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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Predictions of the Publishing Industry

Hot on the heels of the Kindle Fire announcement yesterday, Joe Konrath just published a commentary on his predictions for the publishing industry from two years ago. He got most things right and a few of the others will no doubt happen not too far in the future.

Now, here are my own humble predictions for publishing in the next couple of years:

1. The sub-$50 ebook reader.

Honestly, this is hardly a predicition so much as it is simply inevitable. I feel embarrassed to put it here because it is so obvious...but to exclude it implies that "it might not happen."

It will happen. Soon.

We have the $79 Kindle this Christmas...look for the $49 Kindle next Christmas. Sub-$50 no-name ebook readers can often be found on sale at speciality retailers like and six months, that will be the regular price and on-sale, they'll drop into the $30-40 range.

Look for more and more cheap Android tablets, more and more phones that make for good reading experiences.

The $25 disposable ebook reader is at most 3-5 years away...probably closer.  Then traditional publishers are in a world of hurt.

2. The DRM backlash will finally happen.

When people realize they can't just move their books from device to device, the cry will begin...ultimately:

1) publishers will be forced to relent (doubtful, at least in the short term) or

2) indies (newbs and established authors who use DRM-free as a selling point) will ride the anti-DRM resentment to the tops of the best-seller lists and on the way there, ridicule the publishing establishment.

When (2) happens, draconian copyright legislation will be used against consumers, there will be much whining about piracy from the big publishers, certainly a big lawsuit or two brought by consumer groups...and still the indie authors will laugh all the way to the bank as they get more and more clout and more established authors jump ship.

Ultimately, the big publishers will be forced to go DRM-free. The question is how quickly and will they be progressive and thoughtful...or stupid and stubborn.

Me, I'm betting on stupid and stubborn, because that's what large corporate culture breeds.

DRM-free happened with music, it will happen with books. The question is when.

3. Traditional publishers will be rendered even more irrelevant.

The traditional book industry will do its best to ignore/mock/lie about this...but where the rubber meets the road (sales), the book industry is going to look more and more enfeebled as time goes on.

Just as Joe predicts, physical books will be a subsidiary revenue stream to supplement ebook revenues.

With the collapse of Borders (removing hundreds of physical outlets), B&N being forced to focus on e-books and cutting back on inventory in its retail outlets, and with WalMart/CostCo becoming more and more of the retail book industry, it's going to dramatically eliminate outlets for retail bookbuying and limit the available selection at the outlets that do remain...which in turn, will drive more and more consumers to better selection and pricing online.

Consumers who now split their purchasing between physical and online will go almost entirely online because they are so dissatisfied with the limited selection at the remaining outlets, or like me, find it impractical to drive to a physical book store.

Ebooks and online retailing of physical books will make having your book in a physical book store far less relevant (and less likely, too)...and physical presence is really the only card that traditional publishers have left.

People are going to switch to more and more online purchases...

4. Recommendations and Discoverability.

We'll see the popularization of great recommendation websites...and frankly, this is what the industry needs most (after eliminating DRM).

The industry really needs websites that assist with discoverability -- Amazon's services are fair at best; they're great when you already know exactly what you want and want something just like it. But you need something that captures more of the serendipity of stumbling upon cool stuff as happens in physical stores.

There are already a few sites that are part of this role (MobileRead, KindleBoards, GoodReads, LibraryThing, Shelfari)...but within the next two years, one or more of them are going to become really prominent beyond the smaller core ebook readers. One of them will hit StumbleUpon/Reddit/Digg/Delicious-type status as a "go to place" to find out what's new and cool in books.

God, please don't let the recommendation engine be Facebook.

5. On-demand book printing in every town.

(I place this 3-5 years down the road)

You'll see easy and affordable on-demand book printing in every small town across the country through every Starbucks/McDonalds (or a similar chain), through small coffee-shop/cafes, and you'll also see the return of the "small bookstore/cafe."

(This assumes that at some point, the self-preservation reflex kicks in at mainstream publishers and they decide to do *something* before they go out of business. If they keep on whistling past the graveyard and refuse to change, all bets are off.)

I know I just implied that physical book retailing is dead. But that's not true -- it will change in a major way, that gives the customer more choice than they have ever had while having an exceptionally small "store" footprint.

POD printers for books will be available at one or more major chain restaurants for printing books on demand while customers wait -- presumably the publishers get on board with this since they get to split the money while eliminating the costs of printing, warehousing, shipping and returns.

Immediate delivery of a physical book is the only advantage physical retailers have left and some (enough) people will pay a premium to get the book immediately.

I see this as being a natural for Starbucks, McDonalds,Dunkin Donuts, etc.

I see the potential for smaller bookstores to return (Waldenbooks-sized): Half of the space is devoted to 5-10,000 steadiest selling titles and an ample magazine/newsstand. The other half if a cafe where people are encouraged to hang out, where they can rent or borrow a book browser (tablet) if they don't have their own, and they can order a physical book and take delivery of it in 5-10 minutes (produced by a chain of POD printers in the back room).

6. International Epublishing Goes Mainstream

There's a whole world out there, over a billion of us, for whom English is our primary or at least commonly used language. The world ebook market could be huge...

Geographic limitations are another reason why traditional publishers are in for a world of hurt, while world-wide retailers like Smashwords are going to help authors reach worldwide audiences.

For the first time in human history, a person can write a story, article or book and make it instantly available to the entire world. It's a pretty mind-blowing proposition...and we are only just beginning to realize the potential of this global marketplace.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Remember Kids

We're entering a new era in Congress, with the GOP in charge of the House of Reps. There will be a lot of debate about the proper role of government, social policy, "wasteful government programs" and all sorts of other arguments designed to outrage us, frighten us, to motivate us to support the GOP agenda.

I think it's important to have a debate about the proper role of government and what makes for good government policy. And an honest debate is a worthwhile debate.

But remember this important safety tip, kids: Bill O'Reilly is full of crap.

Always has been, always will be.

Same goes for Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, Sarah Palin...oh man, the list never ends.

So before you get all frightened and wound up, check the facts.

That is all.