What the Future Holds in Publishing

October 15, 2007 | Written by admin

So after talking about what’s hot and what’s not in publishing, several people asked about what’s coming — what does the future hold in publishing. Some random thoughts from a guy who does NOT have the gift of prophecy…

1. More Agents. In ABA, publishers have long insisted all projects be represented by an agent. In CBA that’s becoming the norm as well. It professionalizes the relationship. It used to be you could get your book published with a CBA house without an agent. These days, that’s tough to do.

2. New Distribution Patterns. The biggest change happening in publishing is the move away from independent bookstores to big box stores. Mega-stores used to not carry Christian books — now you’re apt to find them at Wal-Mart, Costco, and Target…in addition to the extended selection at Borders and Barnes & Noble. Last year online bo0k sales equaled the sales at independent stores. Expect that to grow.

3. Interior Design. No more pages of simple text. Now we live with boxes, call-outs, and doo-dads. We’ll see more of that in the future, and more of an emphasis on short sentences and short paragraphs. Consider it the curse of USA Today.

4. Postmodernism. Actually, I HATE even using the term, since it seems like most people don’t know what it means, but throw it out anyway in hopes of impressing their friends. But take a look at the philosophical framework that upholds the writings of younger authors, and you’ll see their way of perceiving the world is completely different from writers of ten years ago. This is a sea-change in the way people view the world, science, history, politics, and religion.

5. A Social Conscience. Remember when "the social gospel" was considered to be a compromise, participated in only by liberal Lutherans and Episcopal congregations? No more. Part of the emerging church is an understanding that people of faith are called to have a redemptive effect on the world. This is leading to a rise in volunteerism. Will it mean Americans will finally recognize and show concern for the rest of the world? Naaaah. But we can hope. 

6. The Influence of ABA. HarperCollins owns Zondervan. Random House owns Waterbrook and Multnomah. Simon & Schuster owns Howard. Hachette owns FaithWords. Penguin started Praise. Harlequin started Steeple Hill. And every old-line CBA publisher still in business is focused on selling books into the general market. The business of publishing Christian books has completely changed in the past ten years. That’s a trend that will continue.

7. Delivery Systems. I won’t read an entire book on a computer screen…but my kids will. And my grandkids will be asking, "You mean books weren’t always electronic images?" Think about the changes that will bring to the publishing industry. 

8. Changes in Readership. Christian books used to be aimed at nice church people, who were all white, all basically middle-class and climbing, and all staunchly evangelical (charismatics, mainline denominational types, and people of color need not apply). No more. Nobody cares about denominatons any more — we’re seeing a worldwide explosion of unaffiliated mega-churches, house churches, and new groupings. We’re also seeing Christians who view their faith as something much more fluid and relational, more grace-based, and considerably more concerned with social justice. What we’re NOT seeing are people who accept the "check the right boxes on this questionnaire and you can be a Christian" approach.

9. More Speed and Specialization. We’re seeing more speed with books, with words, with due dates, with deliveries. And we’re seeing more specialized publishing decisions, as the internet makes it possible for a publisher to sell you exactly the type of books you like.

10. Christianity Lite. Less than a year ago, I made a joke that we would one day see Paris Hilton offering her deep thoughts on spirituality. Um…last month, that was no longer a joke. Yikes. Maybe I do have the gift of prophecy.

Of course, the one thing that’s not on my list, and that I wish was on my list: That Christian bookstores would once more become Christian bookstores, instead of Christian Gift Centers and Religious Junk Bazaars. Say it with me: No more cutesy Christian crap! No more Jesus Soap-on-a-Rope! No more framed Thomas Kinkade prints!  Death to Precious Moments Statuettes!

I have seen the light…

Posted in Trends

  • http://www.brandtdodson.com Brandt Dodson

    Chip,
    I tend to agree. But whether things change as suggested or not, one thing is certain. There WILL be change. And those who survive, must adapt.

  • http://www.cjdarlington.com C.J. Darlington

    Always interesting hearing your predictions, and thoughts, Chip. Thanks.

