Trendwatching 2010

November 30th, 2009 · 27 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

Yep, it’s time to predict the future! I’ve pulled the BS crystal ball out of storage, buffed it to a shine, and gazed deep and long. Through the glass — which has no mystical ability, as far as I can tell — I saw the future splayed in a haphazard pile: a beautiful cookbook, my Kindle, a Sony Reader, my laptop, several magazines, and at least one iPhone. Reading. Choices. Formats. Choices.

This future of words is good, the future of publishing as we know it, hmm, there are justifiable concerns. Right now, the only thing standing in the way of the future of publishing is…yep…the business of publishing. It’s hard to focus on the entire system, so let’s look at my favorite subsection: ebooks. So, what is the future for digital books?

  • International Rights Will Be Hot, Hot, Hot: I’ve been writing about territorial rights, particularly as they apply to ebooks, for years (last year’s A World Without Borders may have had a bit too prophetic a title). Right now, the Kindle and other devices are being rolled out internationally, or, ahem, being acquired by international readers despite lack of official infrastructure in their countries. Right now, readers are complaining about the lack of books to support the technology.

    Publishing, the monolith, is dangerously close to losing control of the international ebook market. The readers are educated, sophisticated, and in possession of technology. They don’t get why it’s so hard to buy the books they hear about, print or digital. They are already bypassing the publishing infrastructure. While I’m not a piracy alarmist, I do think the lack of legal marketplaces creates opportunity for black markets.

    In today’s marketplace, the piecemeal acquisition of territorial rights harms the bottom line. Readers don’t care about the publishing business model, and the speed of today’s communication means publishers need to be better positioned for connecting books and readers while the buzz is buzzing. I personally advocate for acquiring worldwide language rights versus specific territories.

    Think about it this way: deals are being made today that withhold English-language (for example) ebooks from the world because someone along the way thought it was a good idea to continue parsing out rights on a territorial basis. This means a year or two from now, in a (hopefully for publishers) burgeoning international ebook market, release patterns will be spotty and confusing. Missed opportunity to the left of me, missed opportunity to the right.

    As smart people realize this, international language-based digital rights are going to be the hot topic (though, I predict, not a lucrative one for authors and agents who are seeking to get larger advances for this market; it’s just not there.)

  • Consumers Flex Power, Publishers Pay Attention: As noted above (and below), readers don’t care about the publishing business model. It increasingly makes little sense to them. It’s puzzling for consumers when they want to give a business their business, only to be told their money’s no good. The reaction will never again be “Fine, I’ll just sit quietly in the corner until you decide to sell to me”; it will likely forever be “Okay, I’ll just take my business somewhere else”.

    As I noted above, because the infrastructure for selling ebooks internationally is lagging behind the technology, consumers are developing their own markets and systems. They’re setting the terms. They’re breaking DRM to read, not to pirate. They’re asking for flexibility and choice. Consumers are speaking all over the book business. Smart publishers will thrive by listening.

  • $9.99 Will Become The (Sorta )Standard: The Kindle continues to sell very well (how well? Nobody knows for sure, but units are moving briskly). Barnes and Noble was forced to ramp up Nook production because demand greatly exceeded supply. We know this for sure: many people will receive dedicated ereaders this holiday season. Many more will receive iPhones, Touches, or other gadgets that facilitate reading. And, of course, the most popular digital reader of all time — the computer (lap, desk, notebook, mythical Apple unicorn tablet) — is widespread and being used every day to read books.

    At Digital Book World, I’m going to do a brief presentation called “The Case for the $75 eBook”, because there is a marketplace for high-priced ebooks. In fact, I think there’s a robust marketplace for higher priced digital books, and I believe I can make a strong case for these price points.

    That being said (ha!), I don’t believe the publishing industry can make a valid, solid, logical case for pricing most narrative fiction (and some non-fiction) ebooks above $9.99. Not only is this price point being cemented in the minds of readers by retailers, but, let’s be blunt, publishers have done a lousy job of making the value argument. The near-cynical approach of publishers to producing and selling ebooks has backfired. The process, the pricing, the product has been weighed by consumers and they are not amused. They like the $9.99 and below price point. It makes sense to them.

    So, yep, I’m predicting publishers will have no choice but to swallow this one and figure out how to make their business work with ebooks priced below $10. It’s better to initiate this change rather than scramble when the retailers start demanding better terms. You can do it, publishing industry, you can do it!

