Chip MacGregor

January 1, 2014

My Publishing Predictions for 2014


I sometimes hate reading people’s predictions for the new year, since they tend to be incredibly safe (“a new author will arise and start selling well”) or so obvious a moron could have guessed it (“it will rain a lot in Oregon”). But I enjoy the notion of trying to guess what will happen, since I’ve spent my life in this business, and I tend to try and stay ahead of the curve. So here are my un-safe, non-obvious thoughts on what may happen this year…

1. Amazon is going to start a chain of stores. Maybe it’ll be in airports, maybe they’ll start micro-stores like the kiosks you see selling headphones and chargers in airport terminals, but Amazon NEEDS to find an outlet for their Amazon-branded books. No brick and mortar store will touch them, and they need a presence in paper somewhere.

2. Barnes & Noble is going to be sold but remain in business. Okay, I don’t have ANY insider information, even though my wife worked for them for years. We all know B&N is struggling. They may sell off their Nook business (and I’m a huge fan of my Nook, as I’ve noted on this blog several times), but I don’t think America’s largest book retailer will go under. Instead, I’m wondering if the good folks at Microsoft (who propped up the Nook with an infusion of cash two years ago) might buy the entire chain. Someone will.

3. We’re going to see a bunch of publisher mergers. Hear me out: the rise of ebook readers led to a flood of category novels. That in turn led to the creation of countless smaller publishing houses — start-up companies that focused on one genre. But with ebook sales gone flat, and dedicated e-readers failing due to tablets, a bunch of those semi-successful smaller houses are about to be taken over by the Random Houses and HarperCollins of the world.

4. There will be huge growth in book subscription services. You may not know much about Oyster or Scribd yet, but you will. When you turn on your TV, you don’t want to pay money every time you want to watch a movie, so you subscribe to TCM or HBO or Starz — a bunch of movies for one relatively low price per month. Translate that to books — you pay one low price per month, and a streaming service offers you a huge array of titles you can read that month. Bang: winner!

5. Libraries are finally going to resolve their tiresome debate with publishers. Look, we all agree that having public libraries is a good thing for our country. But they’ve not had the money to buy the books they need, and they’ve been kept from purchasing vast amounts of digital content from publishers who didn’t want library users to get their hands on a bunch of backlist books for free. But publishers are looking for new revenues, so… I predict that this year some of the mega publishers are simply going to say to libraries, “Okay, for $$$ you can have access to our entire backlist of titles.” It’s “rent-a-library.” Problem solved.

6. Ebook prices will drop again, and remain low. I hate to see it, since I think we’re telling readers that words don’t have much value, but consumers have a Wal-Mart mindset — they want a LOT of words for a LITTLE money. So the price of ebooks will come down, meaning authors won’t be making as much money on their work. Sorry

7. Publishing co-ops will pop up. With so many authors self-publishing, and with the rise of companies that specialize in book cover creation, or in ebook editing, or in book formatting, or in author marketing, we’re going to see publishing co-ops form — specialists coming together, with various skills and tools, and creating a new version  of what looks remarkably like a publishing house, except it won’t be owned by an entertainment conglomerate (or by Rupert Murdoch).

8. Legacy publishers will boost their author services. I think a lot of mainstream publishers are scared of indies and the self-publishing movement, and soon, instead of just bitching about it and blaming Amazon for their troubles, they’ll begin to strengthen their author services, to help remind writers that working with a traditional publisher is a GOOD thing. The mood toward the Big Six, New York houses in general, and most traditional publishers is largely negative these days — which might be unfair, but it’s there and we all need to acknowledge it. You overcome negativity by improving customer relations and offering better perks.

9. A bunch of agents are simply going to get out of the business. I’ve been doing this for 16 years now, and I can tell you the finances of agenting are becoming harder than ever. Literary agents have to grow and change, which means offering different services, changing the way they do business, and re-making their image as that of “hard to reach/know-it-all/patronizing pain-in-the-ass” to “business and artist career manager.”