  • http://danicafavorite.blogspot.com Danica/Dream

    Please no. Chip, I beg you to tell me you’re joking about the Paris Hilton thing. I’m going into convulsions…
    Oh, and does this mean I should take back the Jesus soap on a rope gift set I bought you for Christmas? It’s actually quite tasteful. It’s gold, scented with frankincense and myrrh.
    The thing I find interesting, other than I need to go take a hot shower and wash the ick factor of PH from me, is how diverse the market seems to be getting. You have Christianity lite, and yet you have a growing social consciousness mixed in with postmodernism that is hardly light. At least the stuff I’ve read. It seems to me that there is something for everyone in the market these days. A good thing for folks like me who don’t always understand some of the more “intellectual” classics. And yet, I’m very afraid. Will future generations read gobbledygook written by morons and think of that as reflective of our society’s faith? Though maybe it is. And who knows, maybe I underestimate the great PH, and others like her.
    I’m still twitching…

  • http://www.christianlovestories.blogspot.com Kristy Dykes

    Great post, Chip! I like soaking up your knowledge. You said, “(I wish) Christian bookstores would once more become Christian bookstores, instead of Christian Gift Centers and Religious Junk Bazaars. Say it with me: No more cutesy Christian crap! No more Jesus Soap-on-a-Rope! No more framed Thomas Kinkade prints! Death to Precious Moments Statuettes!:
    K: But that’s what Christians like (apparently). That’s why the stuff is there, right? Or is the stuff selling? BTW, #8 is exciting to me (I think).

  • http://www.timothyfish.net/ShortStories/The_Forgotten_Hat.pdf Timothy Fish

    Of all of these number seven is the one that I have given the most thought, other than no more framed Thomas Kinkade prints. I never have understood the value of collecting mass-market artwork.
    For me, the jury is still out on what to expect in terms of electronic books. One segment that I expect to go 100% electronic is textbooks. However, people do not read textbooks; they use them more like a reference book. As such, there are some things that could enhance the electronic versions of textbooks over what students currently have (or don’t have in some schools). One thing would be the use of video to demonstrate how to work a problem or do an assignment rather than the typical examples that are included in textbooks. The teacher could customize the books so that the only assignments a student would see would be those that she assigned. No student would ever say, “I worked the wrong problem” or “I didn’t know that you assigned that problem.” There are many ways that some electronic books could be an improvement over the paper-based books that currently exist.
    While the use of electronic textbooks will encourage a trend toward electronic novels, it is not as clear to me that we will see enhancements in the electronic versions of novels that will make them better, or even as good, as the paper versions. Part of the appeal of novels is that authors leave so much to the reader’s imagination, so audiovisual enhancements are difficult to employ effectively. There is also a cost associated with such things. Stand alone electronic book readers are still too bulky and expensive and reading a book while seated at a computer is an inferior experience to reading a paper book. We could read a novel on a cell phone, but the screen is too small and there is the issue of battery life.
    The automobile has replaced the horse and buggy, but it has not replaced the bicycle. It is possible that we will see a similar situation with books. Where the electronic version is a clear improvement over the paper version, we will see a replacement take place. In situations were a hard copy is preferable, we may never see a complete replacement. It should be interesting to find out.

  • http://www.pamhalter.info Pam Halter

    Do you see more graphic novels in the future? Right now, there’s a horror movie based on a graphic novel coming out this week. It seems kids like those as much as reading books on the computer.
    BTW, I think Oriental Trading has hit bottom with the Jesus Junk. The last catalog I got boasted an inflatable manger for your Christmas pageant on the front cover. When I turned the page, lo and behold, there’s also inflatable gold, frankincense and myrrh!
    What’s worse? People will actually buy the stuff.

