The Future of Publishing

I wrote the following article for the latest issue of my Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, and I think it’s worthy of discussion here on my blog. I’d be interested to hear what my savvy, intelligent, fiercely loyal blog readers have to say about my predictions for the next several years:

The Future of Publishing

The world of publishing is currently going through massive turmoil. Some people believe that the rise of e-books is going to be the biggest single change in publishing since Gutenberg’s invention of movable type.

I’m not a prophet nor a seer nor clairvoyant. But I do have my eyes open, and in this column, I give you my best predictions for the coming years. They may be right. They may be wrong. Either way, one thing seems certain: Huge changes are coming.

I offer these predictions to suggest ways you might plan for your future. I’m using them to plan for mine.

Prediction #1: E-books Will Surpass P-books Soon

I define a “p-book” to be a book printed on paper. This term includes books created by traditional royalty-paying publishers (usually in large print runs of thousands or tens of thousands). This term also includes print-on-demand (“POD”) books.

P-books are very wasteful and inefficient. To create a p-book, you must pay all of the following:

  • The person who typesets the edited manuscript
  • The person who cuts the trees to make the paper
  • The person who turns the trees into paper
  • The person who puts ink on the paper
  • The person who binds the paper into books
  • The person who puts the books in a box
  • The person who drives the box to the store
  • The person who unpacks the box in the store
  • The person who puts the book on a shelf
  • The person who rings up the sale at the counter
  • The person who puts the unsold copies back in a box
  • The person who drives the box back to the publisher
  • The person who unpacks and shreds the returns

To create either an e-book or a p-book, you must pay all of the following:

  • The person who writes the book
  • The person who edits the book
  • The person who makes the cover art for the book
  • The person who markets the book
  • The person who enters the book info into the store computers

E-books require one other player who must be paid once by each reader:

  • The person who makes the e-book reader

I’ve left out a number of minor players in the above cast of characters, but I think these are all the main parts. The marginal cost to create an e-book is lower than the marginal cost to create a p-book. You can automate the sales process for an e-book and deliver it anywhere in the world almost instantly at almost zero cost.

The only obstacle here is the cost of those pesky e-book readers. That cost is dropping rapidly. Furthermore, many phones and other mobile devices now include e-book reading as a standard feature, and numerous software products allow you to read e-books on your computer.

Apple’s new iPad marked a turning point, because Apple promised to pay publishers a hefty 70% of the retail price of each e-book. Shortly after the iPad’s announcement, Amazon began changing their payment model to be in line with Apple’s. This makes e-books very profitable for publishers — and potentially for their authors.

I believe that e-books will surpass p-books in market share within five years.

If you want some specific reasons why, I suggest you read the blog of Joe Konrath: http://JAKonrath.blogspot.com

Read a few of Joe’s recent blogs and see if you’re not astounded at how well e-books can do in the hands of a competent marketer.

Prediction #2: E-books Will Become The “Minor Leagues”

A beginning writer faces a very long learning curve. It typically takes a writer several years to develop the skills and the contacts needed to sell a first novel to a major publisher. It’s not uncommon to hear of a writer who took “ten years of hard work to become an overnight success.”

During that 3 or 5 or 10 or 20 years when a writer is learning the craft of fiction, she earns nothing (or a pittance if she can find a magazine to buy her short stories). Typically, a writer writes several complete novels before she sells her first to a publisher.

That will change in the coming years. The reason is because we writers are an impatient lot, and we all believe that our work is unalloyed gold and that those philistine agents and publishers just can’t recognize genius when it smacks them in the face.

I believed this before I got published. I believe it still about a couple of my manuscripts that crashed and burned before publication. You probably believe it too. In many cases, we’re right.

In coming years, writers will simply short-circuit the traditional route by e-publishing their first book. It will probably sell a copy to Mom and to Aunt Mabel and to a few friends.

If the writer gets any encouragement at all from this first attempt, she’ll e-publish another, and another, and another. As she improves, her books will sell to a wider and wider audience, eventually going far beyond her circle of family and friends.

When I outline this scenario to my writer friends, they’re all horrified at the prospect of a market “flooded with awful e-books.”

My response to that is simple: The market is smart. Readers will ignore the “flood of awful e-books.” They’ll gobble up the e-books that are good and will recommend them to their friends. Those friends will do likewise. The cream will rise to the top. The dregs will not. It’s that simple.

