Everyone seems to have an opinion when it comes to the future of publishing. Will Internet kill the publishing star?Or will it just significantly alter the landscape? Will the large publishing houses continue to dominate, finding a way to buy a wedge of the e-publishing market, or will independent authors and small to mid-size publishing firms rise up in populistic fashion?
The following are my top five predictions for the future of publishing. These come about after months of researching the marketplace and drawing parallels from the music industry, which underwent a similar revolution within the last decade.
1. eBooks will continue to outpace tree books – Just this year, Amazon reported that eBook sales eclipsed tree books sales. That’s right, people. Electronic books are here to stay and, in fact, pose a potential danger to the sale of tree books. I predict that this trend will continue, with eBooks continuing to erode the large market share currently cornered by tree books. Just look at these revenue numbers from the International Digital Publishing Forum.
2. Tree books are here to stay – “But, Keith! Didn’t you just say that eBooks would erode the market share held by hardcopies?” Yes. Yes I did. But that doesn’t mean that tree books are going away. A physical book serves many purposes. For experts and authors, it can serve as a calling card. They are also collectible and can contain an author’s signature. Plus, there’s just something intangible about the tangible. This too was foretold in the music scene. New albums are still printed as records for serious collectors. The same will be true of tree books.
3. Words will only be one element of books – If you’re a normal person (and I’ll just assume you are), you probably associate books with words. That makes perfect sense. After all, with the exception of children’s books and reference materials, isn’t that what most books predominantly contain? But with the rise of digital publishing, words will have to learn to live with new pagemates. I’m talking about graphics, music, videos and even games. Although reading will remain the predominant use-case for a book (because if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be a book), books will also be about multimedia as well. And this multimedia will serve to enhance the reading experience.
4. Non-fiction books will lose footing to non-fiction stories – Whereas short fiction will likely play second fiddle to long-form fiction (read: novels), I believe that short-form non-fiction will become a hot commodity in the eBook market. Although no ideal avenue exists to distribute and sell short-form non-fiction (which entails journalistic non-fiction, essays and memoir pieces), this innovation is on the way. The New York Times returning to the pay-to-read web model is another sign that this business of short-form non-fiction may become a reality.
5. Authors won’t be able to rely on book sales for income – DRM. Artists tend to love it, while consumers tend to hate it. This is the technology that protects your intellectual property (read: novel) from theft. But, just as we’ve seen with the music industry, theft will always occur despite DRM protections. And it’s only going to get worse as eBooks continue to flourish. Is this a bad thing? I choose to think of it just as a thing, one that needs to be addressed intelligently. What’s intelligent? Well, what’s stupid is trying to restrict content and punish content thieves in an obviously flawed system. This has not worked out well for the music industry, and it will not work out well for the publishing industry. Instead, authors will have to begin to see themselves as the product. The book is a foot in the door, but the author is the item of value. Merchandising, public appearances and lectures may very well become the author’s new bread and butter just as merchandising and touring have become the financial backbone for many bands.
So am I right, or am I wrong? I’d love to hear your personal predictions.