Wednesday, January 12, 2011

10 Biggest Predictions on the Future of Book Publishing

January 5th, 2011, reprinted with permission Online

The future of books is at stake, for some readers and industry members. But even those who are nostalgic for smelling pages before they're read can get excited about what's to come in book publishing.

Obviously, predictions should be taken as just that. Just because some
educated experts formulate projections based on trends and observations doesn't necessarily mean they will come to pass. Nor does it mean that if they do prove real, everything ends up exactly as stated within a specific time frame. So consider the following finds, collected from relevant corners of the internet, information to ponder and process rather than anything truly definitive. They are merely conjectures, not absolute facts.

1. Vanity presses and self-publishing will swell in popularity: Self-publishing carries with it a rather interesting dual reputation. Some view it as an excellent means to get great stories out there without having to worry about editorial intervention begging for less personal, more commercial properties. Others chide the publishing houses that charge the authors themselves an exorbitant fee to print — hence the term "vanity press" — and sell their services based more on ego-stroking than actual talent. The reality likely lay somewhere in between, as the superb
Self-Publishing Review showcases. Regardless of one's political leanings, a visit to Daniel McCarthy's Tory Anarchist at The American Conservative provides an intriguing, yet logical, prediction for the future of these divisive businesses. He argues in favor of an increased relevance and de-stigmatization of self-publishing, especially with the surge in blogging's popularity, and details possible (but obviously not definitive) economics behind such measures.

2. More writers and artists will experiment with motion comics:
Major, independent and self-publishers alike have been exploring the outer fringes of the motion comics medium to varying degrees of success over the past couple of years. The fact that it remains in a largely nascent stage provides an excellent challenge to creative individuals, begging them to take it as far as it can possibly go. Domenic Defina at Septagon Studios praises Amo Tarzi's Superare as a particularly striking example of what sort of quality creations the motion comics medium inspires. Anyone can watch it on Vimeo, yet the layout particularly pops on gadgets such as the iPad. It stands to reason that many innovators will turn their attention towards customizing their works to suit the features of new technologies rather than going retro.

3. There will be little need for gargantuan publishers:
Off in the far-flung future of 2020 (which hopefully sees those personal jetpacks that science has been holding out on), Richard Eoin Nash believes that many of today's publishing giants will instead resemble their far smaller, more independent counterparts. He thinks the overemphasis on churning out bestsellers and profits will lead to executives slicing back on personnel and resources until their businesses have streamlined to produce around one hundred or so titles a year — all of them perfectly crafted to stir up mainstream hype and sell thousands of units. A "lack of entrepreneurial capitalism," Nash argues, leads him to believe that the industry will structure itself as such within the next ten years.

4. More people will be authors:
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mark Coker believes that more authors will begin emerging onto the literary scene at an ever-climbing rate. Considering the amount of opportunities available in self-publishing and vanity presses these days, anybody rejected by mainstream outlets or desiring to forego editorial involvement has little to fear. With manuscript in hand and a story to tell, the masses may very well flood the very market that ten years ago would have never given them a voice. This leaves the literary world ripe for new ideas and innovations that many publishers turn down for fear of losing profit and bestseller status. Anyone who feels as if the current literary climate takes few risks and putters about in a sea of mediocrity and repetition should find this prediction particularly tantalizing.

5. eBooks will only get more popular:
Plenty has already been written about the Kindle, Nook and iPad and how they've revolutionized the way people read. And experts across the board repeatedly posit that it will only expand from there, with many experts postulating that 95% of books will go straight to a digital state in the future. Considering the hubbub swirling about the iPad, the prospect of more interactive, dynamic literature increases in likelihood as well. But even factoring out that element, readers flock to these devices for their ease of use, durability, portability and the fact that they clear up plenty of space on those shelves in the living room.

6. Authors will grow even more media-savvy:
By this point, many fans have made note of the ever-closing gap between themselves and their favorite authors. Through Facebook, Twitter, message boards and blogs, they can completely bypass the agents and managers and publishers and go straight to the writers themselves. Authors themselves feel as if the trend will continue, with those hoping to "make it" in the industry feeling intense pressure to maintain an active, viable internet life. Failure to do so, they fear, compromises their chances of getting picked up for publication and/or capturing the interest of readers — and their money. Therefore, it makes sense that the industry will probably experience an upswing of writers eagerly embracing social media and blogging in order to promote their work.

7. Memoirs expand as a genre:
Autobiography and memoirs have always been around, but over the past few years have enjoyed an upswing in popularity — even blending with other genres such as diet, self-help, business guides, comics and plenty more. Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett at Women's Memoirs believe that a combination of heightened demand and a plethora of self-publishing opportunities means even more will be available for perusal. It also opens the floodgates for even more experimentation. Graphic memoirs such as Maus and Persepolis have been around for a while, but never received the widespread, mainstream attention it so richly deserved. This could very easily push both literature and art in some interesting directions, especially when it comes to publishing autobiographies.