  • Independents Will Rule: Up and down the publishing food chain, now is the time for independents to stake a claim. I’m thinking booksellers, authors, agents, publishers, distributors. At the moment, I’m putting my chips on booksellers, with smart digital publishers as back-up (this is subject to change every five minutes, but these two are my favorites). Naysayers might cite the dominance of the Kindle as a barrier for booksellers, but two things convince me otherwise: a) the fact that you don’t have to buy content from Amazon to load it on your Kindle, and b) the relative openness of the Nook.

    Oh, and the fact that dedicated readers will only appeal to a certain segment of the ereading population. Many others will choose other options. Because only a subset of readers is tied to one retailer (and those ties can be broken!), there is wide open possibility for others to enter the game. And, ahem, if new retailers can offer more attractive terms to authors and publishers, those authors and publishers will be more inclined to advocate on behalf of those retailers.

    A word about new publishers: many barriers to publishing have been reduced, if not eliminated. Lower costs to market will encourage new publishers and publishing approaches. Large houses don’t have the flexibility to move quickly.

  • Business Decisions Will Be Made Without Fear: Okay, I admit this is a long shot. Super long. Near-impossible. But it can happen. The possibility of increased sales will trump the fear of piracy (or, ahem, we’ll get serious about definitions, including those of “lost sales”). Shrinking print opportunities will encourage authors and agents to try new things (not all of which will be successful). The lure of reaching new readers, expanding audiences, and even increasing backlist sales (want to convince people to buy the ebook of a beloved print book? Smart pricing, that’s the ticket!) will triumph over fear.

  • Digital First/Print Maybe Deals Will Give Authors Leverage: Not only will traditional publishers enter into more ebook-first deals, but more digital publishing houses will emerge, across all genres. Because the latter will naturally start from a position of higher royalties, traditional publishers will have to up the ante as well. Right now, the trend is to decrease digital royalties, but when publishers ask authors to take new kinds of risks, publishers have to be willing to make it worthwhile for the author.

    Especially in a world where playing field is increasingly level.

  • Ebooks Will Be Huge: Yeah, this is a no-brainer (or, it’s sorta cheating to put it on the list). The numbers on the IDPF chart will continue to rise, as will number of people indulging in celebratory drinks when they see the chart at a conference.

Those are mine. What do you predict for digital books in 2010?

File Under: Square Pegs

27 responses so far ↓

  • Diana // Nov 30, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Wow, interesting predictions! Another interesting one I have heard, in response to the digital book, is that there won’t be a need for so many types of formats of the same book. For example, because an e-reader is relatively small and lightweight and can hold a lot of books, publishers may decide it’s not worth shelling out the cash for print runs of Large Type, Mass Market, Hardback, and Trade. The speaker I heard at a conference recently suggested that most books will come out as eBooks or Trade Paperback, with the other formats only for the biggest sellers. Large Type especially will go away, since e-Readers allow the user to adjust the font size.

  • Emily W. // Dec 1, 2009 at 11:58 am

    All good points, I especially share your hope the indies will step up in a big way. As for international rights: the big fight on this front is the battle over English-language export rights between US and UK publishers. This is a little different than English-language publication rights, and involves mostly non-English-speaking parts of the world – i.e. all those expats around the world or European readers who like to buy books in English. Taken as a whole this is a sizeable market and one that has been paralyzed in some cases because neither the US nor UK will budge over who has first dibs. Obviously it gets more complicated with ebooks, especially when people in different countries are now buying Kindles and trying to purchase books from Amazon (which has digital content almost exclusively in English at the moment).

    Publication rights are a separate question, though ebooks are starting to complicate the old way of doing things here as well. As a rule, I think it’s better for authors if they can sell rights separately in other English-speaking territories because it means they have a local publisher with a stake in the success of their book. US books have long leaked across borders, though, even in paper form, meaning that the US publication schedule already drives the timing for publishers in UK and Canada (and Australia, by law, is driven by wherever the book is first published). The complications arising from ebooks come from 2 factors. One, different markets are adopting ebooks at different paces, so the ebook may often be available now in the US ahead of the local territory. International customers then get frustrated when they see the ebooks on US sites but can’t buy them, and they’re not available locally. The solution is for the local publisher to ramp up their ebook schedule, but with all the worry over cannibalization, as well as the differences in retailers and infrastructure, this can be a thorny question as we all know. Two, while US publication often drives the schedule in other countries, traditionally this has not worked in the opposite direction. This means that a book published in Canada or Australia had time to gain a local following, maybe even win awards, before selling to a US publisher. Since the US is a big market, that sale was great income for these foreign authors (and publishers), but as you point out it’s much harder for the separation between territories to hold in a digital world. As digital becomes the first edition and/or a bigger share of overall sales, the ones most likely to suffer from the loss of the traditional model of build locally then go global are authors just starting out, or publishers and agencies from the smaller countries who find themselves swallowed up by the US & UK markets.