For those who live in terror of the coming “flood of awful e-books,” I’ll simply point out that the market is already flooded with hundreds of thousands of self-published e-books (and p-books). Did you notice? Were you flooded out of your house? Are you drowning in a sea of awful books?

No, no, and no.

The market chooses the quality books because the market is composed of people who know what they like and who talk about it. Word-of-mouth will sift the quality from the quantity, just as it always has. Only a very few people ever see any given “awful book.” Most readers only come across a few “awful books.” Lots of people see the really good books. The market efficiently finds them.

E-books will be the minor leagues of publishing (to use a baseball metaphor). This means that new authors will try out their talents and rise to their own level. Agents and publishers will no longer have to play the role of gatekeepers who try to guess what the market will buy. The market will decide what it wants to buy.

I know there are some authors who think it will be a horrible prostitution of our art that the market should actually get to decide what sells. Tragically, the market has been deciding what sells for hundreds of years. In the future, it will do so better and quicker because the gatekeepers will vanish.

Prediction #3: Beginning Authors Will E-publish First

Beginning writers will e-publish their work long before they p-publish it. They will do so because all the other beginning writers are doing so. Nobody wants to get left behind. Everybody wants to be discovered. Everybody believes they are writing a heartbreaking work of staggering genius.

Some writers are.

Yes, really. Some writers are exceptionally good. Those writers will get discovered far quicker than they would have in years past. They’ll earn money at their writing. They’ll blog about their successes, making it clear that their road to success led through e-books.

Many other writers will follow and soon the majority of unpublished writers will be publishing their work first as e-books.

The result of this is that agents and editors will buy fewer and fewer unpublished novelists. Instead, they’ll simply watch the e-market to see what sells. Then they’ll acquire the p-book rights for those e-books that are proven successful.

This is the smart thing for them to do. Publishers have long joked that “The way to be profitable in this business is to only publish the bestsellers.” In the past, nobody had any idea how to predict the bestsellers. In the coming e-future, it will be obvious. Successful e-books will make successful p-books.

I believe publishers will eventually refuse to take chances on any unpublished writers. Those writers will therefore be forced to publish themselves first as e-books, whether they want to or not. This transition will take time, but I expect that within five years, the overwhelming majority of all first novels will be published first as e-books.

Prediction #4: Mid-list Authors May Do Better

Mid-list authors have had a rough go during the last few years. Publishers have been chafed by shrinking profit margins. They’ve been willing to pay big bucks to the sure-thing bestselling authors. They’ve been willing to pay peanuts to new novelists in the hope of finding gold and raking in huge bucks. But they’ve been less willing to keep paying the mid-listers to write book after book that just earns out its advance (or doesn’t quite earn out but does still make a small profit).

In the coming e-future, mid-list authors will try their hand at e-books and discover that their fans love them in e-format just as much as in p-format. Mid-listers will decide that self-publishing an e-book for 70% of the pie is better than working with a traditional publisher for 7% of the pie.

This is rational behavior. Those mid-list authors who can market themselves at least 10% as effectively as their publishers would market them will decide to do so. They’ll e-publish their own work and market it themselves, no longer subject to the whims of their publishers.

Some mid-listers will flourish in this e-culture. They’ll connect to their fan base and grow it. And the publishers will notice. The publishers are both smart and rational. They’ll see which mid-list novels do best as e-books and will bankroll them as p-books.

Some mid-listers will refuse this route. I believe they’ll do less well as time goes on. They’ll find their publishers increasingly fearful of publishing their work and increasingly stingy with advances.

In this world, publishers will finally achieve their goal — they’ll only publish the winners.

This may take longer than five years to sort out, since mid-list authors appear at first glance to have the most to lose. It will take them some time to see that they can do well in an e-future. I believe they’ll see it eventually, and the sooner they see it, the better they’ll do.

Prediction #5: Bestselling Authors Will Profit Most

Bestselling authors always profit most. The reason is because the market rewards best what it likes best. In the coming e-future, the market will operate more efficiently. That means it’ll reward the best performers more quickly and more richly.

It’s hard for me to predict how one aspect of this will play out. It may be that traditional publishers will retain their top-performing authors in e-book format. Or it may be that bestselling authors will e-publish on their own first and rake in all the e-profits, and only then sell the rights to the p-books. Right now, I can’t foresee which way it’ll go.

