Monday, January 6, 2014

Deb: Publishing 2014: Forecast from the Trenches



I have no crystal ball. I’m not clairvoyant. And I live in Alaska, pretty much as far as a writer can get from the Right Coast publishing industry without needing a passport. So even though I’ve published a few books, I can hardly claim to be in the know when it comes to the publishing industry.

Nevertheless, I try to keep up where I can. And from the trenches, the boots-on-the-ground view is generally clearer. So, from here in my office, where fingers meet the keyboard, I offer my for-what-they’re-worth thoughts on trends in publishing for the coming year. 
  • Amazon rules. I believe the estimates I’ve seen recently about the big retail giant owning some 92% of the digital book market. Love them or hate them: they’re here to stay, and they’re doing a whole lot of things right, especially when it comes to making it easy for writers to find readers and readers to find books. I expect their digital market share will only increase. 
  • The self-publishing stigma will continue to fade. The move toward independent publishing that began with genre fiction will spread to literary, nonfiction, and children’s writers. Forward-thinking agents and editors will continue to be proactive about finding ways they can work with independent and hybrid authors. Head-in-sand positioning will continue among the rest. 
  • Amazon may dominate sales, but it won’t replace indie bookstores. With the trend to think small and buy local, indie bookstore resurgence will continue as long as booksellers remain proactive about changing markets and technologies. That means more Espresso Book Machines like the one I saw at Powells Books last fall. The man running it predicted that within the decade, stores like Powells will stock only used books and brand new releases. Everything else, he said, will come off the machine, which would mean the whole convoluted book distribution and returns model is in its death throes. In response to changing markets, smart indie booksellers will also align themselves with top-notch indie writers. 
  • Authors will continue to connect directly with readers. Those who turn out poor quality work will get discouraged by lack of readers. Those writing good quality books will gain readers. 
  • The author services industry will reach a tipping point. There are only so many ways to wring money out of writers, especially when Amazon makes it so easy to do it yourself. As readers demand the best of authors, cover design, editorial, and proofreading services will continue to flourish. Other brokering-type services, not so much. 
  • The pricing of digital books will continue to be mixed. High prices on ebooks released by traditional publishers, with proportionately little going to authors, will sustain the Big Five for a while longer, but as readers discover exemplary books from independent authors at one-third the price of e-books from traditional publishers (with those authors making more per sale than they would through a traditional contract), the market will shift. There will be fewer free e-books, and increasingly, traditional publishers will figure out that occasional discounts on e-books help sales in the longterm.
  • Small presses will flourish. They’re responsive and able to cut deals that allow hybrid authors to manage their digital rights while the publisher handles the print releases. 
  • Bestselling authors will continue to resist changes in a marketplace that once favored them. Formerly bemoaned as “midlist,” the rest of us who’ve been publishing without hitting NYT bestseller status with every book will continue to enjoy new readership and income as hybrid authors. 
  • Emerging authors will need coaching in both craft and finding their readers. They’ll need to know how to work all channels, from the traditional to the innovative.
How do my predictions measure up with industry insiders? You'll find the forecast from inside here.

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