The Future Of Publishing 2010 Prognostication

Genuine Sherpa Skin

It’s what all the cool kids are doing.

They are. I see it all over. End-of-the-year blogs that dare not look back over the great work they’ve read over the course of 2010 but rather gaze forward into the fiery publishing sphincter that is Sauron’s Eye. They gaze ahead and see revolution and revelation — acrimony, anarchy, and apocalypse! Hell, it’s the Bookpocalypse! It’s Wordmageddon! We shall be crushed, our books shall be driven from the land, and you shall hear the lamentations of our women.

Or something like that. You’ll have to forgive me — I have been without my morning coffee for a trio of mornings now, due to a fast-but-nasty stomach bug that has left my guts feeling like a hollowed out pumpkin filled with ants. No coffee makes for an irascible Wendig.

What I’m saying is, since I’m in such a jolly mood, why not join the fracas? Why not leap forth, kick my heels, and splashdown into the Prognostication Party, the Doomsayer’s Delight, the Soothsayer’s Soiree?

Here goes: my predictions for the Future of Publishing as of the Year 2010.

(*poop noise*)

The Future Of Publishing Is (Drum Roll Please) The Book!

You know what the future of publishing is? The book. The motherfucking book. With pages and words and shit. And no, I don’t mean the e-book. I mean the kind of book that you can use to pound a nail, hit a bear, break a window. The physical object.

The book is never going away.

The book is an icon. The book is a treasured object. It is equal parts totem, fetish, decoration, and hand-me-down. It is a container of permanent wisdom and knowledge (or, in the case of some books, a container of permanent bullshit, but hey, that can be just as awesome).

I said it before and I’ll say it again: the fact that anybody still wants to burn a book shows you how powerful the physical object is, both as itself and as a symbol.

Books are magic. Books are love. Books are infinity times two.

I’m not saying the audiences won’t shrink. I’m not suggesting that publishing won’t be changing its models. I’m not saying that publishing books will remain the most stable industry.

But the book, she ain’t going nowhere. Because the book is a thing. I don’t mean “thing as physical object,” I mean, “thing as thing, as cultural bulwark, as obelisk and idol.”

You know what I can do? I can download a movie lickity-fucking-split to my computer. I can do this naked. Covered in jam if I so choose. I can watch that film I just downloaded on my computer, on my iPad, on my television screen. And you know what I still do from time to time?

I leave my home — wearing clothes, not ladled with sticky jam — and I go to the goddamn movie theater to watch a movie. Because the movie theater, for all its awfulness, for all its screaming children and sticky floors, remains a temple. The movie theater is a thing. It’s a thing we don’t ever want to go away. Sure, I don’t go there as often. But films can still do really well in theatrical release.

The book is like that. Maybe people will buy fewer books. Maybe the bookstore will end up having to be more like the movie theater — fewer releases week-to-week. But the book? The book is resident. The book is entrenched. Don’t agree with me? Wait till the day comes that you — or others you know — can no longer access your e-books due to, well, who knows why? Kindle glitch? Internet’s down? Amazon is taken over by hackers? Your iPad’s all gooed-up with strawberry jam and pubic hairs?

You know what remains? The books on your shelves.

I mean, unless you’d had a house fire.

But books survive. Old books are still around. Will that e-book you downloaded still linger in the digital ether in 50 years? We still live in a physical world. Things we can touch and hold matter. Yes, stories are unconstrained like songs — they merely need a container. But the book-as-container is significantly more compelling than, say, CD-as-container. Nobody gives a shit about a Blu-Ray disc.

A book, though… a book feels like fucking gold.

(And I mean “fucking” like, y’know, a verb. Like I have my pants off and I am fornicating with a giant rattling pile of gold doubloons and earrings and belt buckles and stuff. Nggh! Gold! Books! YES.)

Okay, Yes, E-Books Are Really Cool Too, Shut Up

Do we really need to predict that e-books are going to take a larger market share in the coming year? Duh. Of course they are. Because e-books are awesome, too. I don’t give a rat’s ass if I have a hard copy of every book — I just want to read the story. The story matters than the container that it’s in no matter how much I just jizz-wanked over the container itself. (Actually, can I tell you how much I hate the term “e-book?” Book is a physical thing. What we’re downloading are stories, and that cuts to the truth far more quickly.)