I’m confident that p-books will live on and flourish. A strong segment of the market wants p-books. If publishers publish a p-book only after the novel has already proven itself in the e-market, then they’ll benefit from better information and will not lose their shirts on wildly expensive gambles. Even if they publish a novel in e-format and p-format simultaneously, they’ll benefit from the improved efficiencies in the e-market.

Prediction #6: Publishers Will No Longer Accept Returns

Currently, publishers allow bookstores to return unsold books for full credit. This practice began in the Great Depression, and it’s been a curse on the industry ever since. Bookstores can order more copies than they expect to sell, because there’s no risk. Anything they don’t sell just goes back to the publisher.

What this has meant for the publisher is that returns on a book can kill them. It might make great PR to tell everyone they printed a million, but it’s not so pretty if half a million come back as returns.

Returns are wasteful. E-books can’t be returned. In the coming e-future, I suspect that publishers will decide that p-books can’t be returned either.

This prediction is not a certainty. I don’t think it’s quite as likely as most of my other predictions here. But it seems rational to end the practice of accepting returns. I suspect that as soon as one of the major publishers makes this move, the others will follow.

Prediction #7: Agents Will Stop Reading Slush

In the old days of publishing, publishers received enormous numbers of manuscripts from hopeful writers. The manuscripts went into a large stack (called the “slush pile”) and publishers hired staff to sift through the slush looking for gold.

Few publishers these days will even open a manuscript from a writer they don’t know. Instead, they rely on agents to submit manuscripts. Effectively, publishers have off-loaded their slush piles to the agents.

Agents were already overworked, and this has put a massive strain on them. Their real job is to represent their clients. Now they also have to sift through mountains of slush, written by people whom they don’t represent and most of whom they will never represent.

In the coming e-future, agents will stop reading the slush pile because they’ll have a much more effective method of finding new talent. They’ll ask to see sales numbers on e-books by prospective clients. If a writer can’t show a good enough track record for sales of e-books, then the agent won’t even consider representing the writer.

In effect, the agents will off-load the slush pile to the market. The market won’t mind, because the market is extremely efficient. The market will ignore writing it doesn’t like and reward writing it does like.

Please note that I didn’t say “the market will ignore bad writing and reward good writing.” I do believe there is such a thing as good writing and bad writing. The problem is that there isn’t any consensus on which is which. I like one kind of writing. My wife likes another. My best friend likes a third.

“Good” and “bad” are multi-dimensional concepts when applied to writing. That makes it very difficult to choose what to publish. It really is true that one man’s meat is another man’s poison.

However, sales numbers are one-dimensional. There is a world of difference between selling 10 copies and selling 10,000.

The market efficiently translates its likes and dislikes into hard sales numbers. In the future, I believe that agents (and of course publishers) will do their initial sifting simply by looking at those numbers. Then, from the novels that have a good track record in e-sales, they’ll select the ones they like.

If this prediction is correct (and I can’t prove that it is, but it seems reasonable), the life of agents will get a bit easier in the future.

However, I believe that fewer books will be p-published in the future, and that probably means that fewer agents will be needed. So I foresee a winnowing of agents. Those who are currently successful will be more successful or will have to work less hard. Those who are currently marginal may well go out of business.

Prediction #8: Publishers Will Become More Profitable

I believe publishers will be more profitable, but they’ll publish fewer titles.

They’ll be more profitable because they’ll publish only those authors that have a strong track record in the e-market (or an exceptional track record in sales of past p-books). It’s got to be more profitable when you only publish the winners. It’s got to be more profitable when you have more information about potential sales before you publish a book.

Publishers will publish fewer titles because not all books are winners. Some books just don’t do well in the market. In the past, publishers had to guess the winners. In the future, publishers will read the winners off the e-book charts. They’ll ignore the losers on those same charts. That has to mean fewer titles.

This does not mean the public will have less choice. The public will have much, much, much more choice in the e-market. It will have less choice in the p-market, but those choices will have higher average quality. That’s a net win for the public.

While I think it very likely that publishers will have higher profit margins in the future, it’s an open question whether they’ll earn more in gross revenues. I make no prediction on that. Naively, it seems that they would gross less. However, they might conceivably gross more, depending on complex factors that I can’t foresee.

Prediction #9: Some Will Do Better; Some Will Do Worse

I believe that talented authors will do somewhat better in the e-future. I believe effective agents will do better and so will most publishers.

I foresee a burgeoning market for freelance editors (who can help writers polish their work before taking it to e-market). Likewise for freelance graphic artists (who can create great covers for e-books).

