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How Will Voice Technology Affect Self-Published Authors?

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing expert and advocate. Author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. Former trade newspaper editor.

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I recently got a pair of Apple AirPods. For those who don’t know what they are, they are basically small wireless in-the-ear headphones. In addition to being used for hearing music, podcasts, and audio books, they are integrated with Apple’s Siri voice assistant on my Apple iPhone, iPad, and iMac. And I’m in love!

I can now create and listen to my text messages while I’m driving. Emails, too. Siri can look up a phone listing for someone I want to call and do the dialing. She (if the robot is a she) can record voice notes, reminders, and lists while I drive. I can also start and stop listening to podcasts and music with a voice command. Eyes on the road, ears on the content.

Sadly, Siri doesn’t play very nice with the Audible iPhone app yet. Probably because she only wants to play with her Apple Books app friend. Luckily, I can hear Audible audio books through the AirPods, and I mainly listen to podcasts. But I hope to see that additional capability in the future.

So what does this have to do with authors and writing? Well, a lot. As authors, we’ll need to understand how people will be using and interacting with our writing in this voice technology future.

Here are some ways I can see this affecting us, and some ways to start readjusting your thinking so that you don’t become irrelevant.

Audio Book Reading Is Growing... Fast!

While print and eBooks are still selling well, the audio book market is exploding. As reported in a Forbes article from July 2019, the audio book market is nearing $1 billion and is growing at the rate of 25 percent, year over year. Let that sink in. 25 percent year over year.

In light of this, I find it surprising that self-published authors in the online forums are still obsessed with perfecting the print editions of their books, especially the covers. There’s nothing technically wrong with striving for excellence. It’s just that the market for books is changing. Before you spend a boatload of cash on producing your print edition, think about whether diverting some of that investment to create an audio edition of your book would be a wiser investment.

Yes, it’s possible to create an audio book for almost free. I’ve done it. But there is a steep learning curve. So whether you get some pros to help you, or you invest by going the DIY (do it yourself) route, audio books should be considered in your self-publishing future.

Shopping With Voice Technology

Say your potential readers are thinking about reading a book like the ones you write. They have an Amazon Alexa voice assistant. Do you think they’ll ask Alexa something like, “Alexa, I’m looking for a romantic novel.” No! Alexa’s algorithm would be overwhelmed with such a generalized request because there are tens of thousands romantic novels on Amazon. Alexa would likely respond with the current top sellers in that genre. Or maybe she would ask a bunch of questions to figure out what the reader actually wants.

But I don’t think Alexa, or her voice assistant robot friends, will have to work that hard to please readers. Over time, these voice assistants’ algorithms will have a good idea of what the user wants based on users’ past behaviors and preferences, as well as predicted preferences based on larger data sets.

Readers will also be asking for something specific when it comes to finding books to listen to on the likes of Audible or Apple Books. That something specific will be either the title of the book or the author’s name. This means that now, more than ever, authors need to develop a loyal following for themselves and their books.

Though extensive use of voice shopping capability is likely a ways away, this should be a wake up call for you to start building your author platform and fan base now. Book covers were retail packaging in the bookstore era. Back then, books had to have shelf appeal like a box of cereal. But when there’s no visual shelf and or visual buying cues, does the physical book really matter? Readers want what’s in your book, not the wrapper it comes in.

Readers Will Use the Dominant Voice Technology

I can get a pair of wireless earbuds for my phone from a lot of places. But I opted for Apple’s more expensive AirPods. Why? They integrate seamlessly with all my other Apple tech gadgetry. Apparently, I’m not alone in preferring them over other earbud options. In April 2019, research conducted by Counterpoint Research that found AirPods have 60 percent market share in Q4 of 2018.

I don’t use Alexa (yet), but lots and lots of people do. In fact, Amazon’s Alexa devices currently have the highest market share. According to a Marketing Land report, Amazon Alexa devices hold a 70 percent market share, Google Home has 25 percent, and Apple HomePod commands 5 percent in the U.S. However, by 2020, Statista predicts that by 2020, Google Home will make up 40 percent of the voice digital assistant market.

And how popular is Alexa as a product overall? In January 2019, TechCrunch reported that Amazon claims 100 million Alexa devices have been sold. Alexa was first released in 2014... 5 years to the 100 million mark. For comparison, according to VisualCapitalist, it took the internet 7 years to reach 50 million users. The mobile phone took 12 years and the computer 14 years. True, voice assistants have built on these technologies so the comparison might not be fair. But 100 million Alexa installs is still an impressive number.

