The publishing industry has an absolute mess of unanswered questions that need further investigation if we are to solve its problems.
Here are a few relevant problem statements, off the top of my head. I’d be very surprised if these questions aren’t answerable with a bit of work.
Estimate the earnings of the typical author (i.e. median earnings), both self-published and traditionally published. In 2007 in the UK the per annum earnings of the typical author was estimated to be £4000. Estimate the earnings of each author group individually: self-published, traditionally published, hybrid authors. (This leads on to the question: how do we increase the earnings of the typical author?)
Describe the production values the typical reader demands from titles in a specific genre. How important are spelling, grammar, formatting, visual design, cover design, and typography?
Describe the storytelling quality the typical reader demands in a specific genre: plot, characterisation, style, structure, and illustration.
Identify what the typical reader in a specific genre wants from the ebook experience. Are the current ebook platforms underserving these readers?
Identify what the ‘jobs to be done’ are for a specific non-fiction genre. What task or goal are readers using these titles to accomplish? (This leads on to the design questions. How could these tasks be accomplished in different ways? How could the material be changed to better address these needs? Can this be done in ebooks or does this change require more capabilities?)
Identify the biggest pain points for self-publishing. What are the areas that self-publishers find the most difficult? What costs them the most money? Where do things go wrong the most?
Identify the problems self-publishers have with ebook production and ebook backlist maintenance specifically.
Identify what approaches to writing and publishing would best serve reader demands in a specific genre. What do readers want from the authors they like? More titles? Personal appearances? Insight into work processes?
Identify which processes, departments, and capital goods in a publishing corporation could in theory be replaced with web services. Do not focus on web services that exist. Focus on the tasks at hand and whether they can be abstracted into a service.
Identify the biggest pain points for ebook production. Why is it not an automatic output from the production workflow? Why is there still a market for ebook production? What is stopping us?
How about you? What big questions about digital publishing do you think need answering?
Estimate the impact of Patreon and Kickstarter on web comics.
Identify what readers want from a Patreon or Kickstarter campaign.