Yes, e-books are going to continue to be huge.

Also: water will continue to be wet.

Fire will continue to be hot.

And dolphins will continue to be our intellectual and moral superiors.

From The Shadows, The Small Publisher Strikes Like Ninja

The big publishers are giant cruise ships.

The smaller publishers are little boats with fast engines.

Big publisher sees an iceberg, it takes All Hands On Motherfucking Deck to steer that cruise ship out of the way. It’d be almost as easy to move the damn iceberg.

Smaller publishers — they see a problem or an opportunity, they can take command of the boat quickly, resolutely, and respond just like that — *snaps fingers.*

No, the large publishers aren’t going away. We will not witness some kind of grand extinction event. But smaller publishers will rise up — a publisher like Tyrus Books can drop in out of nowhere and surprise you with a hot, fresh and fast dose of killer content.

Novel As R&D

This is already true, but I predict it shall gain in prominence: Hollywood is mysteriously averse to creating its own original content, and so it turns to content that is considered safe, or somehow tested.

Novels can be considered safe, and somehow tested. They’re out there. They have sales. They exist as some kind of proof-of-concept. Hollywood will farm more films from novels.

You heard it here first.

In The Land Of The Overly Long Novel, The Short Story Is King

I think when people think of “e-book,” they think of a 1:1 ratio — here is a physical Stephen King book, and now it is digitized by Kindle elves and magically sprinkled onto my Kindle like rainbow jimmies.

But that thinking misses the fact that an e-book is not constrained by the proportions of a novel. Further, e-books are more easily consumed in bite-sized nuggets — you might not want to bring a heavy-ass hardback to the OBI-GYN KENOBI’s office, but you might bring your cutesy-poopsy Kindle.

And so it is that I predict that the short story will once more gain prominence.

I think you can see this on the web right now, but it’s only in content. The money hasn’t yet followed. Once upon a time, a writer could make a living with short fiction. That is no longer a possibility. But I think we’re moving back toward that, back toward a time when people are willing to shell out fifty cents or a buck for a piece of sexy-ass short fiction that hops like a fiery ember onto their e-reader of choice.

I’m actually waiting for a small publisher to emerge who will shepherd this more directly. No, e-publishing doesn’t require gatekeepers like that, but I don’t automatically accept that a world without gatekeepers means a world with better storytelling — I think publishers, agents and editors have value. That value will remain, but the ecosystem (which may surround authors more directly) will change.

When Is A Book Not A Book?

We will see a greater rise in book-as-app.

Open the app and yes, you can read the story, but the app will also contain a host of other accoutrements: author bio and dictionary definitions and in-character artifacts and sound effects and art work and blah blah blah. It’ll represent a kind of simulated transmedia (I say “simulated” because the container is one type of thing, but it contains multitudes for the app is legion).

Eventually, though, it’ll get to the point where somebody will ask, “This is so unlike a book that it really isn’t a book anymore.” It’ll be more like a movie or a video game. Because when is a horse not a horse? When you’ve spliced its genetics with that of a housefly, a rhododendron, and a monkey named “Carl.” Because then you get CARL, the RHODO-MORSEFLY. And he hungers for your spinal fluid.

No, I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about.

The Book, Like Cancer And Octopuses, Grows Insidious Tentacles

(Which, you must admit, sounds better than “insidious testicles.”)

The book will also get a boost beyond the simulated transmedia and will gain some traction as the hub of certain transmedia experiences — the book branches out to live events and flash-mobs and mini-apps and short stories and comics and branded food products and what-not. We’ve seen some of this already, but it’s not true transmedia in the philosophical sense — Harry Potter and Twilight were never conceived as the hub of a larger initiatives. They only became that once they gained prominence. But still, YA is where this will happen because YA is where all the risk-taking will happen.

By the way, publishers? If you like this idea?

Call me.

No, really. Contact my ass right now. Seriously. Ringy-dingy.

The Self-Published Author Must Only Drink Half This Draught Of Shame Juice

Self-publishing is on the rise.