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  • Kat Meyer // Dec 1, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    I LOVE your predictions. I don’t expect next year will “fun,” but I bet it will be eventful.

    While you are making a case for the $75 e-book, I’m thinking about $175 paper books and that there’s a market for them as well. The idea of curating content and form, as desired seems key to the future.

    That said – I would like to add my predictions:
    we will both lose 40 pounds before Digital Book World, or TOC, or SXSW or BEA. It’s in the stars, Kassia. So shall it be.

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  • Michael Pastore // Dec 2, 2009 at 7:08 am

    Predictions are difficult, especially thanks to innovations that we can’t foresee. A proverb from ancient China, written thousands of years ago, says: “He who could see even one day ahead would be wealthier than a hundred emperors.”

    Nevertheless, since you asked, Kassia, here’s what’s written in my morning tea leaves:

    1. The Apple iTablet will debut in mid 2010, and transformed the entire ebook publishing ecosystem.

    2. An all-out war will develop between two publishing camps: the pro DRM and the anti-DRM.

    3. Despite attempts to quash it by force (and “three strikes and you’re off the Net”), book and ebook piracy will rise sharply.

    4. A new species of ebook reading device will be produced, customized for students who need to process information (not merely read it).

    5. Small press publishers and Independent publishers and authors will join together in some kind of organization in order to reap the benefits of big numbers: let’s call this “clout computing.”

    6. New features will be added to the major ebook reading devices: the B&N Nook will get text to speech; Amazon’s Kindle will natively read EPUB.

    If all of the above, some of the above, or none of the above actually materialize, then I will be equally surprised.

    Michael Pastore
    50 Benefits of Ebooks

  • ReadHowYouWant // Dec 2, 2009 at 11:17 am

    Your predictions seem well-based, and I am thinking mostly accurate! I’m particularly interested in what will happen with pricing, and personally feel that technology and demand will continue to influence industry “standards” as well as what niche titles are priced at. Also, the world of rights is certainly going to be one that continues to attract questions (and maybe some answers?). My company deals with accessible editions, many in electronic formats, so these changing time are definitely of high interest to us.
    Thanks for the predictions!

  • Anne Holland's SubscriptionSiteInsider.com // Dec 2, 2009 at 11:37 am

    Based on the research we conducted this fall for our new Benchmark Report — surveying 389 subscription and membership site publishers about their business stats and plans — I suspect you should add one more prediction: more ebooks will be launching subscription sites or selling their rights to subscription publishers. 49% of online content subscription publishers are interested in turning offline brands such as books into subscription sites – ebooks are just as logical (or maybe even more so) for this.

  • Theresa M. Moore // Dec 2, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    As an independent author and publisher I read your predictions, but you left out one important fact: all the trends point to pricing pressures and territorial rights, but some of us have chosen to leave the choices up to the readers. I have joined the ebook crowd and even placed some of my books with Amazon. But in the last analysis, Amazon is not the best place to sell my books. So I have opted to wean myself off the Amazon platform by offering my books directly in both print and download formats. It is not the availability which is at issue here; it is the ability for the site to even sell the books at all. And so far Amazon has underperformed dramatically. I can’t stand around with my hands in my pockets waiting for the random sale in the blue moon. I have to be about my business, and giants like Amazon are getting in the way. I was also ahead of the game by pricing my ebooks in line with their cost – something the major publishers cannot wrap their heads around. So my ebooks have never been priced at more than $10. Does it sell the books faster? No, and that concerns me. It seems that no matter where you look, the big box retailers are taking the lion’s share of book sales, but we small independents have to struggle alone. But even then, my hope is that by leaving the fold I have the chance to have more control over my content, and my target reading audience will better be able to find them. Publishers are free to make their own choices. That is how you grow a business. I will not jump off the bridge just because the others did. I have chosen to strike off from the herd and go on my own.

  • heymae // Dec 2, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    As a self publishing author, plus being a now avid and totally converted e-book reader, I believe the future will become, almost 90% e-book and 10% print.
    Two matters will be quickly become apparent
    (1) The e-book will soon be offered in full colour.
    (2) The future e-book will seriously enter the field of the scholastic text books.
    In appearance it will be more A4 size.
    Students growing up with the digital book will make a natural transition into other genre . The printed book will no longer be part of their youthful thinking.

    Publishers seem to be dreaming up new ways for producing exclusive formats that are only compatible with their e-book reader. What a joke…within days, of the new format, someone, most certainly, will be offering an efficient free converter to change the format into one of your choice.
    I firmly believe that within a brief period of time the market itself will solve the publishing problems, and this e-book market will be governed by two factors….Under $10 price and instant global availability.

