Content and the Car: Driving a New Voice-First Landscape

Feb 14, 2019

During the recent Super Bowl, this ad for Mercedes Benz aired, which clearly demonstrates how expectations for voice technology (more properly, voice-first technology) have progressed to encompass the modern car. The implication here is that everything is possible by using our voices and talking to objects around us. And, indeed, this is the destination that voice-first technology has us headed toward. The company whose technology was featured in the Mercedes Benz ad—and is in cars ranging from Mercedes to BMW to Hyundai and many others—is SoundHound, based in Santa Clara, Calif. But what do voice-first technology and cars have to do with publishing and digital content? A whole lot.

According to Voicebot's r In-Car Voice Assistant Consumer Adoption Report, voice technology is already used significantly more in the car than in the home. With the integration of various voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri, SoundHound's Houndify voice assistant, and many others, you could easily see the person in the ad asking the car to find him a new audiobook to enjoy, or begin playing one he's already purchased previously, rather than change the colors of the dash or play music.

What's interesting about this landscape is that voice assistants are going to, over the course of 2019, truly challenge booksellers directly for who gets to sell books to readers. And as they do, the bulk of this business will migrate to the modern connected car, where many of these audiobooks will be enjoyed. Partnerships like the budding one between booksellers and Libro.FM, an audiobook company based out of Seattle, will need to rapidly adjust to account for car-centric voice-first audio consumption patterns that are on their way in.

As Amazon's Alexa and Google's Assistant become more proactive, they will initiate conversations with the driver in the car to ask if the user wants to buy a book, perhaps based on music the user was recently enjoying, or a recent purchasing decision, or a recent podcast the driver heard. And when the driver says, "sure, that sounds great," the bookseller just lost another potential customer that might have wandered in to make the same decision.

Publishers have begun to recognize the importance of voice-first technology to their business, and the potential of these ecosystems to boost revenue and further leverage existing titles. But once publishers see the shift of voice-first tech into the car, an entirely different conversation will emerge on what books are a better fit in the car than in other environments, and what books can be best adapted into car-oriented experiences.

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