But this year still won’t be the year that it overtakes all the Shame Hurdles. The money will be a lot better. And the dose of dismissal and disdain will be lessened — but, like a sauce reducing down, the shame will be saltier, more piquant.

Writers who self-publish successfully will do two things right: first, they will create their own ecosystems of pseudo-gatekeepers. They’ll have editors and agents and cover designers, but these people won’t represent publishers in any way — they’ll bridge the author and the audience, and that’s it. Second, successful self-publishers will have learned too to become their own gatekeepers in certain matters.

What Else?

Go on. Play a round of HOT PROPHECY BINGO with me. Whatchoo got?

What’s going to happen in the –

*crash of thunder, dramatic musical chord, a woman screaming*

– future of publishing?

35 comments

  • Well I can already tell you what 2011 will hold for the YA market – a tidal wave of dystopia. Paranormal romance will still be a market bear, but quieter than it has been in the last few years. Vampires/werewolves/angels/demons/ghosts/mermaids/faeries slowly being taken over by evil governments, dark and grim societies, and characters fighting to survive in their crapsack worlds. A lot of these titles look extremely awesome and run the gamut of pure survivalism, futuristic cities besot by terrorism, feminist uprisings, and space colony ships. I’m excited for 2011 (and probably 2012).

    Also, I can see the slow uptake in steam/dieselpunk. Boneshaker blew the doors open for it and it will perhaps be the next trend wave after dystopia peters out. But there’s no real way to tell.

    • @Kate –

      I’m totally into the dystopian thing.

      Not too sure on the steampunk thing.

      But totally into the dieselpunk thing.

      Dang, this is a totally useless comment.

      To clarify: steampunk may gain some traction, you might be right — but part of me wonders if it’s not at its peak *now* and only falling downward. I think its evolution toward dieselpunk could be pretty sweet, though.

      Then again, I actually don’t know shit about shit. I just make all this stuff up.

      – c.

  • Thank you for this. This year, I’ve felt like I couldn’t open a web browser without someone on the internet predicting the death of dead tree books and bookstores. Of course, most of those were written by people who only have the faintest idea of how the industry even works. (“Dude, there’s, like, a bookstore in my town. And I read The DaVinci Code. I’m totally an expert.”)

    Books aren’t going away. The technology is forcing bookstores and publishers and everyone in the industry to adapt, sure, but we’ve survived big changes in the past, too.

    “Wait till the day comes that you — or others you know — can no longer access your e-books due to, well, who knows why? Kindle glitch? Internet’s down? Amazon is taken over by hackers? Your iPad’s all gooed-up with strawberry jam and pubic hairs?

    You know what remains? The books on your shelves.”

    YES! I always say that when World War Eleventy happens and the inevitable global EMP-blast turns my shiny Sony Reader into a paperweight, my dead tree books will still be functioning perfectly.

    • @Lauren –

      YES! I always say that when World War Eleventy happens and the inevitable global EMP-blast turns my shiny Sony Reader into a paperweight, my dead tree books will still be functioning perfectly.

      Ahh, World War Eleventy. THE YEAR THE BEES TAKE THEIR REVENGE.

      – c.

  • Lemme pull on the Prognostication Hat and Deep-think Leiderhosen and come up with a few things for ya…

    Branching off all the transmedia craze, the next year will have at least one announcement from a manufacturer/seller of e-book devices that they will put app support into their machines. Right now, everyone is loving the whole smartphone craze, because they are so damn handy. Swiss Army PDA’s, really. It writes! It takes pics! It emails! It juliennes fries!

    Kindle, Nook, all of the smaller players… one shot pieces of electronics that are one shuffle of copyright laws and software away from being made obsolete. They’ll jump on the bandwagon so they can serve up other media related to the story purchased.

    So, Prediction One: ANNOUNCEMENT of app upgrades to an e-book reader. The actual upgrade may appear in 2012, but no later than that if they want to beat Old Man Obsolescence to the punch.

    Let’s see, the leiderhosen are tightening in the seat in that way that tells me I have more crap to pull out of my ass…

    Prediction two…to help flagging sales and retail support of hardcopy books, publishers will offer either discounts or free e-book version of new releases. Probably not for the biggies… if JK Rowling put out something new, don’t expect the bundle to be offered, but lesser known authors or re-releases of favorites could see that as a way to garner further interest in e-book readers themselves.

