks. Podcasting is not necessarily in the same vein as audiobooks and ebooks because a podcast (unless someone sits at the mic and reads a book to listeners) is not the delivery of a book. There are variations and content hybrids, of course—and a podcast certainly may make a powerful marketing tool for a book—but the inclusion here of podcasts with audiobooks and ebooks presents something like one apple (podcasting) and two oranges (audiobooks and ebooks).

. . . .

Digital Content Becoming ‘Mainstream’

What Bar-Kar and his research refer to as “mainstream” refers to people using two or three of the digital media in question—ebooks, audiobooks, and podcasts. It’s not clear from this work if it’s possible to know what percentage these formats’ usage comprised of a user’s overall media array. If a user said she’d used an ebook or audiobook in the last six months, how does that compare with how many print books she’d read, how many films or television series she’d viewed, and so on?

  • Of those surveyed, 43 percent said they’d used at least one ebook, audiobook, or podcast within the last six months. Some 48 percent reported using “a number of these in parallel.
  • Twenty-one percent said they use all three formats, and 27 percent said they use two of them.

. . . .

A favorite question, of course, is whether audiobook, ebook, and/or podcast consumption tends to preclude a user’s consumption of other content. The standard response of those who work in audiobooks, ebooks, and/or podcasts is, “Of course not!” And this survey doesn’t disappoint.

“They only cannibalize each other to a minor extent” is the charming lead answer here. Nibbling on each other’s toes, as it were, nothing worse than that.

“Ebooks, audiobooks, and podcasts hardly cannibalize each other at all,” the survey writers say. “A maximum of 14 percent of users said that they use ebooks, audiobooks, or podcasts at the expense of one of the other two media. While ebooks and audiobooks are used for relaxation and entertainment more so than podcasts, podcasts tend to expand knowledge and education and/or are more informative about current issues.”

Well-intended as it may be, this commentary is probably the least reassuring in the report. Unless one has a chart of one’s format usage and thus can tell, “Gosh, a half-hour of my podcast time was eaten up by my e-reading,” it’s quite subjective as to how much a user might feel is going into one mode or another.

And the more important area of inquiry here is about the challenge that other media (including podcasting may present to reading in various formats. Many people today say that with so much beautifully produced storytelling available in television and film formats, their reading in all modes is taking a hit. By contrast, attrition to other forms of reading is less a worry. If publishing “loses” someone from print to ebooks, publishing should feel relieved that they didn’t move to Streamer City and stop reading entirely.

. . . .

The survey does offer this comparatively useful point—still inside the publishing sector, but going beyond the three key formats in question: “Looking at cannibalization effects on traditional media, just under half of ebook users (44 percent) said that they read fewer printed books because of their digital counterpart. This figure was 25 percent among audiobook listeners.”

. . . .

In short, things are still unsettled in terms of where podcasts stand next to books, especially in the audio space.

If you’re fond of podcasts, you may call them complementary. If you’re not, you might call them competition.

. . . .

Perhaps easier to get our publishing heads around, a section of the survey asked “Which are Your Favorite Media”? Here, it looks as if reality has arrived at the door to reading’s future in this particular survey.

By far, the respondents went for video streaming and television as their favorite of several media.

Radio and print books were next, followed by gaming, online news, and newspapers.

Digital audiobooks and podcasts came in behind all of those. Ebooks fared a bit better, beating out online news and newspapers.

Not even those podcasts were competitive to media outside the trio in the survey, except for physical audiobooks, which in most markets have long been on the decline as downloaded audio took over.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Although downplayed, the author of the OP seems to be feeling what came to PG’s mind as he read the OP:


Podcasts vs. print books?

PG is suspect of “cannibalization” studies in general.

The fundamental proposition is that if people start doing more of something, they are doing less of something else.

This assumes that “something” = an activity that makes someone, usually a large commercial organization, money directly or indirectly.

So, for example, if a meaningful portion of the populace starts spending more time in voluntary charitable activities, that activity is not part of the cannibalization equation.

Ditto if someone starts taking Yoga seriously and spends time thinking of Oneness.

