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!