I foresee a larger, better array of choices for the reading public.

However, not everybody will do better. Some people will do worse. Let’s make a list of them. We already discussed these people before, but let’s list them here again:

  • The person who typesets the edited manuscript
  • The person who cuts the trees to make the paper
  • The person who turns the trees into paper
  • The person who puts ink on the paper
  • The person who binds the paper into books
  • The person who puts the books in a box
  • The person who drives the box to the store
  • The person who unpacks the box in the store
  • The person who puts the book on a shelf
  • The person who rings up the sale at the counter
  • The person who puts the unsold copies back in a box
  • The person who drives the box back to the publisher
  • The person who unpacks and shreds the returns

None of these people contribute actual value to the story. They only contribute value to the medium — the handling of paper and ink. As the demand for paper and ink shrinks, so will the demand for these folks. That may be cruel and Darwinian, but it seems to me inevitable.

In addition, I also think that brick-and-mortar bookstores will become smaller (as measured in square footage). It’s hard to say for sure if they’ll also become fewer in number, but it’s a good bet that they will. That’s been the trend for several years, and I suspect it’ll continue. It’s possible that they’ll become a bit more profitable, since they’ll be stocking only p-books that are marketplace winners. But they may face increasing pressure from the online merchants for p-books, which can stock a much larger choice. I make no prediction on their profitability.

Summary

Those are my predictions for the future. I can’t prove that any of them will come true. But I’m making my own plans based on this vision.

It’s not the gloomy-doomy future that many writers see ahead of us. However, it’s a future that will require serious adjustments from just about everybody in the publishing industry.

In five years, we’ll know whether I’m right or wrong.

43 Comments

  1. John Robinson July 7, 2010 at 3:33 pm #

    Randy, that was brilliant…as always.

    And personally I think you’re bang on target.

  2. Tessa Quin July 7, 2010 at 3:49 pm #

    Goodness, Randy!

    What a great post. In fact, I’m going to link it to my blog tomorrow. I’ve been reading countless blogs from agents/publishers and all but one (Nathan Bransford) speak of it in a negative manner. They all focus on the public having to go through the slush pile, etc.

    Today, I saw a link in a blog to an e-book. The author was advertising her book. I somehow automatically thought that she probably wasn’t able to get an agent/publisher. But the title, cover, and back cover text were good and interesting. I think that the “she couldn’t get a publisher)“ is what agents want people to think when they hear of or see e-books. Maybe if they read this post of yours they’d calm down a little. Now I see that e-book more positively.

    I started querying a lot of agents today. This is my first time and I’ve already received nice rejections from five. Oddly enough, I didn’t react to the rejections in any way. They didn’t hurt. I don’t know what that says about me, but I did decide to view rejections as a part of the process before I started querying. I suppose it’ll hurt a little if all reject me, but you, Randy, have given me a very positive look on my future as a writer. Bless you for that.

    Oh, and to add a little to your text: Some e-book buyers will also want to buy their favorite books in p-form. I know of people who download movies from the internet and then go out and buy their favorite titles. I wonder if there will be service for this in the future of e-books. The current self-publishing companies only give authors a fraction of that 70% profit on e-books. I wouldn’t mind getting a fraction for the p-books though, because the p-book expenses are high.

  3. Tammy July 7, 2010 at 4:36 pm #

    Very interesting stuff. I think you are spot on – I hear that at least one major bookstore will go under before all the e-book movement is settled.

    I wonder what plans the real life stores are putting in motion to counter act this move towards e-reading.

    I for one, will still buy the p-books that I love.

  4. Colby July 7, 2010 at 4:41 pm #

    Randy, would you then encourage writers who haven’t been published to strongly consider e-publishing their work and try to get out there that way, or to take a more traditional route with book proposals and whatnot?

  5. Ben Whiting July 7, 2010 at 6:39 pm #

    Great thoughts, Randy. You probably won’t get all of those right, but I bet more than half of them are either spot on or within a few years of being true.

    Question: as an aspiring author with some recognized talent, how should I approach the shifting landscape of the publishing world? Should I bide my time, hone my craft, and try to break in conventionally? Should I stick my first book out there, let it do what it wants to on the Internet (with a bit of marketing help, perhaps) and focus on the second book? Some mixture of the two?

    What do you think? What do others think?

