In studying a wide variety of Alexa skills – Alexa’s term for an “app” that resides within Echo devices and other Alexa-enabled hardware – I’ve identified four Alexa skills that are worth studying for how they extend content belonging to publishers.
Publishers of all types – trade, scholarly, educational, independent, and even “corporate” publishers like Southwest Airlines, Stripe, Nissan and other companies you wouldn’t normally consider to be publishers at all – spend a lot of resources on creating quality content. It’s worth taking a moment and understanding how Amazon’s Alexa ecosystem is being used to get more out of that content, and get that content in front of a wider audience.
1) Stephen King Library
Stephen King, Simon & Schuster, and New York-based digital agency Skilled Creative collaborated on Stephen King Library. This is an Alexa skill which asks the user a number of questions, some of which directly relate to Stephen King’s catalog of over 50 titles (“what was the last Stephen King book that you read?”) and some of which don’t, such as a number of seemingly random horror-oriented questions. After ingesting this information, Stephen King Library then produces a list of recommended Stephen King books that the user should read next.
This Alexa skill demonstrates a fascinating picture of how AI will inform book discoverability in the not-too-distant future: we talk to computers, and they talk back, telling us what books to read.
2) My Box Of Chocolates
Florida-based Tellables, run by decade-long NASA veteran Amy Stapleton, has created one of the most interesting conversational narrative experiences in existence. With My Box Of Chocolates, you can listen to a variety of “chocolates” – quick-hitting, themed stories written by a diverse lineup of writers – and have a conversational experience with Alexa around each one.
This Alexa skill is an excellent demonstration of another aspect of how voice assistants, smart speakers, and voice-first technology in general is reshaping storytelling. The premise of bundling content across a portfolio of authors/producers/content creators, all under a single thematic umbrella, in the name of making all of it easier for users to discover, is one that is effective and will be repeated over and over again.
3) Writing Motivation
Dallas-based Clay Morgan created Writing Motivation, an Alexa skill which does exactly what it sounds like: gives you your own writing coach, right there in your living room or home office or wherever you’re speaking with Alexa. Need a little bit of push to get your next chapter written? Writing Motivation is just what the doctor ordered.
This Alexa skill demonstrates what is becoming a key concept in this new IoT-driven realm of voice: behavioral “nudging.” More often associated with modern healthcare, where even slight behavior changes can result in profound health and lifestyle improvements, Alexa skills like Writing Motivation ‘nudge’ users toward incremental change, rather than radical change, in the hopes that more will be able to attain it. Writing Motivation doesn’t goad you into writing an entire novel – it selectively bites off small victories and pushes you toward those instead. And in doing so, it provides an interesting window into not just how this technology will often be used moving forward, but how publishers can actively take advantage of what it offers to be of greater value to readers and customers.
4) Choose Your Own Adventure
Remember these classic books from your childhood? So does Audible, which has delivered a fantastic interactive experience with this Alexa skill. Enjoy multiple stories within the skill, each of which has around 30-40 endings apiece. If you have an Echo Show or other Alexa-enabled devices with a screen, you’ll get graphics accompanying each story as well.
Publishers should think not just about bringing branching narrative experiences to Alexa devices and other voice tech, but also about whether existing backlist titles can be adapted to incorporate branching narrative approaches, thereby breathing new life into them.