The manta in the industry is that everything’s cool. Everything’s fine. eBooks have plateaued, the changes have been weathered and it’s business as usual.
That might be fine for most people in the business, but my experience over the past quarter century as an author is that the minute an author thinks they have it made, their career is over. The only constant is change. We’ve seen a lot of change and while it would be nice to believe all is static, my prediction is that we’re in for some very dramatic changes in the next three years that authors need to be prepared for.
What made Special Forces so ‘special’ was our planning. We contingency planned the heck out of everything. I’ve followed a career path in publishing that doesn’t exist according to pundits, yet I’m still here. I’m also a publisher now, a spin off on a contingency plan that has yielded great results.
Here are five things I believe authors need to be aware of and plan for:
- Another dramatic loss of shelf space. This impacts the mid-list author. Reports of Barnes and Nobles demise might be premature, but the reality is, even in its stores, its swapping books out for other merchandise. They’re not going to swap out James Patterson for a stuffed animal, but they will replace a dozen midlist authors for a shelf of soft cuddly thing. Other major retailers have also cut back on shelf space.
- The rise of Print on Demand technology in kiosks and bookstores. I don’t think Amazon is going to dramatically expand its brick and mortar stores, unless it’s part of a greater distribution plan. But I do foresee Amazon opening kiosks in high traffic areas such as malls and airports with POD machines that can spit out a print book on order, while your credit card is still being processed. Cuts down big-time on the Achilles Heel of publishing: shipping and returns. But this means print from these outlets will have the same issue eBooks do: discoverability, since there will be no shelves for those other than . . .
- Airport authors will command more and more of the market. I was walking through SEATAC a few weeks ago and glanced over at the mass market rack in a store: Tom Clancy, James Patterson, John Grisham. And not just one title from each, but multiple titles. Like any other business, publishing and stores are going for bang for the buck.
- Amazon Publishing outgrowing some of the Big 5. Amazon has already had successes in its various publishing imprints. As it takes more and more of the market (and it IS taking more and more of the market) those imprints will correspondingly eat up more and more of it. My experience with 47North and talking to other Amazon authors is that Amazon takes more chances and changes much faster than traditional publishing. Which means some of the top authors there are going to become: Airport Authors.
- I’ve been saying this for years, but the vibe I’m getting is stronger and stronger: several big name authors going hybrid and some, eventually, going completely indie. We see the creative discontent among many traditional authors. I think that will be the primary motivation: creative control. But there is also the factor of higher royalty rates. New York had a choke hold on print distribution, but every passing year that becomes much less of a factor than discoverability. For those authors who already have discoverability, the benefits of traditional publishing are growing less and less. The biggest impediments to this are several:
- Agents who don’t see the value of monthly checks on the back end and focus exclusively on the advances. The hybrid authors we work with at Cool Gus very much like having that consistent monthly check come in, instead of depending solely on intermittent advance checks and twice a year royalties.
- These hybrid authors like knowing that their marketing and promotion efforts lead to a direct result: income, at a high rate of return; not vaguely, perhaps, earning out an advance.
- Contracts with non-compete clauses. It will take time for some of these authors to write their way out of current contracts.
- Fear of the unknown. Having been nuzzled at the breast of being a bestselling author for NY, life outside of that is frightening. It takes us almost an hour to give a traditional author an understanding of what we do at Cool Gus; essentially most of what a traditional publisher does, except with the concept of being much faster, much more responsive and giving the author complete creative control. We also understand something critical: publishing is organic, not static. Not just eBooks, but even print books.
These are not discrete predictions. Each affect the other. What this means is that even if just one grows faster and faster, it will effect the other. This means we will see dramatic change across the board much more quickly than almost everyone expects.
BTW– will post another blog with some suggestions on how to negotiate these changes.
And, the next Write on the River Workshop will be in October. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.