The last ten years has wrought great change upon the publishing model. What will the next decade bring?
As a twenty-year veteran of the ever-adapting hobby game and computer game market, as a game designer and storyteller with over a hundred titles to my credit, I’ve seen first-hand how markets change over time - and in some cases, overnight. When Redroom.com asked its bloggers to write about the future of publishing, one initial thing came to mind. I believe that a time of renaissance is coming, but it isn't quite yet here.
While there has been a lot of interesting changes over the last decade due to the rise of e-books and the advent of social media, I don’t think that we’re quite to the point today where we are going to see publishing evolve over the next few years. There is still too much confusion, too much chaos, too much emerging technology. But ten years down the line, I expect that things are going to be quite different for authors and readers around the globe.
One of the first things I’ll predict is that the business of e-publishing by Amazon, Google and Apple will be solidly in place by that point. While Amazon has taken a strong lead, creative industries often generate fast-follow competitors that will claim their own portion of the marketplace over time. While the leading publishers in New York have had a rough run over the last few years in trying to compete with Amazon’s juggernaut, I really do believe that New York will eventually find a way to come together to build or buy into their own e-marketplace, to build their own shared infrastructure away from Amazon that will let them compete with the major players in the e-book space. I don’t see this as a particularly harmonious situation to generate, as I suspect a lot of lawyers would need to be involved. But it is a necessary evil if the Big Six don’t want to become dependent on Amazon’s business model in the future.
But down below this global market where billions of dollars will eventually be made each day through the sale of e-books and other related content, I do predict that a renaissance is coming. Much the same way that there are now thousands of small game companies in the United States turning out great board, card and table games every month, I think the same thing will happen within the indie e-book space over the next ten years. A steady surge of small publishing houses should start to rise over the next decade, opening the way for great (and not so great) authors to try to make a name for themselves in the marketplace.
Also, the proliferation of free content, whether offered gratis by authors trying to break into a competitive space or the free books offered each quarter through programs like the Amazon's 5-day quarterly promotions, that is going to continue to rise at an astonishing rate. In decades past, the main question that publishers had was how to get the reader to spend their non-essential cash on books. Now I believe the essential question relies more on how publishers are going to get the reader to spend their non-essential time on books.
There are hundreds of thousands of free books available on Amazon every day that you can download and keep on your Kindle for the rest of your life. With the time you have, how do you choose which stories you are going to read? With all of those free books available, are people without a lot of pocket change just picking up free books these days instead of buying books or e-books from publishers? Then, wait ten years until there are millions of free e-books available every day for download from a number of sources - and we will be in a time where every major publisher is going to have to compete against the largest and most widely available electronic content library the world has ever seen.
On the sale of physical books, we are still seeing a sharp decline in brick and mortar stores. While I think there will always be mall bookstores and used bookstores as there will always be a human desire to buy and own physical books in hand, I suspect that the forecast for small store owners involves more stormy seas. Once the renaissance begins there will be a lot more small publishers who can fill those shelves - but distribution is going to be the hard part.
For libraries, as funding continues to sink to an all-time low from the state and county governments, we are already seeing the beginnings of patrons being able to check e-books out on a variety of reading devices. If this trend continues, I could see it being necessary to monetize this process in some small way, to make a small donation per year to the library in exchange for computer use, e-book checkout and standard use of the hardcopy library resources. While I know this goes against the grain of what a library should be, the cost of paying a $5 donation for a yearly library card would go a long way towards keeping these invaluable castles of knowledge afloat in the coming years.
For writers trying to earn their daily bread, with the rise of social media and the continued focus on shorter and smaller consumable bites of content, I believe that serial fiction will start to make its rise again once we get a Twitter competitor that doesn't limit you to 140 characters. Much like “Tales of the City” written by Armistead Maupin back in the 1970’s, which was initially published in the newspaper a short chapter at a time, I can easily imagine authors creating whole storylines out of short blocks of consumable content and putting them up on social media in order to attract an audience.
But here is the real winner for me - e-book patronage. It's the idea that a bunch of folks will put money down for an author to write a novel along the lines of their expectations. Kickstarter is already doing this with all kinds of products; I don’t expect it’s going to be too long before some kind of clearinghouse opens up where authors can pitch ideas and interested readers can buy into them for a buck a share. If the target dollar amount is reached during the opening auction period, then the money gets put into an account, the writer writes the book and the clearinghouse distributes the final work on schedule as an e-book to the patrons who chipped in. The writer then can take the finished work to pitch or sell as they best see fit, even as their fans read the work ahead of everybody else and review it on social media as they please.
As a last note, there are always the fantastical things, the sci-fi elements that just need to be said. Someday we might see moving covers on Amazon that shows a movie of the story inside the book instead of just a static image. We might see Siri-type apps that can read to you or your children with appropriate emotion and inflection. We might start to see translation programs that can flawlessly translate a written novel into dozens of languages at the touch of a button. But at the end of the day, at the end of the ten years to come, I do believe that content is going to be even more of a driving force in the world than it is today, both for the stories that are sold commercially by the champions of industry and those that are put up for pennies for consumption by the masses.
Apart from reading my blog posts here on Redroom.com, you can also follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. My first novel on Amazon.com, Wish, earned a top-20 Free spot in the Sword and Sorcery category in October, 2013. My next fantasy YA novella, Goblin Girl, will be available for free from December 1st to December 5th 2013, also on Amazon.com.
Causes Scott Hungerford Supports
Heifer International, Red Cross