Second Ditto if someone who is feeling overly confined due to a life-threatening pandemic goes to a restaurant that observes social-distancing by closing half of its seating, and hangs out while having a good conversation after lunch with someone else. (Coincidentally, this is exactly how PG and Mrs. PG spent a couple of hours this afternoon. The conversation included, but was not limited to, PG’s mostly-useless comments as Mrs. PG read a couple of the most recent chapters from her WIP.)


PG is not a podcast person, but wonders if people who listen to podcasts do so instead of reading books of either the electronic or let’s-cut-down-another-forest variety.

PG is happy to be instructed/corrected/updated/straightened-out/brought-into-the-21st-Century, etc., by podcast people.

9 thoughts on “C:\ Thinking in an http: World”

  1. There are many podcasts I enjoy. I listen to them while doing household tasks or walking . I’ve tried audiobooks but they don’t work for me. Podcasts are shorter and easier to fit alongside the activities they complement. Thus, yes, I listen to podcasts *instead* of audiobooks.

    “A favorite question, of course, is whether audiobook, ebook, and/or podcast consumption tends to preclude a user’s consumption of other content. ” [and vice versa]

    Duh. There are only so many hours in the day.

  2. It is almost cute that after 25 years they are worrying about podcasts.
    Instead, they should worry about subscriptions. Because that is what’s exploding in the eyeball-hours competition.
    There are only so many waking hours a day and so much disposable income to allocate. And when a month of video, a month of music, or a month of video gaming costs less than *one* hardcover the positioning of tradpubbed content as “affordable” entertainment is getting sefiously undercut.
    Amazon gets it; they got in early, with KU.
    Kobo gets it; they’re ramping up a subscription service of their own.
    The bigger video studios get it; Disney, Warner, NBCUniversal, all get it. Even CBSViacom is trying to get it right. They are also trying to sell S&S. Says something right there that the weakest of the big media conglomerates is trying to ditch print.
    Want to talk provincial? Provincial is worrying about a backwater pond while a tsunami is headed your way.
    Podcasts are real but they have peaked; whatever share of eyeballs and ears they were going to take they already have. The big tradpub have spent two decades and more ffetting over the “devaluing” of books and fighting their most efficient distributor while all around their stagnant little pond entire new industries have emerged to suck away entertainment dollars by the billion.
    And here we are in 2020 and their concern is podcasts?
    They have all the tools to flourish in a subscription economy and instead of being close followers they fret over last century’s innovation?
    As if they know nothing of the greater world outside their fixed priced walls.

  3. Speaking of Podcasts:


    The tech goes back to the 80’s.
    AOL (anybody remember them?) was doing it in 1996.
    So did Microsoft’s MSN answer to AOL. They even had video shows (Mungo Park was particularly ambitious) by 1997. Eight years before Youtube.
    Podcasts were well established by 2000 and the BBC adopted the format in 2001.
    “ESPN launched its first podcast in 2005, and in 2015 ESPN podcasts were downloaded 366 million times, an increase of 16 percent compared to the previous year.”

    Netflix just announced 195M subscribers, Amazon Prime has 150M, Disney went from zero to 55M in 10 months. Microsoft’s GAMEPASS went from 10M to 15M in 3 months. And Kindle Unlimited is paying out $400M a year, with average per full-read payouts average something from $1-2 so figure at least 200M full reads. That is substituting for a potential $1-2 billion in sales, give or take a few hundred million.

    But podcasts is what they worry about?
    (le sigh)

  4. Part of the problem in the conversation is the classic Princess Bride conundrum: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it does.”

    “Cannibalization” does not refer to different versions or forms of the same product or service. That form of substitution is not cannibalization. Those of you who remember the minivan wars of the 1990s will snicker when pondering whether sale of Dodge Caravans cannibalized sales of Chrysler Pacificas… or vice versa.

    Cannibalization arises from a competing product or service (even from the same ultimate vendor) that takes revenue away from one’s objective. The classic example in publishing is the two-competing-editions era in the late 1960s of The Lord of the Rings; the Ballantine edition was $0.15 per volume more than the Ace edition, because the Ace edition did not pay a royalty to Tolkein (it was relying upon the perfidy — the horror — that pursuant to §§ 22 and 24 of the 1909 Copyright Act, the 1954 text had fallen into the public domain because Houghton-Mifflin had imported more than fifty bound copies printed outside the US). Each sale of an Ace copy truly cannibalized from the Ballantine edition… and this was back when $0.45 was enough for a cup of coffee, sales tax, a tip, and some change.