What does this mean for authors? Well, you need to keep aware of what tech people are using to purchase and consume content like your books. If your work isn’t accessible through or isn’t compatible with these devices, you may find that your books are being left behind in favor of those that are.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2019 Heidi Thorne

Comments

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 02, 2020:

Peggy, you're not alone! Many people still enjoy holding a book instead of an electronic device. For me, it depends on the book. If it's more a more spiritual or contemplative work, I prefer print. Otherwise, it's Kindle all the way for me.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Have a beautiful day!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 31, 2020:

I guess authors who want to be competitive in today's world need to be aware of and adjust to these market changes. For me, holding and reading a book is still the best experience.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on January 07, 2020:

Heidi

Amen to that!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 07, 2020:

Hi Lawrence!

I've been surprised at some of my 70+ age friends who are really into using text messaging! Some of them are Kindle/Kobo crazy, others still love print. But I agree than the "kids" have moved on to mobile-friendly delivery like Audible.

Yep, we all need to start planning for this future. Luckily, we're all on this adventure together.

Thanks for chiming in and Happy New Year!

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on January 06, 2020:

Heidi

I heard a few months ago that a survey was done of the typical 'kindle' and kobo user.

People expected them to be younger 'tech savvy' people but the average person using kindle/kobo and the like are middle aged men with the younger generation having already moved on to 'audible' and other tech like that.

I'm pretty full at the moment with what I'm doing, but its something to start planning for.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on December 12, 2019:

Thanks, Michael, for your thoughtful comments! True, the idyllic days of the writing life are over. Glad you recognize that, too. Happy Holidays!

Michael Duncan from Germany on December 12, 2019:

This is such a massively growing trend we see authors converting their past works in order to keep up. The days of settling down quietly on one's own porch or room with an engrossing paperback seem to be disappearing.

Lives are becoming busier in the wake of modern lifestyle changes and technological advancement. Multitasking has set in and folks would now rather have digital audio players do the reading for them while they drive or juggle their daily responsibilities.

So this becomes the phase that authors find themselves in the information age, where audio is rapidly becoming the new black!

Thanks for capturing the essence of this significant shift and the underlying implications for both the aspiring and the advanced writer. Cheers!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on December 10, 2019:

You're welcome, Umesh! Thanks for the kind words and Happy Holidays!

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on December 10, 2019:

Good one. Futuristic. Thanks.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on December 08, 2019:

Liz, I think we all feel that tech is getting way ahead of us! :)

As for the blog post reading on YouTube or anywhere, Amazon has a voice reading technology (Polly) that can be installed on websites so that the content can be read... and it's supposed to sound natural. What a world, eh?

Anyway, thanks so much for chiming in! Happy Holidays!

Liz Westwood from UK on December 06, 2019:

I sometimes feel that technology is running too fast for me. This article reminds me of hubbers who have complained recently about seeing their work being read on youtube. Though I'm guessing at the moment these are being vouced by humans rather than voice technology. How long though, before someone saves themselves the trouble and uses voice technology?

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on December 04, 2019:

Thanks, Linda, for reading and chiming in! I don't have an Alexa in my home either. But in the car where I really need hands-free communication, Siri is my new best pal. :)

Appreciate your support. Have a beautiful day!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on December 03, 2019:

There's a lot of food for thought in this article. I don't like the idea of having Alexa in my home, but voice technology is definitely something that writers need to think about. Thank you once again for sharing your knowledge and experience, Heidi.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on December 03, 2019:

Bill, I'm honored you have a Heidi file. ;) I have those kinds of files, too, particularly on my RSS feed reader so I can find the darn articles when I need them.

Thanks so much, as always, for your support! Have a terrific week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on December 03, 2019:

Flourish, I don't have an Alexa either. Just the AirPods where I feel I have more control over what's going on with the tech. But I am making sure that my books and content are voice tech friendly because, as you note, you don't want to be the tech buggy whip. :)

Thanks for chiming in and have a beautiful first week of December!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on December 03, 2019:

Pamela, I can't get into audio for books either, even though I produce them for my readers who love them. I also prefer my Kindle app on either my iPad or iPhone. And, yes, the AirPods are awesome. :)

Thanks for chiming in and have a lovely week!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 02, 2019:

I'm sticking this in my "Heidi" file, as I always do. You are my go-to guru, thank you very much. I use you unashamedly. :)

Happy Monday my friend.

FlourishAnyway from USA on December 02, 2019:

There’s always some new technology to master isn’t there? I am so suspicious of Alexa and her pals so I haven’t dived in. But you definitely make a good point here. If you don’t evolve with technology you’ll be the buggy whip of the author world.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on December 01, 2019:

Heidi, I think it is the necessity of advancing with the times as things never stay the same. I actually do not care for audio, except when traveling. I am not in my car enough, plus I love to read. I miss holding books, but most of my reads are on a small Kindle that I take to doctor appts. (my new social life) etc.

Your Apple AirPods sound wonderful. I would like some wireless pods. I can see where authors need to look to the future. This is an interesting another excellent, which offers some sound advice.

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