So one year ago I offered ten predictions about the future of publishing. I thought it would only be fair to have a look and see how I did. My notes from January 1, 2014…
1. I predicted that Amazon was going to finally start a series of brick-and-mortar stores. Accuracy: Moderate. They started some kiosks, and have created some pop-up stores in Seattle and San Francisco, and are exploring a store in New York. But they haven’t gone after retail stories in a big way yet.
2. I predicted Barnes and Noble would be sold, but remain in business. Accuracy: Not exactly. Instead of being sold, the original owners came back and repurchased the company from others. They bought out a bunch of shareholders, cut ties with Microsoft, and have tried to re-take control of their brand. And hey, they’re still in business, which is a good thing for writers.
3. I predicted we would see a bunch of publisher mergers. Accuracy: Pretty good. HarperCollins bought Harlequin, and Hachette bought Perseus, Hyperion, Black Dog & Leaventhal, as well as several smaller presses. We didn’t see a Simon & Schuster and HC marriage (or a S&S and Hachette marriage), but the number of players in New York dwindled.
4. I predicted huge growth for reader subscription services. Accuracy: Right on the money. Oyster, Scribd, Entitle, and Kindle Unlimited took off in 2014. Amazingly, authors participating saw sales rise, and income drop.
5. I predicted that libraries would finally resolve their tiresome debate with publishers. Accuracy: Yawn… Yeah, so Hachette finally put a plan together that libraries liked, and several smaller publishing houses started making their ebooks more available to them, but basically everyone in the industry got sick and tired of hearing about this topic. We all recognize that libraries serve an important role in our culture, and that they’re struggling to figure out how to stay in business in today’s publishing environment. I was correct in saying some publishers finally just said, “You can have our backlist for this price,” but that hasn’t really resolved the bigger issue… because the issue isn’t with the cost of content, it’s with the direction of libraries.
6. I predicted ebook prices would drop and remain low. Success: yes and no. You could basically make a case for this to be right or wrong. The overall ebook price from major publishes has gone up slightly this year. But the cost of getting ebooks through subscription services like Kindle Unlimited has meant there are a bunch of super-cheap methods for getting ebooks — and the number of authors posting 99-cent self-published ebooks has exploded. So there are plenty of cheap ebooks, though perhaps not the one you want to read.
7. I predicted the rise of publishing co-ops. Success: Meh. There are certainly a few groups where authors and agents have banded together to create successful and cost-effective organizations to get good covers, arrange for a solid edit, get the manuscript formatted and posted, and find assistance with marketing. But, um, this hasn’t really become what you’d call common yet, most authors think they can do all of this without a group of people badgering them with ideas, and small publishers have frequently stepped in to fill the gap. So while this may be happening a bit (check out Wild Blue Press, for example), it’s not exactly taking the industry by storm.
8. I predicted that legacy publishers would boost their author services. Accuracy: Ha! Are you kidding me? I was sure the fear of shrinking market share would move the major houses toward significant organizational changes. Here’s what I wrote a year ago: You overcome negativity by improving customer relations and offering better perks. That’s still true. But have we seen a significant boost in author services from major publishers? No, we have not. We’ve seen quarterly newsletters that say, “Gee, don’t we all feel like one big family?” — usually coming from the CEO whom we’ve never actually met.
9. I predicted a bunch of agents were going to get out of the business. Accuracy: Right on the nose. Lots of agents moved out of the role. It’s tougher than ever to make a living when you’ve got a handful of bestselling authors claiming, “you can do it all yourself and make millions!” (A message that is comically overdone, by the way. I get people all the time on this site telling me how fabulous they’re doing, but I notice few of them are making any real money.) At the same time, I continue seeing editors get axed by publishing houses, then announce they’re becoming agents. I always wonder who is giving these people career advice. It’s tough — and I don’t say that to whine. I love what I do, and make a good living at it. But just as becoming a full-time author is an uphill climb, so is becoming a successful agent. Simply having worked in the industry for a few years is no guarantor of success.
10. I predicted we were going to start seeing content in all sorts of new places. Accuracy: Way to go, Captain Obvious. Looking back, I could have said something much more significant, like “it will get dark at night” or “it will rain a lot in Oregon.” But it was fun to hear Jeff Bezos, the head of Amazon, state that he thinks eventually some young whippersnapper will come up with a new idea that will push Amazon to the curb — the fact is, we love content, and we’re always looking for new ways to find it. So whether it’s the Apple Watch or the FitBit monitor, the new fridges that have built-in TV’s or the Amazon’s new Echo speaking system, we can’t get enough information. So… I’ll try harder to not cherry pick the easy answers this next time.
Your turn: What do YOU see happening in 2015?