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

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