  • Kassia Krozser // Dec 2, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    @emily — I so didn’t want to delve into the publication rights battle. I mean, I love a good fight, but that’s one even I make excuses to avoid. I realize it’s coming, I realize it’s going to be rough, but I, at the moment, count myself lucky that I don’t have to take a side. I have opinions, but no stake in the outcome. If I were to venture out onto the field, I’d say the, um, p*ssng contests that could come from this will lead to some stupid publishing decisions. Of course, I have much faith in my species.

    I would totally agree with you on the selling rights separately if it weren’t so labor intensive. There is a chance for better deals on the part of the author, but the effort involved, from both a negotiating and a back office perspective, might be onerous. I don’t know. As one who believes in the future of agents — I know far too many authors (and agents) and not everyone is in the business of rights — this might open the door for agents who specialize in this work. Given the territorial nuances, this is a skillset that might evolve. I want everyone to succeed.

  • Kassia Krozser // Dec 2, 2009 at 10:09 pm

    @kat — this will be our eternal prediction. I mean, until we achieve it the first time. By then, we’ll be wasting away…

    And yes, market for $175 paper books exists. Have you seen what Ammo is doing? Of course you have…

  • Kassia Krozser // Dec 2, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    @michael — I am particularly enthusiastic about #4 and #5. I’d love for all devices to have text-to-speech because I am an accessibility person, but from your fingers….

  • Kassia Krozser // Dec 2, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    @readhowyouwant — having spent some of my career working on web accessibility issues, I understand your interest. I think the pricing question is particularly apropos in this context. I need to spend more time talking about this.

  • Kassia Krozser // Dec 2, 2009 at 10:13 pm

    @anne — I’ve been giving a lot of blog space (and mental space) to subscription models, so I am embarrassed to admit I left them off the list. I think there is great potential here. On many levels. In fact, I think subscriptions are one of the smart uses of DRM. Thanks for adding this!.

  • Mitch Anthony // Dec 3, 2009 at 5:21 am

    Great post, Kassia. I wrote it up at my own blog: http://bit.ly/5TMj9X

  • jim duncan // Dec 3, 2009 at 8:40 am

    I’ve been wondering when/where the netflix for books is. While certainly not business savvy when it comes to publishing, this almost seems like a no brainer. I can imagine there are lots of ereading type folks out there who will pay for timed access to content. Whether it’s by the book or a monthly fee for X number of downloads, I think people will do this. Publishers will likely squirm, but I’m betting that sheer volume will overcome the low price points people will pay to read a particular book. I would think it will function much like movies do. Many people will rent, and a few will buy it, even after renting, because they want to keep it for future rereads. What I would be curious about is how many more people will read regularly that just don’t buy many books normally. This sort of venue might be one of the few ways that the number of people reading could be increased, and what publisher wouldn’t love that?

  • Debbie Stier // Dec 4, 2009 at 5:06 am

    Love all of these…..but especially the Indies Rule. THAT’S WHAT I’VE BEEN SAYING!!! I think the chains are in way more jeapordy than the Indies. I think it’s the year that they will roar and be valued for what they bring to the equation: intelligence, curation, and a voice and personality. I hope we are right.

  • iamtheangel.com // Dec 7, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    I hate to sound sycophantic, but I don’t think these are predictions, I think you’re reporting from the future. Literature has long been an overlooked medium since the advent of the digital age, after all, it’s hard for a piece of paper to compete with a guitar solo or cgi explosion. But now that its joined the digital revolution, it is fascinating to see how the same business model pricing seems to apply: $9.99 for a book, a price comparable to an mp3 format cd or digital movie. Who knows, maybe digital will save literature. Who wants to walk around with a book when you can have a supercool amazon gadget or just use your iphone? Books are so 20th century, man.

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  • Esri Rose // Jan 7, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    Even at $9.99, consumers are being cheated. Mass market paperbacks are still priced at $6.99 and $7.99. Why should ebooks be priced at $9.99? They don’t require storage, shipping, or paper, for crying out loud. I’m a technophile, and I still don’t have a dedicated e-reader. I’m an author, and yet I read less than ever. Why? Because books are expensive. Publishers need to realize that they can bring the price of media way down and still make more money on quantity. Another benefit – without the costs of actual print runs, publishers could be publishing more variety, thus winning readers. These two facts seem to be like elephants in the room. The music industry let technology spank them for ages before they woke up and started selling songs for less than a buck apiece. Publishing seems to be determined to get spanked even harder.

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