Lean Startup Methodologies in Book Publishing

by Terrence Gong

The book publishing industry in recent years has been heavily disrupted by technology, particularly in the form of digital distribution through e-readers like the Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook. While consumer discovery processes and purchasing behavior has transformed, book creation itself has not had nearly the same amount of change. But, lean startup methodologies could be the answer to how to enhance traditional book content development given new technological advances.

Through internet-connected e-reader devices, it is foreseeable for the serial novel to become a terrific category for optimization through lean startup methods. In this model, rather than authors writing a full novel before publishing, authors can write and release their novels in incremental chapters. Readers could purchase the novel on a chapter basis, and provide feedback and information to help inform the author what they like and dislike about the story. Therefore, each chapter (and especially early ones) could form minimum viable products that provide data to the author on whether they should continue, pivot, or perish book ideas, concepts, and characters. Reader feedback can also be both conscious (written reviews and feedback), or unconscious. For example, many metrics available to websites (book page views, book page bounce rate, time spent on page, etc) could be useful for authors to better design their story to optimize engagement (one can see a world where an author can discover that certain characters entice people to read more per sitting, and therefore might be ripe for a spin-off series).

The idea of a serial story is not new – these same elements are present in traditional tv series. Spanning 20+ episodes, tv writers usually are very careful in monitoring message boards and viewer feedback to see which characters are popular, and what story themes resonate. But, books can benefit even more from this feedback since the production costs of writing are significantly lower and only involve a singular author and editor (versus tv shows which involve whole casts and studios), so the minimum viable product is cheaper to produce, and the ability to pivot around the learned information is much easier.

Serial novels are also not new to the book industry – Michael Chabon wrote a serialized novel, “The Gentleman of the Road”, that was part of New York Times magazine in 2007, and famous authors, like Stephen King, have experimented with the concept of e-book serializations (exp: “The Plant”), but it has yet to really take hold in the market. But what is so different now than in the past is the ease from which to get feedback – e-reader devices are not only becoming more ubiquitous, but they also already include syncing mechanisms to download books. Thus, it would be very easy for this feedback functionality to be integrated, and it is much easier to collect data compared to serial novels published in magazines.

Finally, if these start-up methodologies are incorporated, book publishing can also have a potential enhanced revenue stream. If authors can convince readers to purchase chapters for $.99-1.99, longer form books might be able to have significantly larger revenues than current $9.99-12.99 e-books. Further, readers might like how they can be part of the writing process, and this form of interactive story-telling might encourage new users.

Overall, book authors have the opportunity to develop innovative new products through careful usage of lean startup practices in the book creation process.

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