Yesterday, I pointed to a post by Mike Shatzkin in which he talked about how the publishing world will change when e-books comprise 25% of all book sales. The estimates as to when that will happen range from three to five years.
I promised to talk about my own predictions for the next three to five years. Here they are:
- The power in the publishing industry has largely rested with the publisher, who has owned the sole means of production. That power is in the process of shifting. You've already seen some evidence of this. The Big Six publishers have been fighting the lowering of e-book prices, the shifting of the timing of when e-books are released and the raising of author royalty rates. They're fighting a losing battle on all of these fronts. Their next big battle will be to hold onto their best-selling authors who are going to be tempted to go the self-publishing route.
- There has been a lot of talk about "enriched" electronic books. Most of the discussion has centered on the same kind of "extras" now added to movie CDs. Instead, I think electronic devices will offer more choices to shape the reading experience to fit the reader's mood or individual preferences. As an example, before starting to read the novel, a romance reader might choose to tailor things like the age of the heroine and the appearance of the hero.
- Print publishing has been a leisurely business, where it can take a year or more from the contract to the book's release. That slow-paced world is coming to an end. Everything is going to speed up. Publishing staff taking entire months off--and even the well-known two-hour lunches--will be a thing of the past.
- Publishers are going to move away from owned assets and full-time employees to rented assets and contracted employees. Editors and book cover artists may work for several publishers rather than for just one.
- Some people are speculating that literary agents will move to become business managers who handle authors' careers. I'm inclined to think that they will instead morph into a more formalized role as contracted acquiring editors. This means a lot of agencies will be closing down.
- How will newbie authors get noticed if literary agencies begin to disappear? I suspect there will be an Internet farm team system developed, much like in sports. Internet sites will spring up, perhaps supported by publishers, where newbie authors can make application to post samples of their works. Obviously someone at the site will need to vet the samples to make certain the quality remains high. If the writer attracts enough attention from the reading public, s/he may be offered a publishing contract.
- Amazon is going to have to change its strategy for the Kindle. Lots of the electronic devices coming to market (phones, netbooks, tablets) can multi-task. Consumers will be able to purchase a phone or a e-tablet on which they can also read e-books. To be competitive with these multi-tasking devices, Amazon has two choices: (1) If the Kindle remains only a dedicated reading device, its price will have to come way down, or (2) To maintain its current high price, the Kindle is going to have to provide other functions besides just reading. I have no interest in purchasing either a Kindle or an iPad if I cannot also use the device for my writing.
- I think the future survival of bricks-and-mortar bookstores rests two things: (1) their ability to move to a model supported by devices like the Espresso Book Machine where they can quickly and economically print and bind a p-book on demand for a customer (eliminating the onerous publishing industry returns system), and (2) their ability to tap into the social networking needs of readers and writers. I have a half a dozen friends who are part of long-term book groups where they meet once a month to discuss a novel. I also know writers who meet in restaurants for critiques. Bookstores can provide a venue where these activities take place. I pay for B&N membership to get discounts on the books I buy. I would willingly pay to get a guaranteed seat to my favorite authors when they come through town on tour.
These are not outrageous predictions. They are all logical extensions of what we already know about the industry. But they represent a sea change for the players involved: publishers, authors, and agents.