10. We’re going to start seeing more content in surprising new places. Okay, I may be guilty of being too vague here, but I think some companies are going to find new ways of offering written content to readers. I’m just not sure how yet. I was at Best Buy recently and saw a refrigerator with a TV built into the door, noticed at the Verizon store that the guy beside me was reading a book on his phone, got an automatic tweet on my iPad when a friend shared a new message… and I started thinking about convergence — how we like to blend tools we need for everyday living. In days past I had a camera, a date book, a rolodex, a “to do” list, and a telephone. Now all of those tools exist on my iPhone. So I don’t know how this happens, but in some unique way I think we’re going to see some (probably young, enterprising) company surprise us by delivering book content in new ways. And, of course, the result will be that everyone in publishing will declare it as a sign of the apocalypse.

My ten predictions. What do YOU think will happen in 2014? Would love to see your thoughts in the “comments” section. Happy New Year!

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  • Kristena Tunstall says:

    I think you have some very interesting, but great predictions, for the new year and I can see many of them coming true. Thank you for sharing your year’s of insight with us.

  • I think audio reading of books will go mainstream. A lot of people don’t have to read, but listening while they commute…yes that they could do. Also visuals & videos in ebooks could be used to enhance the reading pleasure, but that may be a few years further down the road.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      An excellent point, Liza. I wonder if audio will take off, or if it lacks the visual stimulation moderns need in their entertainment.

  • Rachel Leigh Smith says:

    #3 is already happening. Lyrical Press, an indie romance e-publisher, has been bought by Kensington. I have a friend at Lyrical who’s having to navigate the contract changes without an agent.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      And Penguin and Random House merging. And smaller presses getting gobbled by larges ones. The way of the world, Rachel. Thanks.

  • Scot C. Morgan says:

    Thanks for the list, Chip. I remember reading something recently about Amazon experimenting with kiosks at some venues/events in California or NY… testing the waters. I’d like to see Kobo make headway with their partnerships with independent bookstores. If they can make the revenue-share arrangements worthwhile for the indie stores (a la Amazon affiliate links), the indie we be better positioned to stand in the wake of Amazon’s continued rise. Note, I don’t have a problem with Amazon’s success. I like Amazon as a writer and a consumer. I’d just like competition to grow.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      I like Amazon as well, though I’m sometimes uncomfortable with their predatory behaviors. And yes, apparently they’re starting a bookstore kiosk somewhere, though it must be a beta test. By the way, I keep hearing Kobo is making headway, but I’ve yet to see it in any significant way.

  • I’ve already seen some of those indie publishing co-ops happening, and it’s a wonderful thing to know authors are helping each OTHER get ahead. I’m thrilled with the flood of category/niche novels, because we’re seeing topics and genres in the indie world that are often ignored by trad. pubs, and it’s easy for readers to latch on to favorite writers ( it’s also easy for niche books to get noticed on Amazon, with their categorization system). Anyway, I like “unsafe” predictions because that’s how life tends to work–just when you think you know which way the wind is blowing, in comes a Nor’easter. I honestly think the future for authors is brighter than ever.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      I agree, Heather. I think the future is obviously bright for publishing — just not publishing as it’s been done for the past 50 years or so. Would love to hear more about those indie publishing co-ops.

    • Off the top of my head, I remember Jessica Thomas discussing her small press launch (Provision Books), which she wants to transform into a co-op of like-minded authors promoting/supporting one another. Here’s the link to her post: One thing I’ve noticed is that indie authors tend to pool talents to get our books noticed. I’m not sure how co-ops play out income-wise, but I’m all for small houses that help people self-pub and produce spectacular books that make people take notice.

  • Ron Benson says:

    Not directly book related, but I think Amazon will buy out or create their own shipping division. They have proved their expertise at expedition, and the efficiency models they use are transferable. I’m not thinking drones, but anything’s possible. (Maybe Amazon will buy out USPS).

    I also believe that, in connection with your item 10, published content will find exciting ways for social interaction — not just around the edges of the material (like we’re doing with your post) — but within. This will take reading and writing in new directions, making the process of creation and consumption less passive and more collaborative. This will appeal to some and be abominable to others.