  6. Liliana Prina July 7, 2010 at 7:02 pm #

    Hello Randy Ingermanson:

    I agree to your predictions but not so sure about the time frame for such a dreadful ocurrence. Five years is perhaps too soon since individuals in general resist change.

    I am an older person that love books and as collectors items will be publish on lesser quantity, I agree.

    The effect that reading a lighted screen have on my eyes is detrimental to our health. In the last ten years I have lost my vision in a dramatic scale thanks to computers. Such reason is enough to have books published on paper for eternity.

    Computers are fantastic but to read books on line is not to my satisfaction. Many individuals with certain age range should comply too a paper book preference.

    My final opinion is love the printed word and enjoy being on line too but not to read on line.

    Randy, do you have any ideas about what to do to solve our economy hardship after losing so many jobs?

    Yes, the future for Publishing is going to change soon. I cannot help it but to worry about our economy.

    Randy you are a great writer and love your style.

    Sincerely,

    Liliana Prina

  7. Jay Lauser July 8, 2010 at 2:51 am #

    Ah good you posted it! I sent that newsletter to my friends, and then shared the blog post to my network. I am so glad someone is standing up and saying this about the market.

    It will take a bit for people’s prejudices to wear off, but hopefully the market will force them to submit to what is better for them.

  8. Christina Summers July 8, 2010 at 4:46 am #

    Thanks Randy for your insights and predictions.

    As a freshman aspiring writer it makes me pause and think about how my book may be published in the future and what will be best for me.

    I only offer a word of caution to those like me based on experiences as a reader: don’t try to publish an e-book too soon. I know that we don’t often get a second chance with a reader.

    If they don’t like our book, they won’t try another one when our writing does improve. If we wait a little instead of rushing in, we may reap the rewards of a larger readership.

    I’m glad you put this article on the blog, Randy. You may have overloaded your email account otherwise!

  9. William Patrick Davis July 8, 2010 at 7:25 am #

    What a great, refreshing article. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us.

    I have one book on Kindle, but I had to verify that I had rights, etc.

    How (or who) would you recommend to publish an ebook without going through the p-book process?

  10. Thad McIlroy July 8, 2010 at 7:29 am #

    I think that you have provided some extremely cogent reasoning and persuasive argument: a well-thought out piece. I agree with your implied classification of the paper book as “artifact” and the need to separate the container from the content.

    This leads to a key stumbler in the post: “E-books require one other player who must be paid once by each reader: The person who makes the e-book reader.”

    Of course you must recognize that there are a great many people involved in making e-book readers, from industrial designers to component manufacturers of displays and memory and circuits. Large factories assemble these in Asia, mostly in China, at very low wages in rather poor working conditions (see for example this New York Times article on suicides among workers assembling the Apple iPad: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/03/business/global/03foxconn.html). E-book readers are the digital equivalent of printed books. The container is different, but the content still exists separately from the container.

    I’ve been collecting reports and data comparing the carbon footprint of each method of presenting content to readers and have found some superficial rhetorical commentary and some very thorough research. I began to summarize a portion, but then discovered a great new omnibus listing and links at Eco-Libris: http://www.ecolibris.net/ebooks.asp

    As the site notes, “Are e-books greener than paper books? The debate is still going on and the final word hasn’t been said yet. Eco-Libris is following the discussion and providing you with links to articles, reports and other sources of information that address this issue.” In other words, e-book readers may not be, as the are often portrayed, Mother Nature’s best friend.

    Meanwhile last night I found a presentation by Dr. Jim Taylor of the Harrison Group, Inc. at the recent DPAC conference (available for download here: http://www.dm2pro.com/downloads/20100625/download/).
    Dr. Taylor’s firm did an extensive consumer survey of middle and upper class Americans about digital media consumption. Nearly half of those surveyed plan to use digital devices in part because they believe they are “more environmentally friendly.”

    The e-book industry has done a great job of selling on this point, but a closer reading of the available data suggests that the environmental issue is not clear cut.

  11. Richard W July 8, 2010 at 7:32 am #

    I, for one, will be sad to see the paper word dwindle and potentially disappear. There are certain advantages to physical books as opposed to e-books. I won’t rant about all of them, but of strongest note is a personal story behind my love affair with books. My grandfather was an avid sci-fi / fantasy reader before he passed some years ago. As a child, I would try to read his books (and would never make it past page 5 in most). But, that childhood memory inspired me to read later in life. If he had a kindle set on his coffee table rather than a bookcase stuffed with brightly colored bindings, I don’t think I would have learned to enjoy the experience.

