So a new year is here, and it’s time to make some predictions about what will happen in 2017. I do NOT have the gift of prophecy, but that doesn’t stop me from pontificating and making wild surmises, all while not really having a clue about much of anything beyond the concept that “books are good.” So with that as an introduction, here are one agent’s thoughts on what will be happening in our industry during the new year:
- We’re going to see huge growth with audio books. It’s clear that alternative forms of books are part of the growth pattern in publishing, and audio is the next big thing with the under-40 crowd. (The only downside? Amazon has bought up every audio book company, so they’ve basically cornered the market.)
- All the talk about growth potential with US publishers is going to be on rights sales. In other words, subsidiary and derivatives are going to play a MUCH more significant role in every contract negation you have this year. Expect every conversation you have with a publisher to explore dramatic rights, foreign rights, greeting cards, plush toys, and board games. Another reason to go on living!
- The Pareto Principle will be more evident than ever. Wilfredo Pareto was the Italian social economist who noted that 80% of the Italian government’s income came from 20% of the population… and thus the Principle of Factor Sparsity was born, which demonstrates that 80% of publishing income comes from 20% of all authors. Or, in layman’s terms, more and more publishers will continue promoting a handful of successful authors and ignore your book because they know where the sure money comes from. Hello James Patterson!
- Barnes and Noble will open some mini-stores that only stock bestsellers. I don’t have any insider knowledge about this, but with Amazon opening brick-and-mortar stores, B&N has to do something to try and grab a bit more market share.
- More mid-size publishers will be bought by Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette, and Simon & Schuster. In fact, with those first three all making major purchases over the last two years, I expect we’ll see S&S follow suit by trying to snap up some struggling houses with strong niche markets.
- Everyone is going to start bundling ebooks. It’s been a growing movement among ebook publishers, and this year we’ll see major houses begin to do it… and thus shrink author earnings even more.
- On the other hand, we’re going to see the end of the ultra-low price on ebooks. All those business geniuses who took over ebook lines and were told to grow the readership have now been slapped upside the head for not making enough money. So expect ebook prices to begin to grow across the board — meaning we’re moving toward the end of the 99-cent ebook, and thus earning authors a bit more and counter-balancing #6 above.
- We’re going to see a group of successful ebook authors quit indie publishing. For the record, I am NOT opposed to indie publishing, and have been very vocal in encouraging the authors I represent to consider doing some of their titles indie. But with declining indie sales, we’re now going to start seeing a migration of big-name authors back toward traditional publishers. Have a look at the news so far this year, and you’ll see the movement has already begun.
- There’s going to be a push to offer new books on mobile phone applications first. Publishers have figured out that people under 30 want to read books on their phones, so there’s going to be many titles that follow the video game market and are offered to mobile readers before anyone else.
- Christian fiction as we know it is going to almost completely go away. The days of people buying 100,000 copies of a new Amish romance are dead. The readership has aged, the readers have discovered there are quality issues with CBA mystery, suspense and thriller genres, so CBA fiction is going to morph into “clean romance” and “values fiction” and “apocalyptic biblical thrillers” aimed specifically at a shrinking group of hard-core conservative evangelical readers in their 50’s. There are only a handful of houses still acquiring Christian fiction these days, and some of them are shifting to doing high-quality literary or women’s stories for a broader people of faith, or a slim list of suspense novels, rather than clearly religious stories aimed only at the faithful. (And no, there’s still no New Adult, Fantasy, or Spec Fiction in this category. Sorry, young creatives.) This doesn’t mean I’m down on CBA fiction (I’m a fan of the works, the companies, and the people involved). But it is changing so that the books and system that was so fast-growing just a few short years ago have now nearly disappeared. In its place are just a handful of houses focusing on doing big stories with great craft for a much broader audience.
To end this little excursion into the future, may I note one thing that we should all celebrate about the past? We’re about to see the ten year anniversary of the Kindle — the one event that changed publishing more than anything else in my lifetime. A tip of the hat to the folks at Amazon for reshaping the world of books.