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Wizard Predictions

The Wizard is ready to predict for 2014.  Look, he even has his party hats ready!

A New Year, a new rash of publishing predictions for the year ahead. It’s no secret that the publishing world has been rocked by the digital revolution in the last few years.  (Although, seriously, guys, Napster was what…2000?….and y’all were STILL taken aback by how much digital delivery would change your world?  Did no one learn anything from the “mostly dead” music industry?  At least Hollywood feels your pain.)

2013 was a year of, if not massive change, then at least moderate to good-sized change in the publishing world.

The Random House/Penguin merger was completed, creating one massive publisher and reducing the Big Six to the Really Big One and the Adequate Four.

Amazon bought Goodreads, adding it to a portfolio of reader engagement sites that include the mostly abandoned Shelfari and a minority stake in LibraryThing, leaving citizen reviewers worried about corporate censorship and overt commercialism of their reviews.  BookLikes and Leafmarks sprung up to provide new homes for social book lovers, but it’s still to be seen if either will be a viable, longterm alternative.

E-books did NOT take over the world, as previously predicted; the AAP year end results for 2012, released in April 2013, revealed their triple digit growth of years’ past slowed to mere 42% (still respectable, people!  Most businesses would kill for a 42% jump in revenue.  Plus AAP is rather restricted in who they survey).  Also, as David Gaughran points out, “The market simply cannot keep doubling – you can’t have 110% of new release sales in digital format. This doesn’t mean the market has flattened or peaked (or slumped).”

Print books are NOT going away – but, um, neither are e-books, a corollary that seemed to get overlooked by those celebrating print’s staying power.

It was another bad year for Barnes & Noble stockholders.

But it wasn’t a particularly good year for Amazon’s foray into publishing its own imprints, as B&N stores wouldn’t stock their print books.  Or at least that’s what people are speculating.  I know some Montlake authors who are very happy with their sales.

However, it does point out that book discoverability in the age of digital distribution and shrinking physical shelf space is an issue still in need of solving.  (BTW, discoverability is not the same as discovery.  Readers can find books just fine.  It’s how to help readers discover books they didn’t know existed that’s the issue.  What’s the digital equivalent of walking into a bookstore and flipping through the books on display?)

So whither 2014?

Various publishing insiders, mavens, observers, pick your term of choice have released their predictions for 2014.  Here’s the list:

In looking at the predictions, a few trends seem to emerge:

  1. Barnes & Noble must sharply innovate or it will finally draw its long anticipated last breath in 2014.  Many of the predictors landed on this one, with Lamb suggesting they merge with Google Books (nope, don’t see it, Google does not do physical space companies) and Litte suggesting a partnership between Nook and Sony (except that Sony isn’t exactly in great shape itself.  Still, much more likely, and Sony has experience marrying content creation and distribution with hardware.)  Konrath, on the other hand, predicts that Barnes & Noble will go the way of Borders, while DBW believes that the B&M (brick and mortar) business will continue just fine once B&N gets rid of Nook. 
  2. But don’t dance on the tables in celebration just yet, indie bookstores – you, too, must innovate or gasp your last.  Specifically, many of the predictors would like to see indie bookstores reach out to indie authors and sell self-pubbed books, both digital and print.  To which I say: well, duh.  Only it’s not happening and there seems to be hard resistance to the idea from owners.  Someone (not named Amazon) needs to come up with a distribution system for indie bookstores that lets the stores maintain the business model they know and are comfortable with – returns, ordering in advance, wholesale pricing, etc – for self-pubbed authors.   In addition, I agree with Konrath there needs to be an independent source of reliable reviews for indie pubbed books, so strapped for time bookstore buyers (and librarians, too) can make informed purchasing decisions.
  3. Agents, you too, must innovate or wither away.  Lamb notes that agents now must be authors’ advocates and able to look at a writer’s career holistically.  It’s no longer a case of sending a manuscript out to editors to land the best deal – what if the best deal lies in self-pubbing?  Over at Author Media, it’s predicted that some agents will be forced to close up shop in a competitive, confusing landscape.  Shatzkin notes that it wouldn’t surprise him if a publisher allies with an agent to “own” the author’s whole career.  Meanwhile, Konrath notes that agents who specialize in e-distribution, foreign rights and TV/movie rights are now of high value to writers – more so than agents who focus solely on selling to New York.   (On my own, I noted that this year, literary agents were more approachable and open to new writers than I’d ever seen before, based on years of attending writers’ conferences.)
  4. Amazon will be just fine and will continue its dominance. The lack of predictions about Amazon (other than some vague, “well, if they change their current business models/attitudes” rumbling) is telling in and of itself.  Forbes even predicts the company will show a heathy profit margin.  But then, Amazon is constantly innovating, so…
  5. Traditional/Legacy/Big 5 Publishing, however: guess what?  Innovate or die.   The predictions for New York ran the gamut.  On one side, Big Publishers will eventually go the way of the dinosaur, replaced by strong independents (Lamb); and the Revolution is over, now expect the Terror as a desperate Big Publishing fights back (my take on what Konrath wrote).   On the other side, Big Publishers will innovate, discover new revenue streams – most likely by selling directly to consumers, as predicted by Forbes and DBW – and be just fine (DBW, AuthorMedia, Litte).  I’m with the latter, although I do think it’s wise to expect more mess and confusion. The publishing Bastille might still stand, but it has been breached.
  6. More big name authors will move away from traditional publishers and toward self-publishing/hybrid careers.  Mark Coker and Bob Mayer agree on this one.
  7. However, publishers will rely more heavily than before on those big names, to the detriment of seeking out and publishing debut authors. This was mentioned by both Author Media and Mayer.  In other words, if you are a BNA (Big Name Author), then I’d make sure you have a HHA (Heavy Hitting Agent) who is on board with #3 above.   A corollary to this is the rise of the celebrity imprint, mentioned by Shatzkin.  After all, easier to market a known name than an unknown one.  Even if, like Derek Jeter, you’re not at all known for your literary taste (has Jeter even been seen holding a book prior to his deal?).
  8. Price strategy and experimentation will be more crucial than ever before.  Nearly everyone mentioned pricing in their predictions.  In 2013, traditional publishers noticeably played with various price points, especially once the DOJ ruled on agency pricing.  And self-pubbed authors long ago discovered that low prices = increased unit sales.  DBW and Coker expect this to mean lower prices from traditional publishers; Litte anticipates a rise in self-pubbed prices.  In other words, traditional and self-pubbed might not look so different when it comes to price point as they meet in the middle.  Now that Amazon/Kindle Select allows authors to run sales on their titles, I anticipate higher retail prices but lots of “money off” short term promotions from self-pubbed authors, and for publishers to do the same.
  9. Libraries will finally get easy access to purchasing ebooks.  DBW believes the Big 5 will finally pull their heads out (srsly, publishers, it’s about time!) and offer libraries their front list at a reasonable price.  Forbes believes ebooks will be aggregated so libraries can afford them.  Konrath wants to be that aggregator, apparently, if I’m reading his post correctly.
  10. Audiobooks will really take off.  This is the one prediction that nearly everyone agrees on (but then, as Litte points out, it’s already happening).
  11. Ebook subscription models will gain traction.  Oyster, Entitle and Scrib.d have already thrown their hats into ring.  DBW, Shatzkin and Forbes expects to see more subscription models and other alternate ways of delivering books as publishers seek to grow their revenues in 2014.
  12. Expect to see more author collaborations, multiple author boxed sets and publishing collectives.  Author Media, Litte and Coker all mention this.   I agree this is inevitable, as authors are pressured to put more and more product with increased frequency into the marketplace.
  13. Quality will begin to win out.  There is SO much noise in the marketplace, SO many titles being published, that quality will become how new and midlist authors stand out.  Authors will have to focus on craft, say Coker and Author Media. Meanwhile, Konrath calls for an indie author organization/conference and an independent review journal that will confer a sense of quality on the titles/authors involved.  To which I say as a reader: bring on the attention to craft, the sooner the better.
  14. And speaking of readers: the reader is monarch.  Period.  Mayer and Coker talk about how it will be more important than ever to take care of one’s readers and nurture them, while Lamb speaks about social norms and how publishing is basically becoming marketed from the ground up – i.e. driven by the reader – rather than the marketing message controlled and pushed down by the Big 6.  Obviously, Amazon agrees or it wouldn’t have purchased Goodreads.  To that end, Litte predicts that Penguin Random House will buy a reader community, and pinpoints Wattpad as the best target.  Meanwhile, Forbes thinks that Amazon will buy yet another reader social network (I can hear the citizen reviewer screams from here).

So there’s the round-up!  Oh, and speaking of consolidation, consolidation among publishers – be it Big 5 or the disappearance of indie digital first imprints – got some mentions in the predictions, too.  However, I think the fourteen listed above are the key drivers for 2014.   Any I missed?  Agree with the predications?  Disagree?

Image: Wizard Predictions by Brendan Riley/Digital Sextant on Flickr.  Used under a Creative Commons Attribution License.