    As someone who’s not quite a sophomore but no longer a freshman, I feel the need to continue my hope for conventional publication. The biggest issue I see (and I think you’re prediction is correct) is a larger pile of slush from the public to wade through. “Unfinished” and “unpolished” will become buzz words in reviews, more so than they are now.

    The hardest part, as with any self-publishing, will be in marketing. Currently, a financially struggling writer has a shot – all be it a slim one – of selling their brilliant work of staggering genius in countries they’ve never heard of and cities they may never visit. Book signings, one of the more tactile marketing tools, will be a thing of the past for beginning writers because there would be no book – and I’m not about to let some nobody put ink all over my kindle.

  12. Andrea July 8, 2010 at 8:02 am #

    I was kinda-sorta bummed out after reading your very well thought out article. Then I realized that what it boils down to is a good story that connects with readers. P-publishing, e-publishing, doesn’t matter. So I’ve decided to aim for whatever is going to get me to the good-story, connects-with-readers goal post.

    Having a technical background, it would be all too easy for me to put my stuff out electronically before it’s totally ready, totally polished, totally able to compete, totally able to attract a raft load of readers. Having some early success with readers who love it but are not professionals would have the advantages of encouraging me and give me some indication about some reader preferences, but on the neg. side reinforce my natural laziness and grandiose delusions.

    I’ll stick with aiming for the best agent and the best editor in the business and thoroughly studying the most successful books/writers in my genre.

  13. Mary DeMuth July 8, 2010 at 8:05 am #

    This is such a magnum opus, Randy. Thanks for thinking through the implications of our changing industry!

    I do hope publishers do away with returns. It’s not good for them or for authors.

  14. Sheila Deeth July 8, 2010 at 9:37 am #

    They all sound very plausible predictions, especially the “agents looking for what sells in ebooks” to find their new clients. But it will still be hard for writers to get their books seen – maybe harder if they’ve got to get the public to see and buy rather than “just” persuade an agent. Maybe there’ll be a whole new profession of people who trawl the ebook world to discover writers.

  15. Lois Hudson July 8, 2010 at 9:42 am #

    Okay,Randy, will you write, or are there tutorials on e-book publishing?

  16. ML Eqatin July 8, 2010 at 10:15 am #

    I agree with all these points, but you left out one factor when it comes to bricks-and-mortar p-book sales: the espresso book machine. It’s the size of an old-fashioned copier and can crank out any p-book in the Ingram catalog (about 7,000,000 titles at last count) or from Google books in a very short time. One of these machines could give a small store almost the selection of Amazon or Barnes & Noble.com. No shipping, instant gratification for impulse buys, and of course, no returns.

    I predict that these machines will combine the bookstore with the coffee shop / tavern kind of gathering place, because people who read books still like to talk about them, face-to-face, with other people who read books. And I believe such venues will proliferate.

  17. Don July 8, 2010 at 11:49 am #

    I can’t fully agree with that assertion. In some unknowable portion of cases, sure, that’s what happens.

    For the other portion, the world doesn’t work that way. Cream is rejected in favour of dregs all the time. Case in point for me many years ago in the computer game software was an award winning game that failed to garner any significant sales.

    The sexy (not literally sexy — superfically appealing), flavour-of-the-month offering, combined with a large marketing budget and/or better contacts (and the game software guy had made all kinds of excellent contacts) will very often give the dregs better results than cream.

    That’s one reason why your blog focuses on the marketing aspect — to increase the odds that the cream will rise.

  18. Don July 8, 2010 at 11:59 am #

    Another implication of your e-book versus p-book thesis is caught by the concept of the “long tail”: http://www.amazon.com/Long-Tail-Future-Business-Selling/dp/1401302378#_

    I haven’t fully digested your post, but one thing you’re saying is that the e-books will represent the long tail of the book market — lots and lots of e-books, good and bad, about all sorts of topics. There will be a living there for mid-listers, and perhaps even towards-the-bottom-listers.

  19. Cheryel July 8, 2010 at 1:07 pm #

    Randy,
    You seem to equate ebooks to self-publishing. This isn’t always the case, you know. My book publisher, Samhain, is doing very well even in these economic times. I don’t pay, I get royalties every month.
    (I also get royalties from my novella, published with The Wild Rose Press)

    Just saying…

    Cheryel

  20. Cori July 8, 2010 at 3:22 pm #

    Randy,

    You certainly have given this some thought. I feel that your predictions are very plausible, but I’m betting it takes 10 years instead of 5.

