Chip MacGregor

January 7, 2015

Looking back at my predictions…


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? 

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  • Normandie Fischer says:

    Love a man who can laugh at himself and the world. Good fun. I, instead, haven’t a clue about what’s happening next, except that I’m to put one foot in front of the other and do my best. Onward and upward!

  • Clint Hall says:

    Look for comic book/graphic novel readership to continue growing. Obviously this has a lot to do with the flood of movies and tv shows based on comic books, but it’s actually more interesting to see how technology has benefited the format. Marvel found a brilliant way to capitalize on their catalog with a pretty stellar subscription-based service, and Amazon got in on the action last year by purchasing Comixology. All the factors are coming together nicely for that industry – consumer interest derived from the movies and shows paired with the ease of access through smartphone and tablets, which also provide a really wonderful reading experience.

  • dee says:

    Interesting article. I enjoy reading your posts. On a side note what is it with the apostrophes appearing as commas and a lot of the actual commas preceded by an extra space? How does one stop the text from translating like this?

  • Chip, this post is very helpful. I was hoping at the end you would give us your projections for the coming year. But you’re asking us? Who, me? I’m sure your guesses are better than mine. I can say there is a feeling of unease for me as an author. I know I don’t want to go out on my own with a book, but with “traditional” publishing changing so quickly, it is really hard to know which route to take.

    One thing I’m wondering. Is there anyone who knows the publishing world who is becoming a consultant to authors? Someone who could consider various writing projects, for instance, and advise the author which idea is hottest in the marketplace? Once a project is under way, advise the author on which avenue to take to publish that book? If self-publishing is ideal, connect the author to book designers, editors, etc. Ideally, the consultant would have connections to good agents and publishers. Sometimes finding the right agent is as hard as finding the right publisher.

    Side note: Your use of “meh” had me smiling. Do you know that is now a valid word in Scrabble? It’s one of the new three-letter-words and I love playing it.

  • Jodie Bailey says:

    What I’ve learned this year is that what is good for readers is not always good for authors… and vice versa. It’s interesting to be a reader and an author and to see both sides. As for what’s coming next? I still hold to the belief that e-readers will grow, but physical books will never go away. I’ve talked to too many people of all age groups who love their Kindles but still like to hold a good book.

  • Michelle Jabs Grajkowski says:

    Love this post, Chip! I would’ve predicted just as you did a year ago. Excited to see what 2015 has in store. It feels like over the past few years, the industry has thrown the spaghetti against the wall to see what will stick – and the outcome is pretty great. Lots of opportunities, lots of different approaches, and thankfully, lots of authors who still want us (the agents!) around! 🙂

  • Cameron Bane says:

    Pretty good prognostication, Chip (save for number 8, or course!). Think you could parley this into parimutuels? We’ll call you Kresken II! *G*

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