In my previous post, I realize I may have conveyed a bit more of a pessimistic tone than I’d intended. I was going for realistic… but I recognize I may have missed the mark there. I’ll try not to be such a Debbie Downer with this post… but I can’t promise I’ll succeed:)
I don’t normally engage in the predictions game, but this is an industry rife with so much change that I thought I’d make a few this year just for shits & giggles. In 2018, we can come back and laugh at how many I got wrong. I’ll start with the higher confidence predictions, and end with the more… unlikely ones.
This should be interesting…
(Disclaimer: What follows are my opinions only, based on my observations of the publishing industry.)
KU continues to strangle competition… and box in writers
The subscription model, no matter how much I might dislike it (it’s always an inherently unbalanced model that usually ends up screwing the suppliers), isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Subscription models have disrupted most other forms of digital media, so there is no reason to suspect e-books will be any different. I predict Amazon will eventually “fix” the numerous problems with Kindle Unlimited (KU), and will continue to push harder and harder for readers (and writers) to adopt it. This is consistent with the other subscription services Amazon is pushing (food, music, Prime memberships, etc) and there is every reason to expect this to continue — and accelerate.
The upshot of this: competing retailers will be increasingly starved of content. Perhaps this never reaches a level that proves truly untenable for Amazon’s competition; they’ve weathered KU relatively well thus far (helped by the fact that the Big 5 have avoided KU like the plague). But this model, especially in voracious, price-sensitive genres, is increasingly presenting writers with a Hobson’s choice: go where the readers (increasingly) are, or stay wide, and attempt to get by with lower unit sales per title.
Though I disagree with them, many writers are concluding they will have no choice but to participate in KU, in many cases going “all-in” with the program. I think that’s a very bad idea in a medium-long term business sense, as I can tell you from personal experience that there is a quite viable (and much less stressful) life after KU. It is still very possible to have a career without putting your work into the hot mess that KU currently constitutes, IF you’re willing to do the work that’s required.
That said, everyone will need to make the decision that’s right for them. It’s a tough choice either way.
The Big 5 will begin pricing more aggressively
I’ve been waiting for this for years, and up until the latter half of 2016, I hadn’t observed any indications the Big 5 had any intention whatsoever of recognizing how badly indies were handing their asses to them in the marketplace, especially with regard to pricing. Toward the end of the year though, that began to change; Big 5 titles began to be discounted on a more frequent basis, especially backlist titles of big name authors.
(And no, I’m not confusing this with the normal yearly Christmastime discounting; this has been taking place well before that time of the year.)
I expect this is going to continue in 2017, and probably become much more prevalent. The reason? There are at least a few smart cookies in the C suites of the Big 5 publishers, and they recognize the possibilities presented with regard to the truly immense amount of viable IP these huge publishers have simply moldering away, earning them next to nothing. That’s got to change if the Big 5 wants to avoid becoming a boutique industry (indeed, it may already be too late to avoid that eventuality), and they will recognize that they are going to have to begin competing more aggressively for readers.
I predict backlist titles will be increasingly pushed with aggressive pricing, and heavily utilizing marketing venues indies have pioneered (BookBub, etc). Print books will no longer be allowed to go “out of print,” and will instead be moved to POD. (This spells trouble for authors attempting to use in-print exit clauses in their contracts in order to take back their rights, but unfortunately, it’s probably inevitable.)
The Big 5 will increasingly move their considerable marketing dollars away from antiquated, and to be blunt, idiotic, forms of marketing (e.g. ask yourself how many people buy books from things like press releases). This means marketing/promotional venues are going to have even more ad dollars thrown at them. For a time, it might be more than these marketing venues can even accommodate, but they will soon adapt — and thrive as a result.
While this means there will (nominally) be more competition for indies, it will mostly mean the Big 5 will be able to keep their dying business model afloat for a few more years…
Nook will either be acquired or will be liquidated
As stated in my previous post, it’s simply not going to be possible for Barnes & Nobles’ digital arm to keep going when it continues to suffer huge revenue declines (and in many cases outright losses) quarter after quarter. I think it’s most likely that Nook simply folds in 2017 after failing to find a buyer, but I hold out hope that another entity (perhaps WalMart? Microsoft?) will decide to step up and try to make Nook a going concern once more.