    Do you remember when Stephen King tried to bypassing the whole p-book system? He charged $2 per chapter for his online e-book installments. The publishers were annoyed to say the least. I think they eventually convinced him to give it up. This kind of resistance to change, even when it might be favorable for all, slows up the transformation process. That’s why I think it might be 10 years before we notice the change you describe.

    Thanks for the insight.

    Some things are slow to change.

  21. Tami Meyers July 8, 2010 at 5:58 pm #

    Hi Randy,

    I found your predictions very interesting. About six months ago I also made a prediction concerning e-books, however, my prediction was for text books.

    When you see kids lugging backpacks that weigh almost as much as they do you wonder why can’t they just use an e-reader? One book, and possibly a few workbooks for homework. The workbooks could easily be replaced as students email homework to the instructors. This was the only acceptable method to turn in work used by one of my teachers when I took courses at the local community college.

    My son-in-law owns one of the largest printing business in Northern California. Among the various types of printing that he does he prints both school text books and self-published books for local authors. His view is that e-publishing replacing or reducing p-publishing won’t happen for at least twenty years.

    I believe that your predictions are much closer to the mark for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to cost, efficiency and our desire to embrace new technology.

    For those who believe that we aren’t eager to embrace the technology need to consider people waiting in line for days just so that they can have an I-Pad a few hours or days before anyone else.

  22. timejumper July 8, 2010 at 10:45 pm #

    I doubt publishers are going to want to p-publish a book that has already been e-published. Sure, they would have sales figures to go on, but how many people are going to buy a hard copy of a book they have already read?

  23. Jules Andre July 8, 2010 at 11:58 pm #

    Thanks for the post Randy! It was a thought-provoking one for sure. It gave my writing buddy and me a lot to think and talk about, and inspired a blog post of my own! Thanks again!

    I have a couple of thoughts here. I’m not sure eBooks have to necessarily SURPASS printed books in market share for this “Revolution” to happen. The music industry is a pretty interesting parallel to what’s happening here with the publishing world. I found a cite from May of this year that said digital music sales are only 35% of all music sales in the US, and yet, it is absolutely true that digital music has completely changed how music is consumed and sold. This is nine years after the iPod was released. Assuming that percentage is accurate, it indicates this growth of digital media is slower than we realize.

    If the publishing world follows the music industry, these vast changes could happen well before eBooks reach 50% market share. I originally thought your five year prediction was too soon. I’m undecided now.

    I also think mid-list authors will fare much better. EBooks won’t ever “go out of print” and don’t take up space on a shelf, so it stands to reason that mid-list authors will gain much, much more support from their backlist than they ever did. That would make supporting yourself or a family from writing much easier than it is now, if you have a dedicated following.

    I also wonder if the flood of eBooks from beginners and hacks would actually “flood the market.” Wouldn’t Digital booksellers do everything they could to filter out the self-published eBooks and make eBooks from top publishers more visible? Wouldn’t you have to make a concerted effort to find the trash? It seems to me we wouldn’t be at all inundated, no more so than we are now. I’m not at all worried about that.

    I do think the process of an unpublished beginner getting their book on a shelf at a bookstore will become much more nebulous and daunting (moreso than even now!), but that it might be easier to sustain your growth as a writer if you can sell books as you grow. You can now of course, but the stigma of a self-published book hasn’t yet been broken.

    I look forward to the future in this regard, and I hope some of your predictions come true. But!…

    …if your dream, like mine, is to have your book on a shelf in a bookstore, it might soon get a lot more difficult to achieve. The unpublished need to start working double time in order to get published, develop a presence, and get a head start on the eBook revolution. You REALLY don’t want to be lost in the crowd when things really blow up!

  24. David Todd July 9, 2010 at 6:16 am #

    “…we all believe that our work is unalloyed gold and that those philistine agents and publishers just can’t recognize genius when it smacks them in the face.”

    Did you sneak into my house and read my journal?

    Concerning returns, I remember reading that the PubInd never used to allow returns, but a lawsuit about 1975-85 _required_ them to take returns. I’ll see if I can find the info. While e-books cannot be returned, per se, the cost can be refunded to unhappy customers.

