Tech Desk

From the Tech Desk

How Smart Speakers and Personal Assistants Could Change the Publishing Industry

It goes without saying at this point that audio is going to play a big role in the next era of the publishing industry. Audiobooks are a rousing success and have done wonders to turn non-readers into consistent content consumers. The importance of audio for the future of publishing isn’t isolated to audiobooks, though. On the contrary, there has been an increasing amount of discussion lately about “voice-first book discoverability.” As personal assistants and smart speakers like Siri, Samsung Bixby, Alexa, and Google Home continue to evolve and become more popular, more readers are going to discover new content through those channels. This shift in discoverability could change the way that publishers and authors market their books, effectively altering the landscape of publishing commerce. 

Certainly, book discovery has evolved over time. While people still discover new titles through old channels like libraries, book reviews, bestseller lists, and simple word of mouth, the digital revolution has also added an expansive array of new strategies to the list. Algorithms can tell us which books or authors we might like based on which titles we’ve bought in the past from Amazon or Audible. Goodreads is a haven for book fans where person-to-person recommendations have been preserved for the digital age. And social media is the ultimate buzz-building device for publishers and authors alike. 

While we’ve seen our fair share of evolution in how books are discovered, though, most of those changes have been natural and logical. An algorithm giving you custom “shoppers like you also bought” recommendations on Amazon isn’t so different from a bookseller in a brick-and-mortar store recommending a title based on a list of what you’ve read recently. Goodreads is like talking with a group of book-loving friends and turning one another on to new books or authors. And social media is like the water cooler in your office where everyone once talked through the finer plot points of The Da Vinci Code—just magnified a billionfold. 

In comparison, the shifts that smart speakers and personal assistants could bring to the fore feel awkward and alien. Trying to discover a book through a speaker is an odd thought, in part because it takes away some of the control we have. As readers, it’s natural to want to take a book down off the shelf and read the flap before we decide to invest much time in it. Even if you’re shopping online, you probably still want to read the book description—and maybe a review or two—before making the “To buy or not to buy” decision. Recommendations from friends or algorithms count for a lot, but we still want to see what we’re getting. 

“Voice-first book discoverability” is bizarre because it effectively eliminates a lot of those touchpoints that we are used to. We’ve always said that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but imagine telling Alexa to download a book to your Kindle without ever even seeing the cover. The idea is at complete odds with the way we think about interacting with books. 

And yet, we will probably get used to this brave new world of book discovery—in part because the artificial intelligence behind it has the potential to expand the ways in which we find new things to read. For instance, you might not remember what you were reading on your Kindle two summers ago on your vacation, but Alexa probably does. Using voice discovery, you could tell Alexa to find you a book similar to your last vacation beach read. 

It is in this fashion that voice discovery could really change the way we read for the better. Instead of just relying on an out-of-sight algorithmic calculation to provide you with book recommendations, you could have entire conversations with Siri or Google Home about the type of book you’re seeking. You could specify certain books, authors, genres, topics, themes, or other details you are interested in right now, and you could get a recommendation tailored to your tastes and downloaded automatically onto your device. You could even do all of this while packing a suitcase or getting ready for work in the morning, delegating book discovery to your personal assistant in a way that would save time and still ensure that the book you wanted was waiting for you when you needed it. 

How will this new type of book discovery affect authors and publishers? As of yet, it’s tough to say how much a voice-first world would change things on the creator’s end. Beyond perhaps underlining the importance of accurate and detailed metadata for books, voice-first will mostly rely on smart, robust AI technology. As long as the AI is good, publishers and authors likely won’t have to change their strategies very much to market their titles effectively. Still, publishers should make a point of watching this technological trend evolve in the coming years. If Alexa, Siri, Google Home, and Bixby do become the foremost sources for book recommendations, then a lot of revenue is going to hinge on publishers and authors making sure their works are represented in those searches. It will be interesting to see what strategies industry professionals devise for optimizing books to suit the voice-first world.


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Craig Manning is currently studying English and Music at Western Michigan University. In addition to writing for, he maintains a pair of entertainment blogs, interns at the Traverse City Business News, and writes for and his college newspaper. He welcomes comments or questions concerning his articles via email, at manningcr953 (at)