Foreword Reviews

Voice-First Technology

An Important Piece of an Independent Publishing Strategy

Digital Book World logo and Bradley Metrock

By Bradley Metrock, Digital Book World

You’ve seen it by now: smart speakers, voice assistants integrated into phones, and the rapid rise of voice as a means of interacting with a computer.

Amazon’s Echo line of hardware, along with Google Home devices, have sold many millions and entrenched themselves in our lives by adding value we didn’t expect to get: Now we can multi-task our computer usage, thanks to being able to speak to a computer while doing something else.

Think about it: You ask Alexa what the next step in your meatloaf recipe is, while your hands are occupied mixing up some of your ingredients. You query Google Assistant and ask what movies are playing, and at what time, while you get dressed in a hurry to head out the door.

Voice is here, but it’s vital to know why the household has accepted it: because it gives us back some of our precious time.

To be sure, there are other examples of voice tech (or, more properly, voice-first technology) helping improve our lives, from senior citizens who have trouble reading (or perhaps just need someone to talk to), to children enjoying stories via new audio-based interactivity, to doctors who can receive information on patients in real-time via voice while having their hands obligated to the surgical table, to pilots and sea captains who can shed all the screens and simply receive information and provide directives via voice, to many, many more.

It’s just the beginning.

But what does this mean for publishing? What does this mean for you, the independent author?

The stories you’ve created – the universes, the characters, the plots you’ve engineered – now have a new place to live, and be experienced.

Storytelling, Marketing and Monetization

There are three aspects of voice-first technology to consider, as you think about your own books and your own business interests:

1. Storytelling – How will these voice assistants help you tell your stories?

Do you want the native voice of these voice assistants reading your story aloud? You can do that. Do you want an audiobook to play, when a user queries a voice assistant to access your content? You can do that, too. Do you want a more interactive experience built around your story? Maybe allowing the reader to ask questions, and engage with your content in greater detail? You can, increasingly, do that, too.

There are an increasing number of tools available to allow people to create Alexa skills and other voice experiences without knowing how to code, such as Amazon’s own Alexa Skills Blueprints, as well as third-party software Storyline. Now would be a good time to play around with these toolkits and get your hands dirty.

2. Marketing – How will these voice assistants help you market your stories?

Going back to the concept of voice technology allowing us to multi-task more effectively, one major use case for smart speakers has been to allow people to enjoy daily “flash briefings,” which are short (3-5 minute) quick-hitting informational broadcasts. Many organizations, from BBC News to entertainment sources to celebrity gossip sites to scientific journals all have flash briefings available through voice assistants today.

You, too, can easily create your own flash briefing, using tools like Effct, all very inexpensively. You could create a flash briefing tailored around the themes or characters in your story, or otherwise connected to your core content and business.

Flash briefings are a great marketing opportunity presented by voice technology, but they aren’t the only one. Another great option is simply to create your own podcast, and distribute it through traditional podcast outlets like Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music and others. Voice assistants have partnerships with these major providers that enable podcasts to be played through smart speakers, so this is just an end-run, of sorts, into voice technology that could be effective in helping you market yourself and your work.

3. Monetization – How will these voice assistants help you generate income from your stories?

Amazon has recently added the ability to monetize Alexa skills from within the voice application itself – a welcome addition. Developers and content creators need the ability to allow users of Alexa skills to order products from within the voice experience.

For example, if someone is listening to your latest podcast on their Amazon Echo, and they hear you mention your latest book is now available to order, the user should be able to say “Alexa, please order me a copy of that book” and Alexa should have sufficient context (e.g. your address and payment information) to be able to handle that command.

This is the area that is still the rawest, where there’s much more work to be done to reduce the complexity down to the level where non-developers can monetize themselves. But it’s coming.

Knowing the permanent cultural and technological shift that is taking place right this very second toward voice technology, and voice-first experiences, is important to your career. You didn’t write those stories only to miss out on the technology that will open them up to large new audiences.

Now’s the time to learn as much as you can and figure out how to take the first step into this new world. And maybe that, in itself, will be a story worth telling.

Bradley Metrock is CEO of Score Publishing, which owns and operates Digital Book World (DBW). DBW is the annual gathering of the wide world of publishing, and the 2018 event will take place Oct. 2-4 in Nashville, Tenn. at the Music City Center. The conference and expo will bring together as many as 1,000 decision-makers from across the global realms of publishing and technology (including independent authors). Registration for DBW 2018 is available at http://www.digitalbookworld.com. Metrock’s company, Score Publishing, also owns and operates VoiceFirst.FM and produces The Alexa Conference. For VoiceFirst.FM, Metrock hosts the popular podcast This Week In Voice, which discusses the week’s news in voice technology, the evolution of voice assistants, smart speakers, and the proliferation of voice-first technology in our modern lives. See http://www.thisweekinvoice.com/. *

Bradley Metrock

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