Where will we be in five years?
June 21, 2009 | Written by admin
I was at a conference recently where they asked people in the industry to talk about trends they're seeing in publishing. Specifically, they wanted to know what changes we should expect to see in the next five years. My list…
1. You will own an electronic reader. It may be a Kindle (the Amazon.com tool that works on cell phone service, so that books show up on your clipboard-like device like a text message), or the Sony Reader (a better device to use, in my opinion, since it feels more like a book and you can easily download your own files without sending them off or paying Amazon to do it), or some cheap $99 knock-off device that we'll start seeing in the next year. But you WILL own one. Why? No more forty-pound sack of books to carry around. A thousand books on one device. If you get bored with one, you can skip to another. No losing a book ever again, since the companies who sold you the title will replace it for free. You remember when you thought you could get by without a cell phone, iPod, DVD player, Blackberry, GPS, and laptop? Well, you now own most of those. You'll soon recognize the value of an electronic reader and you'll buy one.
2. The web will replace your book show and your book catalog. The big book shows are dying — too expensive and not enough return to keep going. They'll be replaced with smarter, more cost-effective company events or web-based specialty events. And publishers will soon buy into the green movement by doing away with printed book catalogs and going to web-based catalogs that are always accessible and easy to correct and update.
3. Publishers will soon scrap their print-based semi-annual royalty statements to authors and agents, and will replace them with electronic statements. This makes too much sense. It could be done today, frankly, if publishers wanted to spend the time to make the change. The only thing keeping your publishing house from moving to an email version of your royalty statement is that it doesn't want to be bothered changing the system in light of all the other financial struggles it is facing. But within five years, they'll all have gone to electronic royalty statements.
4. The concept of convergence will jump from newspapers and magazines to books. We live in an image-driven culture, so it's only natural that the convergence of words and images will come to the world of books. On an electronic book screen, we can expect interactive features, downloadable extras, video clips, author interviews, and all sorts of other images to enhance the text. (Think of the newspapers they sell in the Harry Potter movies, with moving images and dynamic graphics – that's exactly the type of book we'll see in the near future.)
5. A new role will be established within publishing houses. All those images and special features will mean a new role must be established to create and manage the convergence of words and images. We can expect "creative content editors" to become a regular part of every editorial staff. These indviduals will have experience with words as well as images and the interactive aspects marketing.
6. The new products will mean new companies. It may sound crazy in this lousy economic time to predict a spate of new companies being formed… but I think the new technology will make it imperative. One thing that has always been clear is that new breakthroughs in technology (and I believe the electronic reader is a wonderful breakthrough) means new companies to create cutting-edge applications. I think we'll see new companies rise up to compete with the big New York houses when it comes to e-books.
7. A writing superstar will self-publish a book (and make a killing). Again, I think this is inevitable. There is too much money at stake for a celebrity writer to leave it on the table by remaining with a regular royalty-paying publisher. I believe one of the big writers of our era will decide to self-publish, either digitally or in a print-on-demand format, and he or she will sell a boatload of books. (For those not in the know, you can make MORE money at self-publishing, if you have the ability to sell your book. The reason most self-pubbed authors lose money is because they don't know how to sell their book.)
8. Our culture's fascination with short messages on Facebook and Twitter will mean a renewed interest in short stories. Okay, this may not happen… but I can dream. Short stories are my favorite form of literature, and they are almost impossible to sell in book form these days. But perhaps the next generations' interest in all things short will mean a renewed interest in short stories.
9. The next big fight for will be over electronic rights. We're already seeing that with the Google lawsuit, and the fight over Amazon's plan to have all Kindle books include an audio function. Doesn't an author lose a sale if audio rights are wrapped up in a print book? If a magazine publishes your article, rights revert back to you when the copy comes off store shelves — but if an e-zine keeps your article in its files forever, when do those rights return? If a book publisher keeps a digital version of your book available, will that constitute the book being "in print"? (For the record, I think this will be resolved by using a combination of term agreements and sales thresholds — i.e., your book will be considered 'in print' so long as the publisher sells 500 digital copies per calendar year.)
10. Publishers and authors will learn to balance the public's desire for content with its demand for all things free. Right now it's easy to get yourself in print — any moron can start a blog. The hard part is getting paid for your writing. Consumers seem to think that anything coming over the internet should be free. This attitude is helping to kill newspapers, who have moved to the web but found it impossible to make money while doing so. Book publishers are finding this same attitude, and it has the potential to damage book sales (just as Napster and its evil children ruined the music business). But they'll work it out, and find a way to provide content that is free while still selling the words that provides a living for writers. I don't know what that solution will be yet, but I know it will come because necessity will require it. We're a culture that needs (and values) its writers, so we'll find a way to help them make a living.
My thoughts on five years from now. Check back in 2014 and tell me if I was right.