    I’m thinking about this because my dad is going to be getting a Kindle for Christmas, but I can’t imagine him actually shopping for e-books yet. I could see him checking out a real book and flip-flopping on whether to buy it, then deciding to go ahead and pick it up because the e-book is included. Or buying an e-book, then taking the included discount coupon to the store to get me the hardcopy for my birthday.

    I can also see apps and “additional content” being included in e-book versions. If (when!) app support appears in readers, this could include video interviews with the author, scenes from the movie, and all the type of stuff you see on bonus disks on DVD’s

    So, Prediction Two: Hardcopy and e-book bundling. Highly over-priced box sets on the horizon after that.

    Phew. My liederhosen are empty after that…

    • @Scott –

      “….to help flagging sales and retail support of hardcopy books, publishers will offer either discounts or free e-book version of new releases.”

      Goddamn but I wish that were true. I’m not sold that they’ll do that. I think it’d be a great idea, but I wonder why we haven’t already seen it? What’s the barrier to entry, here?

      – c.

  • I think you are right about the stability of book as physical object and about the growth of e-books as a market as well. Where I see these things merging is that e-books will become the majority of the stuff that I read, but books will be the things that I keep. That is, when I like a story enough, I’ll go buy the physical object in which to store it. No longer will my shelves be crowded by books that make me say, “meh.” I will only have books that I think are worth having in physical form. My e-reader of choice may be packed to the gills and I may have terabytes of crap backed up on drives somewhere, but my shelves will have only what I value.

    • @Peter –

      Exactly. And what a wonderful marriage that will be — I used to hesitate buying new books not because of their cost but because of their SPACE. My shelves were packed; didn’t want to become a book hoarder.

      But now the shelves can be reserved for books I care deeply about, and my e-reader can be reserved for… well, everything else. :)

      – c.

  • I have to agree. I LOVE books. Not in a fornicating kind of way, because that leaves the pages stuck together and those paper cuts really hurt. But in a “nothing beats sitting down on Saturday morning with a hot cup of coffee and a book” kind of way. Also, you can buy a lot of books for the price of a single eBook reader.

  • Yay for this! I agree with you, not only because I love paper books, but for another more scientific reason. I was in the local B&N a month or so ago and the guy paid to demonstrate the Nook was bored silly. So I let him pitch to me the wonders of the Nook. He then pitched that I could download books in the store with free WiFi. I blinked then asked “Do a lot of people download books in the store?” I mean, this is a bookstore. I would think people come in to buy books or get coffee. He smiled and said “Yes!” At least a dozen times a week he gets a reader who browses through the store and fills a basket with books. They they go up to the customer service desk and ask for all those books to be downloaded on their Nook. So while they bought them in e-format, they only bought them because the paper version existed. That tells me the paper book isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Too many people (even the e-readers) would be lost without them.

    But I do think that short stories are going to see a bigger market because of the e-book. You are right there, too, sir!

    • @Joelle –

      That cracks me up that B&N’s selling point is that you can download the books IN the store.

      “Here, leave your house, enter the cold, drive ten miles, come into our store, shop for books, show us the books, and we will use our MAGIC BOOK-MAKING WIZARDRY to ejaculate those books onto your e-reader! Behold! The wonder of the future!”

      It’s like having to drive to Amazon’s warehouse to place an order.

      That is not the future of publishing.

      – c.

  • I think fiction and non-fiction books will continued to be published in a variety of formats to be purchased by libraries, and libraries will still have ju-u-ust enough money to buy them.

    At least one of those books will be written by me.

  • Well, if this thread has proven anything it’s that the hardcopy book still holds interest for much of the public. Although I agree that the book isn’t going anywhere, the business guy in me can’t imagine the publishing industry giving up on a cheap distribution model like e-books. The trick is in how all of the players in the industry push the e-book phenomenon to the public.

