What does the future of fiction publishing look like?

Speculation abounds on the future of books, either in paper or electronic form. When Kindles, Kobos, and other e-readers that – inconsiderately – don’t start with “K” first came out, the death knell of the dead tree press was sounded. Books were going to die off and the entire industry would be electronic within the next few years.

But that prediction – like so many predictions of the past few years – hasn’t come to pass, and it gladdens my heart to know that the seers and prophecy-makers are just as flawed and prone to mistakes as the rest of us.

But industry insiders often look at the future of the publishing world and offer up various visions of its future. Knowing precisely what will happen is nigh on impossible, of course, but it’s reassuring that people are trying to see through the confusion – and that at least some of those making the predictions aren’t coming at it from complete ignorance.

So without further ado, I have plundered liberally from a treasure trove of sources to look at some of the more common theories that don’t seem to be entirely without merit. There are a multitude of different sources for these predictions, and I’ve tried to mention predictions that are referenced in at least two different sources; a couple I’ve included without that particular caveat because they appear strong enough on their own. I could be entirely wrong, of course.

  • Publishers will continue to consolidate.

Penguin/Random House is, by far, the largest deal of its time, but Hachette has just announced the acquisition of Perseus in the US. These types of mergers and takeovers will continue to happen; the big operators are going to get bigger, and a lot of the small publishers are struggling to survive against such a marketplace. That will also mean Amazon will have a tough job pushing publishers around, because both sides need each other too much. Random Penguins (I wish their name was so) wouldn’t be profitable without Amazon – but Amazon can’t be the everything store if it doesn’t stock a third of the books market.

  • The “celebrity author” market will plateau and reduce.

Major publishers are finding it increasingly hard to introduce new books to the masses, which has them turning to their existing lists in order to make a profit.  Also, it’s been reported over the past few years that mid-list authors are being unceremoniously cut loose by major publishers.  All this means that the industry is becoming evermore careful about their spending; many authors will have to either move on to another line of work, or seriously consider self-publishing.  This will ultimately mean more competition for indie authors.

This was discussed on the Creative Penn, and the conclusion reached was that superstar authors like J.K. Rowling and Stephen King will become a thing of the past.  Mainly, because there won’t be any money to invest in an author’s career anymore.  This will lead to self-publishing becoming a default setting in an author’s early career.  In other words, self-publishing will become far more normal, and a significant way to get a contract with a large publisher. That’s if large publishers can remain relevant and not be consumed by the smaller, independent publishers that are filling niches.

  • Social Media will get a lot harder.

Facebook have begun dividing their user’s newsfeeds in two, between personal and promotional posts, as an experiment.  Without warning, people in six countries found their newsfeeds had changed dramatically.  It was similar to what email services like Gmail and Outlook did when they divided their inboxes between promotional and primary tabs.  Though Facebook says it doesn’t plan on rolling out these changes to every single country just yet, it does makes sense to begin shifting your marketing plan away from your page and possibly focus more on Facebook groups – or maybe consider spending money to get your posts seen.

  • Print is going to continue, but how much?

Will the generation that has grown up with electronic devices migrate to print? There’s no reason to think they will, and so publishers must embrace both forms. Publishers have a very strategic decision to make, which is how much of their content to make available on social media platforms, and how that is going to be monetised in the future.

  • Audio will expand.

Increasingly, new information is also going audio; we’re seeing podcasts becoming the next avenue of branded content. Amazon Echo is allowing people to seek information and content, listen to entertainment and shop, audibly, and people interact with it verbally. We’re discussing things with Siri, rather than emailing. People are publishing podcasts over blogs. The future is so much more audible.

  • The future of books is bright

“The lack of video, the lack of audio,” writes Richard Nash in What is the Business of Literature?, “is a feature of literature, not a bug.” In other words, books aren’t an antiquated technology; they’re cutting-edge technology and are the greatest virtual reality machines on the market, by engaging the brain and presenting a different reality.

This should be reassuring for publishers, and, while a book publishing company will never grow at the exponential speeds of Facebook or a traditional technology company, that’s their charm. It’s an industry about deep engagement, not quick growth.

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