I am a serious reader. Books have been my constant companion for as long as I could read. It is now becoming clear to me that books and publishing are about to change very soon. Here’s what I predict:
- The notion of a book as a distinct entity from an article or an essay is going to diminish dramatically. It really is all going to be content. You will pay for a book what an author thinks he can get for it, not what the length of it might dictate. The folks at 37 Signals did a nice job demonstrating that with their short, but pithy book ReWork.
- Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt disputes the notion that half of all book sales will be e-books by 2014. If we include free/cheap public domain content, I suspect the amount will actually be quite a bit higher than half. Certainly, that is likely to be the case in the United States. Hyatt is a publisher and by all rights knows more than I do as a new-ish author, but I still think he’s off on this one.
- That leads me to my next point. Publishers are toast. I don’t know how long it will take, but it won’t be as long as you might expect. Publishers have several advantages right now. They have distribution, marketing, access to printing presses, design services, etc. All of those are headed off a cliff as their special possessions. Publishers are middlemen and this is an age of death to the middle man. Authors won’t need the publishers for printing and distribution. They are frequently dissatisfied with the marketing done on their behalf. To the extent they need the services listed above, they can either pay third parties or offer them a stake in book revenue. The short way to say all this is that the publisher’s ability to add value to a project is going down rapidly.
- Point 3 does not suggest a further big democratization of access to the reading public. There will still be a limited number of people capable of commanding much of an audience, but their brand will come from things other than their publisher. Universities will have brand power. Think tanks will have brand power. Innovative companies will have brand power. Celebrities have brand power. Certain types of content have brand power because of a specialized audience. You get the idea. If anything is lost from working with a publisher, it will be more than compensated for by the much larger share of revenue authors will get from selling their work.
- Authors will become significantly more vigorous in the promotion of their own work and more ingenious. Every author (certainly those without guaranteed huge success) has been dissatisfied with his publisher’s marketing and has thought about buying ads on his own or hiring a p.r. company to help with media. But the dilemma is always the same. Why should the author pay the full expense of something that will benefit the publisher three or four times more than it will benefit him?
- Hardback books will become a luxury item. Most printing of books will be on-demand. Buying a book will be a little like renting a movie once was. You bring the case and someone goes and finds the movie. You’ll bring a card with the book title and they’ll print a book for you. The great majority of books will be read electronically. The ability to read whatever you want from your collection at any time is just too great to ignore. And in an increasingly mobile society with job changes very frequent, a large library is expensive to move around. Better to just carry about 10,000 volumes in a roof shingle sized device!
- If bookstores survive, it will be more as coffee shops and internet/reading rooms than as places where physical books are kept. Membership fees might make sense.
- E-readers and tablets will conquer the problems of difficulty navigating through a book electronically and identifying page numbers. Reference points are needed and pages are just always going to be superior to “location 57891 of 78456.” Screens will become larger and foldable for a more book-like experience. In addition, the problems of note-taking will also be easily and quickly fixed.