    We can all prognosticate until we’re blue in the face and kidneys, but in the end it’s like placing bets on a frog race… there’s no really dependable way to predict what’s going to happen. Retailers could tank this season, leading to store closing and distributors begin pushing the e-book thing that much harder. Retailers could thrive because of a ground-swell interest in paper books by an increasingly jaded public. Prices for e-books and readers could drop to a point that they become a complimentary market, much like the MP3 and disc markets.

    What i can predict is the makers of e-book readers and publishers trying all manner of objects to get the electronic book model to work in a way that makes a decent profit. When Napster and WinMX and all the other download sites were huge, nobody believed you could sell MP3s and survive. The people who wanted MP3s weren’t of a mind to pay for what they could get elsewhere. Apple changed up the model, with some help from RIAA, and a few years later we’re all willing to shell out a buck for a song and are usually glad to do so. The paradigm of that market underwent a huge and relatively fast change. The same will happen for e-books, we just need someone to create a market model that works.

  • Last Christmas, I got a book called THE MAN WHO LOVED BOOKS TOO MUCH. It’s non-fiction — it’s about a guy so obsessed with rare books that he steals them…and the bookseller turned detective after him. People risk prison time to acquire physical books.

    While I think e-books may even become the norm, when you see publishers like Subterranean Press releasing limited editions for hundreds of dollars and selling out before the books are printed, it says a lot about the power of physical books.

    Last year I bought more e-books than physical books. There are books I’ve always bought and given away (to avoid clutter and to share the book). Those kinds of books I now buy electronically. But there will always be books I buy that were they guns and I were really into guns, you’d have to pry from my cold, dead fingers. We may buy more electronic books in the future — I think it’s inevitable — but in a roundabout way, I think that will make the physical books we do buy even more special to us than they already are. (And make publishers consider more special editions.)

  • I’ve never had a question on bookstores surviving. Maybe. In some form. Honestly, I end up buying more books from amazon.com then I do at any of the ye local bookstores. Why? It’s generally half the price, they have what I’m looking for even if it’s obscure and I don’t have to navigate past hoards of non-book knick-knacks that they sell at bookstores now.

    What I question is the form and the scale. I can easily see us reaching a point in a couple generations where you get an ebook and if you really like it, you order a physical copy from one of the micro-printers.

    For comparison, radio plays still exist and are still made… if anything they’re making a comeback thanks to the web and podcasting… but they’re not nearly as common as once they were.

    Physical Books are going to stay. Heck you can still get horse carts made today. The question is are they going to stay like movie theaters or like horse carts or radio plays?

  • I agree with almost everything you said. Its just my inability to trust the purity of any dolphin’s motives that prevents me from saying I agree entirely.

    I think we will see nicer books this year, presented as really delicious objects. Nice paper, nice printing and well designed. If the e-book kills anything it will be the mass-produced gone-in-a-year type novels printed on newsprint. And like you I won’t mourn them.

    I also predict that I will only buy 1 or 2 books this year, and am far more likely to simply borrow books or download e-books from the library.

  • @Chuck

    “Goddamn but I wish that were true. I’m not sold that they’ll do that. I think it’d be a great idea, but I wonder why we haven’t already seen it? What’s the barrier to entry, here?”

    I can’t read the minds of publishers (unless they publish them. WHOOP!) but I can make a guess. Publishers are already seeing a hit to the bottom line from online sales and the recession. For all intents and purposes, most books are luxury items and folks are trying to stretch their limited time and budget to get the best deals for exactly what they want. Although books are still as popular as ever, bookstore aren’t… and it’s harder to get folks to impulse buy on the web.

    For now, the companies that have designed, built and marketed e-readers are still working to make back the significant initial investment made to create and manufacture the e-reader, digitize the text and create the portal for sale of e-books. they are loath to give up one red cent of profit until they reach the point where their initial investment is covered and any profit they make is pure profit. Once the initial investment if off the balance sheet, the cost of publishing an e-book will drop and they can start bundling them.

    I’m sure the industry has seen that option, but the idea doesn’t make fiscal sense yet. Next year however, my cram-packed leiderhosen say it’ll happen!

  • I think you’re right on target with the return of shorter works. As I’ve dipped my toes into the indie author/self-publishing movement, I see that all around me–authors who are making a pretty good go of things with novellas and short story collections.

