This won’t come as a surprise, but the publishing industry is in trouble. Digital technologies have transformed the publishing landscape — just as they did for music — from the way companies distribute content to how we consume it, and our reading habits are fundamentally changing as a result. Book publishers and traditional booksellers are struggling to stay afloat amidst the rising digital tide, and many have been unable to make the transition. Borders was the first big casualty in 2011 and the decline has accelerated since. Barnes and Noble recently announced that it plans to close 20 stores a year over the next decade, and bookstores as a whole closed at a rate of two per day in 2012.
While traditional publishers and bookstores decline, digital publishing and eBooks are, of course, on the rise. eBooks accounted for 22 percent of all book spending in the second quarter of 2012, up 11 percent from the same period in 2011. No one is happier about this transition than Amazon, which became the single largest channel for book purchases in 2012 and saw its market share increase to 27 percent in the second quarter of last year.
As Amazon has increased its domination digital publishing, it has been able to exercise greater control over the price at which publishers sell their content, which, in turn, helps it to sell more Kindles (and gain market share). Naturally, this has frightened the wits out of publishers, who are now scrambling to find an alternative way to build, market and distribute their digital content without being subjected to the Amazon Squeeze.
Inkling wants to change that, and it’s now taking dead aim at Amazon. With the rise and maturation of the Web and digital distribution channels, today anyone can create and publish their own book or magazine (or song or album) and share it with the world. Together, Apple and Amazon have helped accelerate the self-publishing revolution, as iBooks and CreateSpace and Kindle Direct (respectively) have given amateur authors a fast, easy way to publish their own content and distribute it on enormous digital storefronts.
Inkling first announced Habitat in February of last year as a direct response to Apple’s recently-launched iBooks 2. While iBooks makes it easy for teachers and amateur authors to publish their own textbooks optimized for the iPad, Inkling’s new platform targets the other end of the spectrum: Professional publishers an industrial solution.
While Amazon has the Kindle and Apple has the iPad, the big publishing companies don’t have their own digital stores or devices, nor do they have the tools that would allow them to easily digitize their enormous libraries. Since February, Inkling has been hard at work at not only offering professional publishers a way to make their content interactive, but to provide a better way to distribute and discover that content.
Today, Inkling is officially unveiling a new and improved Habitat, which has developed into a true end-to-end solution for professional publishers. The free, collaborative digital publishing environment now allows publishers to coordinate and communicate in realtime from first edit to final publish in the cloud. The platform allows publishers to create interactive content experiences, integrated multimedia, images, audio and video into both existing and digital-first books and publish to multiple platforms with one click, automatically formatting that content for any screen size.
But the real key to Habitat is its integration of Inkling’s new “Content Discovery Platform,” which essentially allows publishers to turn Google into a storefront for their books. The platform enables books to be indexed by search engines like Google and to be seen by users when searching for relevant keywords. This means that every section inside and Inkling book has its own URL that can be indexed by search engines, or shared individually so that readers can more easily discover, share and buy the book directly while searching. After a certain numbers of views per book, readers are prompted to purchase either a chapter, or the entire book.
This could be a boon for publishers, which have been suffering declining revenues from models that haven’t been optimized for digital distribution, as it allows them publish chapters and books in Inkling’s own store, publish single-title apps in the App Store, or export standards-compliant EPUB content to third-party distributors.
Naturally, the big publishers are intrigued. Today, Inkling also announced that Pearson has committed to integrate Habitat into its existing infrastructure and vendor network, and, in turn, four new publishers will be bringing their books to the platform, including DK Publishing, HarperCollins, Lonely Planet and Rick Steves. These new additions join more than two dozen existing publishing partners, like McGraw-Hill, Elsevier and Wiley, Frommer’s, For Dummies, Kaplan and O’Reilly — to name a few.