On Visions of the Future

July 1st, 2008 · 3 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

The barriers to entry in the book business get lower each year. There are thousands of independent publishers and even more self-publishers. These players will soon have the same access to readers as major publishers do, once digital distribution and print-on-demand technology enter the mainstream. When that happens, publishers will lose their greatest competitive advantage: the ability to distribute books widely and effectively. Those who publish generic books for expedient purposes will face new competitors. Like the music companies, some of those publishers may shrink or die.

Many categories of books will be subsumed by digital media. Reference publishing has already migrated online. Practical nonfiction will be next, winding up on Web sites that can easily update and disseminate visual and textual information. Readers of old-fashioned genre fiction will die off, and the next generation will have so many different entertainment options that it’s hard to envision the same level of loyalty to brand-name formula fiction coming off the conveyor belt every year. The novelists who are truly novel will thrive; the rest will struggle.

Consequently, publishers will be forced to invest in works of quality to maintain their niche. These books will be the one product that only they can deliver better than anyone else. Those same corporate executives who dictate annual returns may begin to proclaim the virtues of research and development, the great engine of growth for business. For publishers, R&D means giving authors the resources to write the best books — works that will last, because the lasting books will, ultimately, be where the money is.

File Under: Quote of the Week

3 responses so far ↓

  • Robert Burton Robinson // Jul 1, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    So, what is formula fiction? Is he saying that in the future people won’t like to read mysteries anymore? Or suspense novels? I find that hard to believe. There may be a lot more sub-genres, but that’s not doing away with the standard genres—it’s expanding them.

    This is the main reason that after contacting just two agents I decided to publish my mystery novels online. Agents/publishers are looking for that ‘killer’ hook. They want some concept that nobody has ever thought of before.

    But what if a writer is able to create interesting characters that you can’t get enough of? What if he has a way of looking at things that you just love? Why must a story have a never-before-imagined ‘hook’ to be worthy of publishing?

    I see a future where authors will take their novels directly to the public online. And if their works become popular enough (get enough traffic), they will be able to earn a living from advertising and POD book sales. Readers will decide what they like, and they will tell others. Reputations will be built by their word of mouth (mouse).

    Publishers could probably still play a part in this future. But more than likely they will let it slip through their fingers. It’s tough giving up old ways.

  • Graham Storrs // Jul 2, 2008 at 8:25 pm

    Kassia, I love the idea that publishers will be forced into publishing only quality fiction as we turn increasingly digital, their natural tendency to rush in the opposite direction will cause many an interesting internal meeting if this ever happens!

    POD is certainly going to be huge – both for publishers and for authors – although it is possible that recent moves by Amazon, Google, Apple, etc. may simply mean this elbows out the high-street bookseller and further squeezes publishers and authors. But what will really rock the publishing world is if (when) someone finally builds an e-book reader (come Web browser) that is as easy to use as a real book. It may be tomorrow, or in ten years’ time – it certainly hasn’t happened yet – but when it comes, paper books will be dead and the publishing and distribution industries will be in chaos. I’m pretty sure that this is why all the biggest online players are lining up their offerings in this sphere.

  • Adrian Graham // Jul 10, 2008 at 7:13 am

    In some ways things will change and other things will stay exactly the same. Sure, it will be possible for a small press or self publisher to produce an eBook for next to nothing, but marketing it will still be an uphill struggle. Getting books noticed isn’t easy without the kind of marketing muscle the publishers have.

    If perhaps eBook readers can incorporate social bookmarking, passing on recommendations, etc the small guy stands a chance. I think the quality of the writing will stay the same but physical books will have to differentiate themselves from eBooks by focusing on luxury editions, and better quality printing.