How Will Voice Technology Affect Self-Published Authors?
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