So way back in 2009 I made some predictions about the future of publishing. I was right about quite a bit. In fact, it's hard to believe those predictions were considered wild at the time, because many are now taken for granted.
I've been looking to the future, wondering what is going to happen next, and I've got a few equally wild ideas.
1. The end of Barnes & Noble as we know it. In 2014, paper book sales will no longer be significant enough to sustain the nation's largest bookstore chain. There may be bankruptcy and restructuring and the selling of assets (like the Nook), but ultimately it will result in many stores closing, and possibly the demise of the brand.
2. Libraries will have the opportunity to buy ebooks at a fair price, with fair usage, directly from authors. Namely me and those who join me via a new company I'm starting. I'll be making an announcement soon, but in short, I want to give libraries everything the Big 5 are denying them, and I want all authors who control their rights to enroll in a new, innovate, and extremely generous way for everyone--including libraries--to profit from ebooks.
3. Permafree will be monetized. The ebook library company I'm starting will help fund another ebook company I'm also starting, one where authors will earn money via free ebook downloads. More soon.
4. Indie bookstores will need to start selling self-pubbed books, or perish. Paper isn't going away anytime soon. But there won't be enough of a legacy supply that will keep the necessary number of diverse titles on shelves to make indie stores a worthwhile destination for shoppers. If indie bookstores deal directly with self-pubbed authors, and print their own copies to sell in their stores, they can build inventory and cut out the share normally taken by publishers. I outlined how to do this years ago.
5. Visibility will become harder. As more ebooks get published, and virtual shelf space expands, it is going to become harder to find eyeballs. Ebooks aren't a competition--readers buy what they want to, without limits, even if TBR piles become impossible to ever finish within a lifetime. So someone who buys my ebook will also buy yours; there is no either/or. But only if the reader is aware of both.
The future will be about actively cultivating a readership. So far we've been lucky. With KDP Select and BookBub, authors have been able to get visible without reconnecting with longtime readers. There have always been enough new readers to sustain sales. But I believe maintaining a fanbase is going to become increasingly more important.
That means having an up-to-date website, making it easy to sign up for your newsletter, staying active in social media, and regenerating your brand with new titles and continued promotions.
My prediction: self-pubbed authors who don't focus on their current, core readership will see sales diminish.
6. Self-publishing will witness a new support industry grow around it. According to Amazon, there were 150 KDP authors who sold more than 100,000 ebooks in 2013. That's 15,000,000 ebooks sold outside of legacy publishing, and those are just the top 150 sellers. It isn't a stretch to believe tens of millions of self-published ebooks are being sold annually.
So far, the only companies interested in working with self-pubbed authors are predators trying to take advantage of them.
We don't need self-publishing services. We don't need to pay Kirkus or PW for reviews. We don't need writing organizations (MWA, Authors Guild) who don't look out for our interests.
Here's what we need:
a) An independent journal that reviews and recommends self-pubbed titles to readers and libraries. One that doesn't charge authors anything.
b) A writing organization and annual conference where indie authors get together to share information and help one another. Something that gives us leveraging power in the industry. Something with imprimatur, that will let readers know they are guaranteed quality.
c) New third party ways to make self-pubbed titles visible. There are methods to find eyeballs that no one has thought of yet. Someone is going to figure out a new way of introducing ebooks to readers, and that person will make a fortune in the process.
d) Agents who specialize in estribution, foreign markets, and TV/movie deals for clients as paper deals occur less and less.
7. Big 5 mergers and layoffs and bankruptcies. As the publishing cartel loses its quasi-monopoly on paper distribution, there will be no way to support its infrastructure. Manhattan rent, in-house employees with benefits, length of time to publish, and the temptation for authors to avoid legacy and self-pub, will bring down the industry. There is too much waste, their share of the pie is getting smaller, and when B&N disappears there will be no way to recover.
8. Interactive multimedia. I've blogged about this before, and I'm still ahead of my time. Once I launch the library company and the free ebook company, this will be my next endeavor.
The publishing biz has become a tech biz. You don't win at tech by playing catch-up. You win by innovating.
9. Amazon will continue to blaze trails. They're smart, they're determined, and they're willing to take chances. In 2013 I watched Amazon expand into different countries and markets, and try different programs. As ebooks go global, Amazon will be the dominant global player.
If they continue to treat authors like they treat customers, this will be a good thing.
But if Amazon ever starts to treat authors like we're interchangeable suppliers who will take whatever we're offered, things could get dicey.
I'm looking forward to selling a lot of books with Amazon in 2014, and I hope Amazon continues to work with writers in a mutually beneficial way. There are billions of people on the planet, and only Amazon has the power to reach that many, which will be a boon for everyone involved.
10. Legacy will fight back. We've seen some push-back from those invested in the legacy industry. The collusion, the Authors Guild, the AAR, Patterson and King and Russo. But these were all just warning shots across the bow. They're afraid, and rightfully so, but not desperate yet.
Desperation will eventually settle in. And I don't expect it to be pretty.
We'll see more auctions of entire backlists, demands for government bailouts, and restructuring that will involve a whole bunch of lawyers. Everyone always assumes that after a revolution, things will improve. But I don't see that happening. I see chaos and confusion and no real way to rebuild things once the legacy industry implodes. Those being liberated will feel like they're being screwed. Those being screwed will wish for the old ways because at least they were familiar. Lots of people will point fingers and place blame, and lots of people will be worse off.
Change is hard. It's also inevitable. The best thing you can do right now, as a writer, is look to the future and try to find your place in that future. That might mean you'll need to forget the past. It also might mean you'll have to learn to accept, and forgive.
In my wildest dreams, I never thought ebooks would come so far, so fast. But in just five years, I believe we're on the verge of a true paradigm shift. Once the revolution hits a critical mass--which could happen in 2014--there is no going back.
The way to succeed in this future is to live and think in this future. That means continuing to innovate, experiment, and refuse to be satisfied.
Happy new year. Now get back to work.