Chip MacGregor

September 10, 2014

Ask the Agent: What will the NEXT big trends be in publishing?


In response to Monday’s blog post, I had a couple authors I represent ask me about the NEXT big trends — What are the big things that we’re starting to see that have the potential to re-shape publishing over the next few years? 

I don’t have the gift of prophecy, but I can take a stab at several things that are around, are growing, and have the capability of significantly changing things in this industry.

First, the Espresso print-on-demand machine has been around for a decade, but it’s only now starting to reveal what it can do. If you’re not familiar, the Espresso is a fancy computer & printer that sits in a bookstore and will produce one copy of any book you want. To this point it’s been pretty much a non-starter, but now indie stores have realized they can appeal to high-end readers, create a cozy environment for them, print one high-class copy of a book, and not have to invest in a ton of other inventory. Suddenly we’re seeing a new way to do a bookstore. No, this isn’t going to compete with Barnes & Noble, but the folks doing this aren’t trying to compete with Barnes & Noble. They want to create a completely different kind of experience.

Second, Kickstarter and Crowdfunding can help support authors, publishers, and bookstores. A couple of companies have used this lately to raise significant funds for titles that appeal to specific audiences (basically spec fiction and graphic novels to this point). But now we’re seeing publishers and stores go to loyal readers to help support certain titles. In other words, rather than an individual using Kickstarter or IndieGoGo or RocketHub to help fund one unique book, businesses are finding ways to make it a part of their overall finance strategy. That’s a brand new way of supporting the publishing business, and I think it could significantly alter the way some projects are brought to market.

Third, Babylon and GoogleTranslation software could make foreign rights obsolete. Right now publishers take their text and sell it to publishing companies in foreign countries, who hire translators to move the book into another language. And, to this point, translation software has been fine for discovering how to move yes, let’s do lunch  into si, facciamo il pranzo, or making sure you spell vous le vous coucher avec moi correctly, but it’s not good for taking your romantic suspense and shifting it into Spanish. But the new translation software has the power and potential to reshape publishing, by instantly transforming your text from language into another, thus dropping the costs significantly and, potentially, re-making the way we treat foreign rights.

I’m no doubt missing a bunch of things. I have friends who believe the future versions of Google Glasses will transform the reading experience, that the new Apple Wallet will change the financial packages of bookstores, and that Snippet will be the hot thing for those interested in reading shorter books. But the three I mentioned certainly have the potential to make a big difference in the publishing industry.

What are the changes you see happening that have the potential to re-shape books and publishing? 

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  • steeleweed says:

    Machine translation is not and never will be 100% accurate. Still need reader/editor in target language.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Well… sure we do. Now. I’m talking about trends for the future, steeleweed. And I think the future tells us things are going to change significantly.

  • Janet Ursel says:

    Ironically, you spelled Voulez-vous coucher avec moi incorrectly. ;o) I still remain highly sceptical about mechanical translation ever being able to do a novel. I grant you, translation software has improved, but they still consistently fall far short of human ones for anything more than a couple of simple sentences.

    But I really like the idea of a boutique Espresso experience. That’s the way I’ve been picturing it for years.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      What if I told you that I intentionally misspelled “voulez-vous” in order to garner some interest, Janet? Okay, I simply go it wrong (blame my freshman French instructor), but I see your point — language requires sensitivity and subtext, and we may not be there yet with translation software. But we’re getting closer, and I can see the day it will happen. Really appreciate you coming on to chat. As the French say, “Passe moi la pomme de terre!” (Which, for the uninitiated, means “you’re a wonderful thinker.” Or something like that.)

  • Ron Estrada says:

    I see the smartphone as the primary reading device. We’re trending toward a one-device-does-it-all society. The Apple 6 will have a built in e-reader, I believe, so it will be interesting to see if that shifts e-book sales toward Apple and away from Amazon, though I don’t expect a noticeable difference. In addition to crowd funding, I’m trying a free book download with an option to donate along with a “suggested” donation. This has worked for some non-fiction authors. Maybe it will work for us professional liars. We’ll see. My partner and I are also trying a free novel delivered as one chapter per week via e-mail. This is primarily to build our mailing list, but we also plan to bundle and sell the episodes at the end of each “season.” The short answer here is: we need to experiment. There are no crazy ideas Giving things away is probably the key to making money (like I said, no crazy ideas). Build our mailing lists and don’t rely completely on any one distribution source. That goes for trad and indie authors. And, by the way, the “indie” will be dropped. Every author will learn to take advantage of every avenue. Thanks for the post, Chip. See you in St. Louis.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Ron. I’m not sure giving books away is a great strategy right now (I see readers with a ton of free books on their kindles and iPads, and I wonder if the “free” train has left the station), but I agree that we all need to try new ideas. Glad to see you thinking about this stuff and stepping out to try some out-of-the-box concepts, Ron.

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