Fifth installment in this new series. This series will be made up of short, sometimes very short questions and puzzlements about publishing.
Why would anyone with any sanity try to predict the future of publishing at this moment in time? Well, maybe because I’m nutty, that’s why. I did this as a response in a discussion and decided it needed to be up front here just to show how really, really stupid I am.
I am not a person who normally even tries to see into the future. I’m just a science fiction and thriller writer who has been a publisher, an editor, and a writer for thirty years in this business. But because I am totally nuts, let me give you my business predictions just so I am on record here in the fall of 2011, even though not a person on the planet will ever look back at this. Or care. (grin)
Prediction #1: A Safe One.
This Christmas will be huge for electronic books. (duh)
Numbers of paper book sales will decline dramatically through the first two quarters of next year while all the new owners of electronic devices get their reading that way. This will cause more and more panic among some in the field and lots of press and the standard “the world is ending” article. It is 2012 after all.
At the same time publishers’ profits will rise as they did the first two quarters for 2011 for some companies. Reason, the line of profit from electronic book sales will finally come close to crossing or in some cases cross the line of loss for paper books.
Remember, for every reduction of a paper book sale by one book in a publisher’s profit-and-loss calculation, that means another book does not have to be produced, shipped, stored, and then destroyed. (Returns system, remember?) The savings by this reduction from every paper book sale and the shift of that same book sale (plus some) to electronic publishing is stunning for publishers. Yeah, I know, no one talks about that tiny fact. (grin)
Also, most publishers are shifting slowly to POD in many aspects of their business, from reorders to proofs. Watch as more and more publishers shift to first run POD on the small titles, putting them into nonreturnable programs.
Prediction #2: Another Safe One:
Repeat Prediction #1 every Christmas as device prices come down and the device wars shake out and print distribution becomes solid once again, mostly in POD form. And without the returns system for the most part.
Prediction #3: Another Safe One:
Some publishing companies in 2012 and 2013 will have trouble with warehousing and union and printing contracts and not be able to cut paper distribution expenses fast enough and will either be shut down by their parent company or go out of business. However, most companies will be fine, with cutting of warehousing, shipping and union contracts, and taking more and more of their printing to the coming new POD webs as they come on line.
Add to that the fact that electronic book sale profit margins (because of how writers have let themselves be screwed over the last ten years on electronic rights) will be huge for corporations, especially as backlists are put up and number of books for sale electronically for each corporation will increase. The old produce model of a book spoiling and getting destroyed after a few weeks on a shelf will be shifted for corporations to sales (without secondary cost) in electronic sales of backlists. Publishing accounting systems will take some time to shift to this new way of thinking, but they will eventually.
Prediction #4: Still betting this is a safe one:
The patterns I talked about above will continue for the next few years, with lots of new players coming into the field, from distributors to new publishers to new stores, both physical and electronic. International distribution of English language electronic books will add a huge amount to publishers’ bottom lines, as well as make many indie writers very rich. (This is happening and not even the corporations saw this one coming and are now scrambling to get World English from their authors who had only sold North American rights.)
Prediction #5: Not Really a Prediction Since Already Happening:
The weak and stupid bookstores will go out of business, but as is the trend over the last three years, more and more indie bookstores will spring up. (That’s right, over the last three years more indie bookstores have started than shut down. Publisher’s Weekly and ABA numbers. And Borders has left a huge opening for indie stores.)
Bookstores are weeding out the weak and poorly managed stores (like Borders) and the strong and new and creative stores will remain doing fine. Most will be either indie stores that are large or niche stores or new/used stores or a combination of the above.
Eventually they will find a way to help their customers buy electronic books through them, which will solidify their bottom lines. (I do not think this will be the Google system that does this, however.)
Prediction #6: A Real Prediction Finally:
In five years the level of electronic sales to print sales will level at about 3 to 1. But many of those electronic sales will be new readers, new sales. Paper books, mostly trade and some hardcover, will find a level and sustain through the death of the returns system and the move to POD printing.
Mass market paper will be mostly gone. (Racks switched over to trade size.)
I will make no prediction on agents, since I am waiting for the courts to come in and rule. If the courts shut down agent-as-publisher, then agents will be mostly gone in a few years. If not, who knows how many writers will be scammed while agents will actually help other writers in some fashion or another.
Those are my predictions. We shall see how full of shit I am in a year or two.
I should have stuck to fiction writing, huh? (grin)