THE PUBLISHING REVOLUTION IS DEFINITELY NOT OVER
(Regardless of what you’ve heard)
From the title of this post, you can tell I’m at odds with the notion that the digital publishing revolution is now over, ebooks are slipping in popularity, print is once again king of the world, indie bookstores are back on a steady footing, and adult coloring books are saving the world. Well, except for that last one. I agree with traditional publishing that adult coloring books are propping up print book sales big time. But as far as the other “facts” go, I say hogwash.
That’s a lot to digest, so let me bullet point these 13 predictions for ease of digestion…and hopefully inspiration…for 2016!
- Ebook sales are NOT stagnating. I’ve always been a firm believer that you can make numbers and statistics dance to any beat you play and I believe the Big Five are skewing these numbers with their newly won agency pricing models. Last year I saw several of my clients’ debut novels come out with an ebook price that was higher than the print book price. Check it out on Amazon. I’m not kidding. That’s part of the “decline” scenario, because honestly who would not buy a hardcover print book if it was cheaper than a digital book. Most people would make that choice. And because of this, ebook sales from traditional publishers large and small seem to be declining. Once you add Amazon ebook sales into the calculation, however, it all falls apart. Unfortunately that is not what most reports have done. They only concentrated on traditional retail sales numbers from their usual cast of publishers. So you’re getting fed false numbers. Ebooks are healthy and should continue to be healthy throughout 2016 and beyond. They are here to stay. Once ebook pricing stabilizes, because while I’m sure the traditional booksellers and publishers are trying to help their physical retail partners (aka bookstores) by increasing print sales, they will see that they went too far and the smart ones will adjust. At least that is my opinion.
- Physical bookstore sales will continue to decline. Amazon already sells the vast majority of print and digital books. They are a healthy company. Heck, they signed up 3 million new Prime members at $99 a pop during the third week of December alone! So I’m betting that they will continue to discount books, support indie authors through KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited, and the local bookstores and chains will simply not be able to keep up. I’ll talk about Google and Apple as possible white knights a bit later, but for now I’m predicting that Amazon is just going to keep growing and taking market share from bookstores in 2016.
- Kindle Unlimited will continue to become a larger part of KDP Select author revenues. Amazon is always fine-tuning the customer experience. It’s their obsession. And with KDP, authors are their customers too. When Kindle Unlimited disproportionately rewarded short-story-size books, causing a proliferation of 14 page erotic fiction and episodic novels where 14 books should really be counted as one, Amazon adjusted things. Now they pay per page read and this upset a lot of writers who were trying to game the system. But my hybrid client-authors have seen a steady increase over time in their Kindle Unlimited subscription revenue and I believe this is going to keep growing.
- Library lending of ebooks will increase. I have several author-clients who are librarians as well, and they unanimously inform me that the ebook lending side of the library business is booming. As indie authors recognize this missing link in their distribution plans, more libraries will flock to them as sources of inexpensive books (especially when it is so expensive to buy those bestsellers in print and ebook formats). Sure, Smashwords, Overdrive and others allow libraries access to indie published ebooks, but it is a cumbersome system. Libraries and publishers will eventually figure out the user interface and back office processes, and once they do library ebook lending will accelerate in popularity. Especially for all those lucky readers who received a $49 Kindle Fire for the holidays!
- Midlist authors will be pushed to self-publish. This is not really a prediction since it’s been going on for years now. But if you’re a debut author it’s worth noting that if your debut trilogy or series or even a stand alone book does not reach a high altitude in sales within the first 6 months (and I’m being generous), you’re probably going to see your advances dwindle, your future contracted books put out in digital only, or canceled altogether, and you had better be building your author platform with social media and some self-published material to be ready for the inevitable slide. I’m not being an alarmist. I’m just trying to get you prepared in case it happens, as it is happening more often these days and I believe that trend will continue.
- The Hollywood Blockbuster mentality will continue with the Big Five. Just like the Hollywood “tent pole” blockbuster, the bestseller is still the Holy Grail for traditional publishing. They’re willing to roll the dice on debut authors because they might become bestselling authors, but generally all their marketing dollars go to support their established bestselling books and authors. That’s the way it’s been in the past, and it has become more and more prevalent now. That’s where all the big advance money goes. That’s where all the innovative social media marketing and book tour money goes. Hey, it works for Hollywood, it stands to reason it’s a good model for New York publishing too. Indie books, like indie movies, will fill the void.
Okay. Those are the easy ones. I could predict those without a crystal ball. But let’s have some fun and I’ll share what might happen in publishing in 2016. These are riskier predictions, but they might come to pass.
