Home Articles Five predictions: the state of publishing in five years

Five predictions: the state of publishing in five years


Books have always been a huge part of my life. But only an ostrich would deny that tectonic shifts are reforming the once-staid publishing industry. Here are my predictions for the biggest trends in publishing over the next five years.

For the first 10 years of my life, my mother and grandmother ran a second-hand bookstore in Narrabeen in Sydney. My entire life, my father has worked as a printer.

When I decided I was going to be a professional author (age eight), I began researching the publishing industry.

When I left school and got my first job, I was lucky to end up in a small consulting business in which I was the only admin employee. I ended up in charge of researching, writing, designing, marketing and sales for all of the on and offline publications.

When I started my own business, writing was the obvious avenue. And through that business I’ve worked with a lot of people in a lot of different areas of publishing — from self-publishing through to traditional publisher submissions and the creation and publishing of non-traditional products, including CDs and DVDs.

The landscape of publishing is changing, but it doesn’t seem like the traditional publishers have any concept of what’s going on (despite much prodding by people like Seth Godin). So here I present my predictions for the biggest trends in publishing over the next five years.

Prediction 1: Multimedia

It’s shocking that I even have to say this, but there are many people for whom publishing is still all about books.

Don’t get me wrong, I love books. But publishing companies are going to have to start to realise that the goal is not to publish books, but to provide information. The best format for that information will depend largely on the niche — and therefore it may not be a book.

I can see a lot of publishing companies moving towards video and audio components along with written books – especially since the business-development community has proven that this works.

Prediction 2: e-books will continue to suck

The future of non-fiction will, to a certain extent, be e-publishing. But it’s unlikely to be e-books. By the time we get a reader worthy of the name, it will likely be something along the lines of the Vook concept — some text, liberally littered with multimedia.

Readers will be useful in terms of periodicals and non-fiction (I too am waiting for the Apple Tablet to see where this is going) — for ease of reference and searchability.

But let’s be honest. No one enjoys the experience of reading e-books.

When it comes to reading for pleasure or to their kids, people will still opt for hard copy books for the foreseeable future.

The buzz around the idea that the Kindle (or as a friend recently named it, the Swindle) has changed this reality is just media hype:

“The total number of Kindles sold to date [July 23rd 2009] is approximately 783,000. By way of comparison, Apple sells that many iPhones every two to three weeks.”

Prediction 3: Print on demand

The real future of publishing, however, is Print on Demand — real services, not the over-expensive lack of quality that is Lulu.com. In the not too distant future, many bookstores will be replaced by kiosks with printing machines that will print the book you choose as you wait (this has already started happening around the world).

The Harry Potter bestsellers of the world will sell in ‘weird’ places like supermarkets.

This does not mean the complete death of bookstores. Wandering a bookstore is not just about purchasing a product — it’s an experience. Already, we’ve seen the big stores (like Borders) recognise and take advantage of this by stocking a number of products other stores don’t (including gifts, CDs, DVDs and magazines) and teaming up with coffee shops to create an entire shopping experience.

However, you’ll see less of these bookstores (how many Dymocks and Angus and Robertson’s have closed over the last couple of years?). Long-term, we’ll probably see one big Borders in the CBD of each city.

Independent and second-hand stores will continue to run and will probably benefit from less competition from larger chains. I can particularly see a move towards specialist independent bookstores that become community centres for specific interest areas.

Prediction 4: The death of external media

It’s important to keep in mind that external media is dying.

In the next four to five years we’ll see DVD players, DVDs and CDs disappear almost completely (almost — just as you can still get your hands on a turntable, you’ll still be able to obtain the players and media – it’s just that the majority of the world will have moved on).

Even now, you can see this happening.

Apple’s MacBook Air is so light because it doesn’t have a CD drive. Most of the game consoles now allow you to download games directly to the console and to play online and we were recently furnished with a beta version of the T-Box from Telstra. This nifty device is an HD set-top box, but also allows you to access the internet directly from your television set, so that you can download movies and record television, all without any kind of external media device (other than the box itself, obviously).

And as our movies were downloading over the weekend we were saying how awesome it would be if while the movies were downloading we could also log on via the TV and order pizza. Given the tracking device Big Brother has planted in my brain so he can rip off all of my brilliant ideas (it’s okay – I’m kinda down with that. I’m too lazy to implement everything I think of anyway), I expect to see this soon.

The future is internet-as-mass-storage-device. Everything is kept in the cloud and accessed from there.

Prediction 5: The era of author control

All of this is going to mean that the way publishing has been done previously (i.e. you sign away all rights to your product when a publisher takes it on) is going to change.

This has got to be a good thing!

For all of their understanding of the actual logistics of publishing a book, most publishing companies have absolutely no idea when it comes to marketing. They simply put the book in a bookstore and then throw money away on advertising that may or may not work.

I was speaking to someone who works in a major traditional publishing house recently and they told me that it is company policy to throw away enquiries from clients.

“Hey, I really loved Book XYZ. Can you let me know when you have other books like that out?”

Goes in the bin.

I had conniptions for an hour over that one. They are literally throwing a database of buyers into the trash — and have been doing so for more than 50 years. Then, they spend tens of thousands of dollars in advertising to find those very same people. It boggles the mind.

The era of author control is going to see publishing houses do what they do best — publish and provide mass distribution, while authors (especially those who are already in sales and marketing) focus on marketing to their tribe.

My hero, Gary Vaynerchuk, is the perfect illustration of this. Harper Collins recently published his book “Crush It!” and it’s fascinating to hear how much they learned from him about how to sell books! It worked a treat, too. He managed to make #2 on the New York Times Bestseller List in his release week.

Hold on tight. This ride is just beginning.

Leela Cosgrove is Managing Director of Business Writers Anonymous, focused on sales, marketing and business development. She is also a firewalker, has a black-belt in Tae Kwon Do, a penchant for tattoos, and enjoys bands such as Rammstein, Li Bach, Marilyn Manson, Pennywise and Bad Religion.