    • Rachel Leigh Smith says:

      I’m in the abominable camp. My characters, my stories. Everyone else can keep their mitts off of ’em! I don’t dream about seeing my books as movies because I can’t see myself letting go of them enough to do it.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      That’s interesting, Ron, because I know there is talk of having reading communities in real time. So let’s say a bunch of people buy your novel, and they want to talk about it NOW. They go to a site and discuss your ideas, your prose, your lava lamp…

    • Ron Benson says:

      First – Lava lamp discussion. Then, if there’s time, we can move on to more trivial matters.

  • Dave Fessenden says:

    Good predictions, Chip. I think some of these things are happening already, under the radar. I’d like to predict that the industry will stop beating up the producers of content (also known as “authors”), but I don’t see it happening anytime soon.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Doubtless that’s true, Dave. Certainly some publishing mergers, and the start of subscription services. Perhaps there are already some publishing co-ops happening, though they might not be recognized as such quite yet.

  • Ron Estrada says:

    It will snow in Michigan. I’d actually wondered when a co-op or indie author’s union would start up. Somehow, we need to come out of our hidey holes and help each other out (I don’t consider myself an indie, but may dabble in e-weirdness just to see if it sells). I expect to see, in non-fiction anyway, a convergence of mediums. For example, an e-book about China will automatically take the reader to a short video about the Great Wall at the appropriate place. Or an e-book about exercise will include the videos and handy links to supplements and equipment, all of which provide the author with a bit of the income. Even fiction authors can take advantage of something like that. What if Suzanne Collins had a “Click Here to Buy your own Mocking Jay Pin Now!” button at the end of a chapter or two? Somehow, smart authors will figure out how to bring in a little extra. I even make marketing notes as I write. There’s no reason we can’t all engage in a little merchandising.

    • Rachel Leigh Smith says:

      The thought of that kind of stuff in a book gives me hives. I don’t read books to see videos and have ads in them. I have AdBlock Plus on my browser, and my settings where Flash has to ask permission before it plays anything. Even the intro screen for Candy Crush.

    • Ron Estrada says:

      I don’t disagree, Rachel. But as the price of books drops, authors may have to get creative. I would hope most would put the merchandising at the end and not drop it between chapters like a commercial break. With the non-fiction, though, it may be useful to see a video when trying to understand a concept. Lord knows I could have used it in my college thermodynamics class.

    • excellent point. Authors can’t work for free.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      But an interesting commercial idea, Ron. I think we’re bound to see more of that sort of thing. Whether we call it advertisements or enhanced text, it has the potential to add AND detract from the core book.

  • julesreffner says:

    Thanks, Chip. These are interesting. I had the opportunity to interview some of the editors about trends for 2014 and I found myself really wanting to hear agent perspectives. 🙂

    Book subscription services excite me as a person who reads as much as the average American watches TV/movies.

    Intrigued also about the idea of information popping up in new places. I LOVE how the reading community is becoming more interactive on the CBA and ABA site and I can’t wait to see how this will continue to play out.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Yes, it’s interesting to see where content takes us, Jules. I think it’s clear the invention of moveable type has been the greatest creation of the past 500 years (though “donuts” and “hair gel” would probably also make the list).

  • karenrobbins says:

    Years ago my husband gleaned some old computer equipment from the place he worked. It had reels–now that’s old! It took up half of our basement when he was finished building the computer. All of that and so much more now fits into the palm of your hand. Amazing. Hard to conceive what will happen in the future but it, too, will be amazing. Thanks for your insights.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Thanks for the nice note, Karen. And tell your hub to sell the old reel to reel and buy an 8-track.

  • Katie Ganshert says:

    I predict that a well known and highly respected agent in the CBA will buy a publishing house with a niche in sci-fi and fantasy. I’m feeling prophetic today. 😉

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Yes, agent Steve Laube purchased Marcher Lord Press, a CBA spec fiction line. Will be interesting to see how that line grows and changes.

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