8. Books will no longer have a minimum length:
Mike Shatzkin notes that the burgeoning popularity of eBooks, along with its myriad other noted advantages, will also offer up more opportunities for novellas and other "lighter" fare. With so many publishers requiring a minimum length for the manuscripts they accept, writers now have a platform to release the works they want people to read on their own terms. No need to stuff filler into smaller pieces to meet demands. No need to worry about returns on printing costs. He also points out that magazines, newspapers and other periodicals could very easily adapt to an exclusively digital format as well. As could pamphlets, one-shot comics single short stories and poems, small collections and any other literary bits smaller than the average novel.

9. eBook readers will move even further away from E Ink:
Some of the devices themselves certainly have, anyways. And chances are, the next generations will rather quickly phase this technology out. E Ink helped solidify eBook readers' place in society, accurately reproducing the look of print on paper for a smooth, satisfying experience. But LCD and OLED displays make for a far cheaper, just as readable alternative — definitely an advantage for producers hoping to keep up with escalating consumer demand.

10. More young adult books will hit the shelves:
Or, more likely, the eBook readers. Both young adult books and graphic novels have undergone something of a Renaissance lately, with the former enjoying a 14% increase in sales this past October. With Harry Potter and the truly abysmal ode to emotional abuse Twilight carving out niches for themselves far beyond the bookcases, plenty of other publishers are also looking to capture the proverbial lucrative lightning in a bottle. From a far less cynical perspective, the glut of YA novels currently entering the market provides middle and high schoolers a much broader selection of genres to explore. Those who do not enjoy the fantasy and horror elements of the two current media juggernauts have plenty more options available than previous generations — and things only look more promising from there.

Now to add my personal commentary to this: I don't think this article is making any real predictions for the future; most of this is happening now, because as you can see, this article is really just a collection of quotes on the publishing industry from various venues around the net, and most of this is past tense already.

My biggest bone of contention here is the term vanity press and its implications in item 1. Sure, there are a lot of rip-off scam presses out there that charge outrageous fees and provide the author with a less than quality product, but there are also vanity presses out there that do a fine job. I know this for a fact; I have a reviewed enough books here to know the difference. As far as paying for services, well, some authors need help with editing, with cover design, with interior layouts, etc. Paying for those services is called outsourcing in the business world. Doesn't have anything to do with vanity, and whether or not you use one of these companies does not affect your status as an Independent Author. You are still independent from the Mainstream Publishing Model, so no one should really give a shit who you outsource work to as long as you, the author, are happy with the end product. What I do see in the future is more Harlequin Horizons now called DellArte Press. With author service solution companies making money hand over fist in the self-publishing arena, it only makes sense that more big publishers will want in on that game, and as long as they aren't simply ripping off naive young authors, I could care less. Have at it. Authors have a responsibility to educate themselves, so you can only get ripped off if you let it happen.

I also disagree with item 9. I don't think ereaders will ever be rid of e-ink. I get eyestrain reading on a back lit screen, doesn't matter if it's LCD, OLED or whatever the newest hip glowing multi-media platform is at the moment. I think e-ink will improve not disappear because most dedicated readers -- I am talking hardcore readers here, those of us who read 3-4 books a month or more -- will usually choose e-ink over shiny back lit screen technology. Oh don't get me wrong, readers like us will have both platforms for various reasons, but for long term reading jaunts, e-ink is still preferred next to traditional paper. I can read on my Sony for 10 hours straight. I can't do that with an iPad or my computer, and I certainly can't read on those outside in the sun like I am apt to do all summer long. Shit, those glossy screen jobbies don't even do well under standard office florescent lighting or in a room with a lot of windows and bright light.

Cheryl Anne Gardner


Jim Murdoch said...

This is an interesting list and, like you, I tend to agree with it even if most of it is saying the blinkin’ obvious. As for the format of future e-readers who really can tell? The thing is they now have a toehold and this is the time to make the most of this new opportunity. The word vanity press is one that rankles me too although the first poem I ever had published I paid for in exactly this fashion because I knew no better. On one level all publication is vanity. I got exactly what I paid for: I saw my name in print. Essentially that was why I sent my poems into magazines, to be able to wave them under my dad’s face as ‘proof’ that I was a real writer; I didn’t care if the magazine sold a single copy as long as I got my contributor’s copy. And there will be those who will be happy with that and if they sell half-a-dozen copies of their books along the way then that’s only a bonus. I haven’t made a profit on any of my books yet but the loss is getting smaller. The object of publication was never primarily to make money but it was pitched at a higher level than simply appealing to my vanity. What pleases me about the ‘vanity’ side of publishing is that now even those authors can have much more control and without it costing them an arm and a leg. The real difference will be seen when it hits the marketing stage. Real writers realise nowadays that they can’t just write their books and leave the rest to others; they have to get involved. The downside of this new revolution is the sheer quantity of material that is now being produced quickly and cheaply means that we have a glut of books and it is so much harder for the real quality to shine.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Agreed Jim on all counts, except for the glut of books thing. I always manage to find the shiny pennies in the glut of queries we receive, and I have never had a problem finding just what I like in the glut of books published every year by the traditional publishing industry either. I certainly found yours! :-)

So I don't think there is a need for panic that we are going to be overwhelmed by garbage. Readers never seem to have trouble finding what they like.