    But it is not “cannibalization” to substitute for the same product/service with the revenue ending up in the same pocket(s). In particular, it is not “cannibalization” for the vendor to provide alternate forms of the same product/service so as to service audiences that have form preferences — audiobooks versus casebound first printings being an obvious example. Discussing those alternate forms as if they compete with each other on an otherwise-equal basis — which is the underlying assumption of the “cannibalization” meme — is just plain stoooooooooooopid.

    • You may be right that they are misusing the term podcast to refer to Audible’s new audio drama *subscription* service. But it isn’t targeting their print cashflow. It’s targetting their audiobook cash flow.

      As usual they are missing the key aspect–the business model.

      It is Audible following the lead of Kindle Unlimited to supplement their discrete sales with a separate catalog of rental exclusives.

  5. Sooo, I like CE Pettit’s PB quote of “it doesn’t mean what you think it means”. I wonder though if that applies to “podcasting” in general.

    For context, I don’t think there is much debate left to be had about paper vs. e-book’s status as a partially complementary and partially competitive product (in classic guns and butter economics). If you buy the ebook, you probably don’t buy a paper copy; if you buy the paper copy, you probably don’t buy the ebook. They are classic Guns and Butter in that sense. But in reality they are more like Gun 1 vs. Gun 2 — it’s still a gun; it’s still a book. The “form” of that book is irrelevant ultimately. I tend to feel the same about audio books. They are, almost exclusively, different forms of the same product. Not unlike buying a car — do you want it in red, yellow, green, cobalt blue? Do you want it electronically, paper or audio? Yes, you can resell paper and there are licensing differences on all of them, but for a consumer who doesn’t intend to resell, who treats it more like a consumable than a LT investment, those details are likely extraneous. Most of them don’t even know they don’t own an ebook.

    I agree with Felix (initially at least) that there is a genuine cannibalization / competitor product when it comes to subscriptions, and I would add library loans in there as well. These are not simply channels, they are significantly different products — one is “all you can eat” rather than a specific bar, one is “getting things for free with limitations on access times”. And, because I’m a heathen, I would add pirating in there as an alternative to paint the whole picture.

    But podcasting gives me pause, for two reasons, one general about traditional podcasting and one about new podcasting. For traditional, I do think it is a simple competitor for people’s time, sure, as is yoga, eating, sleeping, etc. But it is also a different type of content usually too…so I am not a consumer of podcasts as I don’t have a good setup for listening to podcasts. Commuters love audio or podcasts, I tend to play a music trivia game when I am (was) commuting. Runners and walkers too, but I prefer music. Ultimately I would say podcasting is a greater competitor for music than it is for books, but that’s just me. So I’ll admit some level of general competition/cannibalization.

    However, there is a new form of semi-podcasting that is combining subscriptions with audio books and reading. I tripped over the site SerialBox awhile ago, and my first thought was that it was simply niche-y. It has “episodes” like a podcast, there is an audio version like an audio book, and there is a written version like an ebook. What caught my eye initially was that it launched with a new “season” of the sci-fi show Orphan Black. Tatiana Maslany was amazing in it, playing multiple clones of herself, and the site launched with HER doing the audio. It seemed like a radio play, but when you get into it, you see that it is about 10 episodes written as a book, with a narrator doing the audio, and for Orphan Black, it was TM doing it, *and* when she is doing the different characters, she does the voice of THAT character she played.

    Is it a podcast? Is it an ebook? * Is it an audio book? * I put asterisks on the last two because there is no downloadable version to play on other devices. You can only read it online or in their app, and you can only listen online or in their app. It is not freely available like most podcasts, you pay ~$10 a season. Is that a subscription if you buy the whole season at once? I bought it, was annoyed I couldn’t offline it, and kind of forgot about it for a bit. But they offer “free samples” every Thursday night, often free entire seasons of some serial, and I’ve signed up for a few (they give away a bunch of free copies every time, anywhere from 500-2000 copies, good for 3-4 days).