- Apple’s iBookstore will make a run for market share against Amazon. I’m not sure about this one, but if anyone can take aim at reducing Amazon’s market share in books, it would be either Apple or Google. Google Play is not getting any traction, so I don’t see Google busting through. But Apple got serious with its operating system finally and included iBooks as a stand alone app instead of making the reader jump through hoops on iTunes (where half of them probably bought the new Adele song instead!) If Apple could just swallow their ginormous pride for one second and make an Android app for iBooks, imagine what could happen. Apple…are you listening?
- Geographic boundaries for translated ebooks will disappear. This is already a thought in Amazon’s mind with English-language books. You can select a myriad of countries where your ebook can be sold through Amazon France or Germany or India or Brazil, etc. Now if they can only figure out how to do that with translated ebooks, we’re in for a revolution of another sort. Maybe some enterprising company (Apple? Google? Amazon?) will create a peer-to-peer ADX type of exchange for translations, where authors can pair up with translator talent and get those books distributed in other languages themselves. Audiobooks too. Why not? That would certainly shake up contracts from the Big Five. Oh, man. Can’t wait. More upheaval is good for everybody.
- More “lost” novels will resurface. We saw how wildly popular Go Set a Watchman from Harper Lee was last year…and it was basically a rougher draft of To Kill a Mockingbird! A lot of descendants of famous authors are going to be rooting through attics, storage lockers and safe deposit boxes, looking for their ancestors’ long lost, unfinished works. Could be good. Probably not. But it will be lucrative.
- There will be a breakout novel created specifically for the mobile environment. I have long believed that a shorter, episodic story, filled with cliffhangers, is perfect for the millennial generation of readers. You can read a quick bit while waiting in line for your latte or Frappuccino at Starbucks. Or when you’re on the light rail to work. Or if you’re bored with your lunch companions. I know of one company, Tapas Media, that will launch this spring, that is combining a sexy gaming interface with what they’re calling “bite-size” content. For authors this might mean you want to start imagining what a story could look like if it were optimized for this new environment. Charles Dickens would be pleased!
- Adult coloring books will expand. These things were such a huge success, and as I mentioned previously, single-handedly boosting print book publishing last year, that publishers will expand them in number as well as branch out to other formerly youthful books. One of our authors, Helen Wrath, just debuted Drawing with a Vengeance, which is Cards Against Humanity with doodles. I expect there to be a huge variety of doodling, coloring, structure-building and other relaxation books for adults. I hope so anyway. I’m kind of tired of crayons and mandalas.
- Traditional ebook royalties will escalate. This is a fight that agents have been waging since 2008. Today’s standard 25% royalty rate for ebooks is simply too low. Publisher overhead had already been figured into the original 6%-12.5% royalty rates for print books eons ago. So for a publisher to take 75% of the revenues from ebooks with very little if any additional overhead is unfair. In fact, ebooks have no printing/binding/distribution costs, and near zero return expenses, plus the marketing dollars they spend are format agnostic, so they are even more profitable to publishers. I am going to go out on a limb and say that in 2016 we’ll see royalties for ebooks begin to escalate commensurate with increases in sales. It might not get to the totally fair 50-50 split that agents have been screaming for, but even 40% would make my day.
- Indie authors will continue to take market share from traditionally published authors. If you’re a fan of Hugh Howey and Data Guy and their Author Earnings report (and I am!), you already know that the statistics being handed to us by publishers and traditional organizations like Pew, BookScan, and BISG are way skewed towards the old publishing paradigms. Indie authors ARE grabbing market share from traditionally published authors and I believe that trend will continue. In fact I think there is a schism in the reading marketplace developing between those readers who will not blink an eye spending $35 for a hardcover first edition book from their favorite author and those who regularly balk at paying more than 99 cents for an indie author ebook—or even a multi-author anthology! This is especially true in genres like romance, science fiction, mysteries, fantasy, thrillers and graphic novels/comics. The traditional book market is shrinking while the indie market is growing. It’s not difficult to see where the growth is coming from Indie books are eating away at big book publishers. This should become indisputably obvious this year.
But also remember…books and reading are only one facet of the multi-billion dollar entertainment industry. It will be interesting to see how the publishing industry continues to evolve as it not only fights for profitability against books published outside of its purview, but also against movies, videogames, network television, streaming shows, and all the other entertainment items literally at consumer fingertips.
So there you have it. My 13 predictions for the coming year? I’d love to hear your predictions for anything I’ve missed. Or if you agree or disagree with anything I’ve presented. I have an agent’s viewpoint, which is pretty much in the eye of the storm at all times. But I welcome viewpoints from authors, publishers, pundits and anyone who loves books as much as I do!
**This article originally appeared on Anne R. Allen’s blog.