    Good post,
    DAT

  25. Koos July 9, 2010 at 9:05 am #

    To summarise: soon we will have an influx of quick commercial crap instead of a the rise in standard that is becoming more and more necessary. For more info, see the digital music scene.

  26. basil papademos July 9, 2010 at 7:00 pm #

    You missed one important prediction. Agents and publishers won’t be cherry picking the best selling e-books because they won’t exist. Authors can already function as their own p-book publishers after their e-book as done well. Why give any percentage to parasites like agents and publishers? With Amazon’s Createspace and similar services, it is possible to profitably print, bind and ship a single copy of a p-book every time a buyer orders it. With the Amazon Pro Plan, the p-book will be available for distribution to all the usual retail outlets that traditional publishers have access to.
    I say good riddance. The quality of editors and publishers has dropped terribly in the past 20 years and agents have always been leeches on authors hard earned income. The future will be agent and traditional publisher free. The future looks bright.
    Now good editors, they will definitely become more valuable because so much of this self-published stuff will be utter trash.

  27. Kristi July 12, 2010 at 9:57 am #

    I’m a little late to the commenting, but I think you left out a few people in the e-book list:

    * The team of software developers who maintain the behind-the-scenes delivery of the ebooks from publisher to stores/websites/etc. Even if this is as low-tech as an intern emailing out a pdf attachment, you have to pay that person

    * The team of software developers who create the stores front-end website.

    * The data entry folks who keep the front-end websites stocked with books, descriptions updated, categories assigned correctly, prices listed (and updated, and sales/specials recorded)

    * The system administrators who keep the publishers computer systems up, running, virus free, hacker-free, and all data backed up (can you imagine the cost to losing a hard drive containing a few million manuscripts…).

    * The system administrators who keep the stores up, running, virus free, hacker free, and all data backed up.

    * The ISP’s who provide the throughput and network reliability to be able to transfer manuscripts between publishers and retail outlets. No, big companies don’t use $19.99 dial up. Their broadband access is much more expensive.

    Last I checked, well-trained, knowledgeable IT folks weren’t cheap.

    Yes, it may be much more efficient to pay one Sys Admin who works at home in his jammies to remote into a server and run backups/maintentance/etc than it is to have a delivery truck driver and a forklift driver, and a logger etc.

    But it ain’t free.

  28. Theresa Meyers July 14, 2010 at 6:38 am #

    Very interesting blog! Thank you. However I did see two things you kind of left out in all of this…

    First, it doesn’t matter how great your book is e or p if no one knows it exists. Promotion and marketing for authors is going to be yet another skill they need to master, or find help with, in addition to editorial assistance.

    We’re talking very basic things like how to write backcover copy that sells, how to get a quote from a bigger author, how to write a letter to reader’s groups that sucks them in and gets them to choose your book for their group, how to conduct a successful blog tour or set up a Twitter feed. All these little details that most authors in the beginning are completely unaware of, and midlist authors have had assistance with from their publishers.

    I think the marketing savvy of an author will be another factor in how word spreads about an e-book, thus determining which cream rises to the top.

    Second, the market’s expectations of what constitutes a bestseller is going to have to change to smaller numbers.

    With the e-pub market becomming the prooving ground, I believe you are going to see the impact of long tail sales come into play (sales of more units, but because of fragmentation of the market, smaller amount of sales per individual unit). Readers will break down into smaller market segments overall, finding precisely what they want to read. This could impact p-pub authors in the fact that their overall numbers of printed units will decrease and still be considered bestsellers because expectations in the market of what constitutes a bestseller will adjust.

    Thanks for the positive outlook. I agree. No matter where the slush pile shifts, there will be readers, and writers they want to read will be able to sell. It’ll just take an adjustment on everyone’s part.

  29. Edie Ramer July 15, 2010 at 9:37 am #

    Brilliant post! Great comments too. I agree with everything you’ve said.

    Basil might have something in his comment about successful authors publishing their own books, but unless they want to completely rely on the Internet, there’s a distribution problem. I think readers will still want to buy p-books. Even if they don’t get them at the library or bookstores, many more make impulse buys at their grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and many other places.

  30. Leigh D'Ansey July 19, 2010 at 12:15 pm #

    Thanks for this great insight. Reassuring information for a newly e-published author.

  31. Ila Pal November 28, 2010 at 1:28 am #

    The comments of the writers who have had success with e publishing is indeed encouraging. Would like to explore the option. Can you guide me how to go about?

    Ila Pal

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