    Me? I just read them. I don’t like audio, I just want them as an ebook. And while there are some duds, sure, most of them are pretty well-written. I’ve been impressed so far. A bit more sci-fi than average probably, but way above the slush pile. They don’t take unsolicited manuscripts, and they are partnering with some big guns like Marvel (Black Widow stories, Jessica Jones). They are not a simple Indie, they’re drawing big attention.

    The most likely authors to write for them are TV show writers, imo. They write “episodes” aka chapters and it is serialized story telling. Each episode is estimated to be between 25-40 minutes to read, although that is I think based on the narrator. I can power read some of their segments in about 30% of the time estimated, albeit being a relatively fast reader.

    Sooooo, going back…is this a “podcast”? It’s a new product area, and some people are calling them “paid podcasts”, which is not the same as “paid subscription podcasts”. These are a new product, and despite my initial doubts, I think it has the potential for future growth. It combines the draw of audio for some people with the binging of Netflix. If they can solve the “platform” issues so people can DL and listen offline more easily, or more pointedly, if they can release ebook versions, I think they could build a full competitor that is NOT simply channel management as this is totally different content than exists elsewhere. It’s like buying an ebook with the audio for free in many respects, and not just having the computer read it to you.

    I think podcasts is starting to “come of age” into something that can be monetized and the variety of forms will start to encroach on traditional space. Or it will all go bust. 🙂


    • New product, methinks.
      It is episodic narrative fiction in audio form, distributed online. Whereas classic podcasts are more conversational and informational instead of narrative and dramatized.

      It can be considered a revival of the classic radio serials of days gone by.

      Today’s podcasts are a form of on-demand content–available anytime after being published–whereas the old radio shows were appointment listening. So the new variant is more of an audio version of Netflix/Hulu/Prime subscription services.

      As for monetizing digital audio drama, that is already happening.
      Audible is doing that at novel length (SANDMAN) and shorter lengths.
      And yes, via subscription.

      • Sandman audio drama:


        “Adapted and directed by multi-award-winner (and frequent Gaiman collaborator) Dirk Maggs, and performed by an ensemble cast with James McAvoy (It, Parts One and Two, X-Men: First Class, Split) in the title role, this first installment of a multi-part original audio series will transport you to a world that re-writes the rules of audio entertainment the way that The Sandman originally re-defined the graphic novel.”

        “A powerhouse supporting cast helps translate this masterwork into a sonic experience worthy of its legacy, including Riz Ahmed, Kat Dennings, Taron Egerton, Samantha Morton, Bebe Neuwirth, Andy Serkis, and more. Setting the stage for their performance is an unprecedented cinematic soundscape featuring an original musical score by British Academy Award winner James Hannigan. Fans will especially revel in a new twist for the audio adaptation: Neil Gaiman himself serves as the narrator. Follow him as he leads listeners along a winding path of myths, imagination and, often, terror. Even in your wildest dreams, you’ve never heard anything like this. ”

        Not an audiobook, not a podcast.
        More of a downloadable audio play, the format lacks a snappy single word tag.

      • And, then there’s the new Audible Subscription service:


        It includes podcasts but the meant of it is narrative rather than informational or conversational.
        “Audible has announced a new service being introduced in preview that will provide unlimited listening to a curated library of audio entertainment. Audible Plus will provide subscribers access to 68,000 hours of content from more than 11,000 original productions, audiobooks, and podcasts.

        The new offering will be available for $7.95 per month. ”

        “Amazon-owned Audible has, in recent years, devoted increased resources to building out its audio content library, including through the development of original programming. Among the originals that will be part of the Audible Plus catalog are “When You Finish Saving The World,” written and performed by Jesse Eisenberg; “Yard Work,” written by David Koepp and performed by Kevin Bacon; and Dan Rather’s “Stories of a Lifetime.””

        “We’re really investing in a ton of different content varieties — with that common throughput that is narrative, and that it has that really distinctive storytelling layer,” says Ghiazza. “We’re looking for things that are satisfying and enjoyable to a customer. When you find a piece of work where you have a creator who’s really thought about the format and really thought about writing for audio, and when you start to see the interplay of how character development and soundscape all come together, it’s really quite amazing.”

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