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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Future Of Book Publishing

It is difficult to predict too far into the future, given the industry is subject to changes in technology.  It didn’t used to be that way.  Books are now becoming commoditized products that will depend on technology on all aspects—to research, write, and edit books; to sell them; and to market, promote, and advertise them.  So the book publishing industry will sink or sail based on the path technology leads it.

I predict shifts in power, consolidation, an increase in ebooks but not a disappearance of paper, and continued bundling of books (with other products such as a magazine or movie, or with other books),  Book apps and enhanced books will grow.  Netflix-type subscriptions will increase for books.  Further, author memberships will be sold, where we will be able to sign on with an author at a discount for his future books, access to earlier works, and revisions or updates or expansions of existing books.

There will be a greater emphasis placed on independent book reviewing sources to tell us what to read, since there are so many book choices and fewer bookstores to make recommendations.

The bug threat to the industry is Amazon.  It must be contained now—before it’s too late.  The other threat is illiteracy.  We need the book-buying market to grow.  Another threat is competing forms of entertainment.  There are more movies, music albums, and magazines to read than one has time for and all of this -- plus expanded cable-TV options—compete with book publishers for eyeshare.

Another threat is free content circulating from authors and publishers as well as a zillion blogs, Web sites and emails—all free—that undermine the idea one should pay for content like a book.

Another threat is the translation of foreign books.  As more books become available in English, many more books will flood our marketplace. 

Books will have ads.  They will have sponsors.

Books will get shorter and longer, chopped up and repackaged and resold.  No book ever goes out of print but many will need to be updated, revised, and enhanced—which they will be.  Backlists will die if printed books and bookstores dwindle because who is pushing the discoverability of an old book by a dead author?  Being stumbled upon in a store is one thing, but online, you are digital toast without someone actually pushing your book.

The trend of more books being published will continue but at some point many writers will need to get a new job because publishing will just be a hobby.  According to a Harper’s magazine article five years ago, which quoted Nielson Book Scan, nearly 1.5 million different titles were sold in the US in 2006 BUT 78% of those titles sold fewer than 99 copies.  Only 483 sold over 100,000 copies.

In 2011, Bowker (the book industry bible), noted just over three million titles were published in 2011.  Only one in ten—316,000—came from recognizable, traditional publishers.  The vast majority—2.75 million titles -- came about via self-publishers and print-on-demand outfits.  Still, that’s nearly 59,000 new titles flooding the marketplace each week in the US—not to mention the millions of other books already on sale at Amazon and elsewhere.  There’s a new book released nearly every 10 seconds every single day in America.  There just aren’t enough people with enough money and time to support the avalanche of books out there. 

But there will always be books, in whatever form they are in, and there will always be people writing, reading, selling, promoting, marketing, and consuming them. Bring it on, future!

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s leading book publicity firm. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person


  1. Good article. The only thing I might take issue with is the comment regarding Amazon as being a threat. Personally, I would never be earning a living as a writer were it not for Amazon. I know it's anecdotal, but it's my anecdote.

  2. Yup. Amazon has been good for me, too. I do book reviews for them and love the unedited proofs.

    Brian: I tweeted you, Facebooked you, and shared your blog with my publisher and author friends.

    Keep writing!

  3. I disagree with half of this but I am not sure which half!

  4. @ Brian - Interesting article. Interesting angle on the future of publishing. It is hard to say where the future of books, publishing, and marketing will lead us. But, you ventured a valuable opinion.

  5. Good information, but calling Amazon the enemy sounds a bit like the buggy whip makers calling the automobile the enemy. It's here. It's not going away. So we, as authors, need to learn to live with it and take advantage of all it has to offer.

    Illiteracy, however IS a real threat!

    A few years ago I was afraid that people simply weren't reading any more. Thanks to JR Rowling, however, a younger generation has discovered the joy of books.

    Will their reading look like that of previous generations? Of course not. Their books will likely be read on a tablet (Kindle, Nook, iPad, etc.) or smart phone.

    Will we, as authors, make as much money as those in previous generations? Not likely. But we will find an audience for our books.

    Will the big publishers dominate the market going forward? Highly unlikely. With the filing for bankruptcy of Houghton Mifflin this week, the big NY publishers appear to be weakening. And this may not necessarily a bad thing.

    We need to readjust our paradigm.

  6. There is so much information to analyze about the publishing industry. With millions of books hitting the market every year, who has the time to read them or care about them? I know a few writers who call themselves Authors because they have self-published. I know six authors who were and are traditionally published and they call themselves writers.

    The good part of this new wave of self-publishing and marketing; anybody can have a small piece of it, even if their work doesn't sell. They can say that they are authors.

    I've self-published seven novels that have sold a few thousand copies over the last two years through Amazon and Smashwords. The thrilling part is that my stories are being read by a diversity of people in the United States, Canada, UK, Ireland Germany, France, Denmark and even in Australia. The next fun part of selling books is receiving automatic bank deposit every month from Amazon and every quarter from Smashwords.

    Analyzing the book market isn't my thing, but writing strong, creative stories is. If your words thrill the reader, they'll follow every word you write, every scintillating character you create and every brilliant plot you throw at them. Write unforgettable stories and your readers will purchase your books. Oh, and don't waste your time analyzing the publishing industry, you'll only get depressed.

    Ben Campbell

  7. I know all of this, but reading the numbers made my jaw fall open...again. I hope I'm dead and buried before all my books go out of print.

  8. "The bug threat to the industry is Amazon. It must be contained now—before it’s too late."

    You can't be serious. The more industry traditionalists deny the obvious and inevitable, the harder will be their fall. Just read a history of television. The radio apparatchiks were in denial for years on the future of tv.

  9. I found your article very interesting. I've posted in on my blog with a link back to your site. Thanks

  10. I enjoyed the provocative and insightful observations. I'm an old salty dog journalist and have edited many books, waiting to publish my own when time permitted. I am also a consumer who buys books and that includes Amazon.I still enjoy good libraries, particularly the one at nearby Emory University.

  11. The crucial process these days in the self-publishing world is the valid review.

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  13. Thanks a lot for this beauty Enjoying article with me. I am appreciating it very much! Looking Forward to Another Great article. Good luck to the Author! All the best.

  14. By reading this blog I can say that future of book publishing is bright and going to be highly impressive.

    Print a book

  15. A change may be coming that will affect how e-books spread beyond the tech types. JA Konrath has joined up with a partner to try to get Kindle books into libraries.That will expand the market.

    As for Amazon being a threat - to whom:? Traditional publishers who spend huge amounts of money to hype so-so books not even written by the authors and reviewed for pay?

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