    Think about it: As magazines die, there are fewer markets for pieces in that word count range of too short for novel and too long for short story. Anthologies don’t sell well, so publishers are reluctant to put money and time behind them. And a lot of stories are worth telling, but just won’t fill a whole novel.

    Electronic markets make writing these stories really appealing for authors. And, you can upload a collection of short stories that, in theory, you can be paid for infinitely, whereas if you sold it to a magazine you’d only get paid once (or maybe a few more times for reprints, I suppose.)

    I think novellas will also become a terrific way for indie authors to build an audience and platform while they work on longer pieces. At least, I hope this is the case, because that’s my plan… :)

    I like the novella length, I’ve discovered. It has a lot of potential. It’s enough to tell a very rich story and weave something of an intricate plot, but it doesn’t require the time and massive plotting/repeated structuring/etc. of a novel.

    Great post!

    Amy

  • I think the short story has had a paying audience (more or less) for the past few decades in the form of comic books. Nothing more profound than that, sorry. Just figured I’d throw that out there… now where did I put my tourette medication?

  • When it comes to physical books vs ebooks I will always want a physical copy of a book that is influential in my life. It’s nice to save space with ebooks and a majority of my reading is done on my laptop, but if a book is important to me I really want that physical copy of it.

    I agree with you on short stories. I think the market is going to grow for shorter fiction. As our attention spans continue to shrink shorter fiction is going to be viewed as more consumable and I think that will increase its perceived value. It’s a good thing too, short stories and novellas have the potential to be very powerful, I think a lot of authors just feel there is somehow more validation in writing a good novel rather than a good short story. There’s also a lot of authors who seem to feel that writing long novels means they’re a better writer. I wrote a post about this recently on my blog: http://caethesfaron.com/4-reasons-to-write-a-shorter-novel.

    I also think that smaller publishers and self-publishers will continue to grow in popularity but I don’t think the big guys are going anywhere yet. The indie author and small publisher are much better equipped to handle changes that happen in the marketplace, but it’s still David vs Goliath. I think David’s going to ultimately win, but I think the victory is a ways off.

    The best thing an author can do next year is continue to write good content and build their brand. If you have a solid brand as an author then it really doesn’t matter what happens in the publishing world or in the marketplace, you’re still going to be able to sell your books. I think the authors that are going to lose out are the recluses who are counting on the power of their words alone to deliver them. Authors that realize they’re also entrepreneurs are going to be the real winners.

  • Good goddamn, man, it’s like you read my To Do list for 2011/2012.

    No, seriously.

    I’m one of those stealthy little ninja publishers, and my list for the year pretty much reads “Get your ass into paper sales. Consider doing short-story sales. Work on developing a framework for book-as-app so you can do enhanced apps for releases that work like that. Find someone who wants to do a transmedia and/or interactive project who’s willing to make some mistakes and take some risks and see WTF works and what doesn’t and play along with a publisher who’s looking to adventure but knows there’s gonna be some glitches and setbacks.”

    So yeah.

    My main prognostication for publishing next year? One of the big publishers is FINALLY going to figure out that bundling eBooks and paperbacks is a good damn idea, and start doing it. Of course, this means that I won’t be all innovative and shit when I start doing it (gotta get the funds for print distro first), but hey, it’s a good idea anyway.

  • You’re funny. A tad garrulous, perhaps, but really funny. You remind me of Tom Robbins. A tip of the hat to Hilary Davidson who links you at her site. That’s how I found ya. Thanks for the laffs.
    Anonymous-9

  • Yes! Yes! Yes! I want books more than ever, now. And jam.
    We’re all at that awkward stage — between print & online reading — our digital puberty.
    Nice to envision a future of clear complexions and complex, juicy, endless tale(s).

  • Great stuff here. I’ve been in publishing for over twenty years–at a niche house. From where I sit the big shit-hitting fan is the fundamental marketing challenge that the digital space raises. How do I find people who’ll be interested in the content I’m publishing in a way that is scaleable, cost-effective, pays the rent, and leaves enough dough to have the occasional PBR at the end of the day. I think I have the answer, but I’m not telling.

Speak Your Mind, Word-Nerds