The publishing industry is no stranger to changing with the times as technology advances and dominates our lives more and more each year. Ebooks and audiobooks speak to the industry’s adaptability and willingness to evolve with this ever-changing market, whereas other industries have failed. Smart speakers, such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home, are one of the developments spearheading the call for change in recent years as they have altered the way consumers get information and utilize the internet. This development allows us the opportunity to see how publishing is going to integrate voice optimization in the near future as this technology becomes seemingly inescapable.

Smart speakers are on track to become as commonplace in the average household as a television or microwave with the added ability to connect to these other appliances with ease. With 30 percent of searches expected to be voice-based this year, the industry is taking notice. Publishers have some big things to consider, from SEO optimization to the very content consumers are receiving. An alternative to SEO called AEO, which stands for “answer engine optimization” in reference to the nature of interactions people have with the devices, is also being explored. This developed because consumers who speak to these devices often use a more conversational dialogue rather than the language used to type out searches in a web browser. The ultimate goal of AEO is to make content readable to machines so that when you use your voice to look something up, the smart speaker is able to concisely present that information to you.

This shift in focus to voice optimization is clearly shaking up marketing strategies, since companies must now rethink how targeted ads will be presented to consumers who won’t be making much visual contact with their platforms. Though there are these new hurdles to consider, voice optimization also offers new ways to increase customers’ active engagement with a company and for the company to build upon their brand. The publishing industry has the opportunity to jump on these and make products like HarperCollins has with their StoryCastle app—a choose-your-own-adventure for children’s audiobooks. The company is able to present their content to their listeners who come back weekly, building a loyal following. While there are still questions about the best way to go about advertising, it is notable that applications such as this one increase the accessibility to a publisher’s work. Voice optimization brings down a lot of barriers for customers that publishers would not normally be able to address so easily.

While the creation of new products, increased accessibility, and new opportunities for ads are important, publishers do have to worry about being “searchable.” In 2019, “the top voice search tools [could] only recognize approximately 43 percent of the key searches for best-selling titles.” Tackling this issue should be a priority as it is preventing exposure to a growing audience. Some publishers, like Simon & Schuster, have made an effort to rectify this by using creative “skills,” or recognized voice commands, like this exclusively voice-based quiz to connect you with a Stephen King novel.

Smart speakers present an interesting challenge, but it looks like there is a clear understanding of what the publishing industry needs to do to face it. Publishers are equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to figure out how to navigate this tricky advancement and whatever technology there is to come in the future. The resilience of publishing in these digitally-focused times is something that many industries hope to mirror, so consumers can look forward to seeing what successful ventures the industry comes up with.

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