Discoverability, Not Discovery, Is Publishing’s Next Big Challenge

Discovery has been and continues to be a regular buzzword at publishing conferences. Sadly, we saw no breakthroughs in 2013. Instead we saw the acquisition of Goodreads by Amazon and the very sad demise of Small Demons.

The reality is that there is no discovery “pain” for readers. Most readers have e-readers or tablets full of ebooks not yet read (and many ebooks bought in a knock-down sale might never be read) or a pile of unread books of the trusted printed variety sitting next to their bed. Many of us have both—I certainly do.

There is always plenty to read, and while we love those moments where we discover that magical new read that we hadn’t been looking for, we are amply entertained by what we find or stumble upon or are recommended by friends.

On the other hand, discoverability is becoming a bigger problem for authors and publishers. More books than ever are being published. Last year it was somewhere between half a million and a million new titles that were published in the United States alone. Self-publishing—mostly in the form of ebooks without a corresponding print edition (digital first)—has greatly added to that abundance.

Ebooks have added to this overwhelming choice in another way, too. Books don’t go “out of print” any longer. They now remain available as ebooks basically forever. Thus the total catalog of books available to readers for purchase or download has swelled dramatically and may now be around the ten or twenty million mark (exact numbers are surprisingly difficult to come by).