  • Camille

    Watch thy prophetic back, Brother. If thou be wrong, thou will be stoned; if right, those unwilling to hear thy words might take thee out and kill thee.
    I have mixed feelings about all this: We older folks need to keep current and be relevant, but are we shifting our values in order to be read and watering down important truths?
    And if you mix postmodernistic thinking with Christianity Lite, and let those who’ve heard nothing but watered down truth have the loudest voice and a hollywood soap box, what happens? Maybe we’ve been seeing it for a long time. The broad road that leads to destruction turns into a multi-lane high-speed freeway.

  • Christa Allan

    As a high school teacher, I shout (yes, even in a public school), “Amen, brother!” for the electronic textbooks. I’m concerned the future will be populated with Quasimodo-humped people because they schlepped fifty pounds of textbooks through four years of high school.
    My students are crazy for books formatted with IMs,text messages,emails,and random pictures/sketches. Mangas are also popular. Doesn’t bode well for teaching Crime and Punishment…but that might open a new realm of refiguring the classics…

  • http://www.WritingCareerCoach.blogspot.com Tiffany Colter

    I’ve thought about these E-books and I don’t know if reading a book on the computer screen is just around the corner but I DO see a market for these new books you see on I Pods. Last May I was flying from Detroit to Ft. Myers to visit my dad and there were a few novels on Ipods. They cost about $50 but with technology that price will go down. I can tell you I’d happily pay $20 to get the book on an ipod so I can listen to it while I clean the kitchen rather than pay $15 to look at the words in the book.
    It’s not because I’m illiterate but rather I only have so many hours in a day and if I want to enjoy ANY entertainment it will be audio. Since I write suspense thrillers [and read the same] I can’t play them on my CD player in the kitchen [it scares my 4 year old].
    I’d love to have my book released simultaneously in Ipod and print. And in two languages.
    Since I’m also the mom of a deaf daughter [and I weave deaf characters in nearly all my books] I’d love to see books online in ASL or on DVD. I’d market that kind of book for all it’s worth. :-)
    Thanks for all the leg work on this, Chip. Lots to think about here.

  • http://www.angelfire.com/ok2/weakandfoolish Rob Sargeant

    Chip,
    Sounds like good news, with Christian authors getting into Walmart, Target, and some of the other big box stores. For a long time there, there seemed to be a Christian ghetto.

  • http://www.juliesjoyfuljourney.blogspot.com Julie

    Very succintly put, Chip. You definitely have the gift of seeing how things are and then concisely laying them out for us.
    I don’t necessarily agree about all books going electronic. I cannot fathom curling up by the fireplace with an electronic anything. There is something about holding a book in your hands. Besides, I for one can’t quite imagine lining my bookshelves with micro chips. Ah, well, just my opinion.
    And I’m with Kristy…YAY on #8.

  • http://www.chipmacgregor.com chip responds

    No, I’m not joking about Paris Hilton. She got arrested, went to jail, and announced she’s now a Christian. I’m sure you’re all on the edge of your seat waiting to see her thoughts on spirituality…
    And by the way, I agree that textbooks going electronic is a great idea. But mark my words: It won’t cut the price any. Textbook publishers know they have a built-in market with college students. It’s why an oversized trade paper (think the “Dummies” guides) that normally sells for $19.99 can be created by a textbook publisher and sold for $73.95. Highway robbery…and what are you going to do?
    But no, I do NOT think e-books will replace ink-and-paper. You just can’t curl up in bed with your computer. Or, at least, I can’t…

  • http://www.chipmacgregor.com chip responds

    The oracle says: “There will be more graphic novels…but since fantasy still doesn’t sell in the general market except to a small cadre of devoted readers,it’s unrealistic to think CBA is going to go big-time into fantasy…”
    He also notes, “You should bet the house on the Rockies.”
    Oh — and somebody noted the strange Peretti clip. If you REALLY want to see something wacked, take a look at the Ted Dekker clips. Yikes.

  • http://www.margosmoments.blogspot.com Margo Carmichael

    Congratulations on being #8, Chip! That’s fantastic!
    Just remember:
    Chip MacGregor, that’s so great,
    You’re rated agent number eight!
    But in poetry, don’t forget that I’ve
    Been rated by you as number five!