There is definitely a large retained client base that likes Nook — and they still buy plenty of books there too. Nook doesn’t have to die… but I think its luck really will run out in 2017.
Downward pricing pressure continues apace
Chiefly due to the power of KU, and legions of desperate indies continuing to discount deeply, this trend will continue, relentlessly, in the indie space. There will be a continued bifurcation though in the indie market, with big-selling indies — who consistently deliver great, well-constructed, well-packaged stories — able to command slightly higher prices, while the vast majority of remaining indies will have to continue to contend with decreasing prices, something guaranteed as long as the supply of books continues to outpace new readers entering the market… which e-books have probably been doing since approximately 2012. The increasing aggressive pricing of backlist I predict the Big 5 to engage in will only make this worse.
Indie publishing is NOT immune from the harsh (miserable) laws of economics.
Amazon publishing titles will increasingly crowd out indies for spots on bestseller lists
This trend was startling in 2016, and it will get much, much worse in 2017. In my opinion though, this won’t matter that much to indies. The reason for this is that I’m not convinced a huge number of readers shop via Top 100 lists anymore; the scammers have destroyed their usefulness, which has made word of mouth, and active curation (e.g. BookBub), even more important in the current environment. This trend should continue.
At least one viable competitor to BookBub will arise in the book promotional space
Perhaps it will be Written Word Media’s already quite effective suite of offerings, or more likely, Goodreads Deals will finally drag itself out of invite-only beta mode and start operating as a direct alternative to the mighty ‘Bub. Goodreads has an immense existing base, and, properly utilized, could be nearly as powerful as BookBub almost overnight… IF Amazon figures out a way to run Goodreads anywhere near as well as BookBub runs their particular operation.
Longshot 2017 prediction: BookBub will be acquired by either a big publisher or a retailer
The ‘Bub is (quite adeptly) following the VC start-up playbook step-by-step. There is no way to know if their plan is ultimately to be acquired and cash out — but it sure seems like a very strong possibility. Whoever snaps them up is going to have to bring some serious scratch though; it ain’t gonna be a cheap buy.
If a Big 5 publisher buys BookBub, look for them to destroy it through mismanagement within approximately 24 months. :::sad trombone:::
If a competing retailer buys BookBub though? Look out. Potential game-changer in the struggle against the power of the Amazon juggernaut in the book sales space. BookBub has a very loyal (and briskly growing) client base, and readers are fair crying out for any sort of decent curation in the ever-enlarging ocean of content.
Perhaps BookBub decides to choose a “third way” and starts selling direct? A longshot, yes, but they do seem to be quietly putting structures in place that would help them do that very thing someday. You never know…
Amazon’s bestseller lists are already effectively broken (hopelessly swamped by scammers and internet-marketer crap), leaving their also-boughts and e-mail recs Amazon’s last still-effective internal promotion. I guarantee BookBub knows this — and knows there is a huge opportunity to make themselves even MORE useful to readers. This could be an exciting development indeed:)
These last few predictions are probably somewhat worse than long shots (solidly in the “very, very unlikely” column), at least in 2017, but it’s fun to speculate on them anyway.
Another major retailer will step into the e-book game
My money is on either WalMart or Target, both of whom have been aggressively trying to ramp up their online sales operations. They will correctly see that e-books continue to present an easy (and logical) loss leader/lead gen to get customers into their ecosystems — and to help them compete with Amazon in the online retailing space. Amazon has recognized this plainly obvious fact for years, and 2017 will be the year at least one other major retailer suddenly recognizes it too.
IF this happens, and IF they are prepared to spend some serious scratch in making it fly, this could be the single best piece of news for indies since the invention of the Kindle…
A competing retailer will start up their own e-book subscription service
Tiring of the KU noose tightening inexorably around their figurative necks, a competitor will start up its own subscription service, perhaps one that either offers a higher remuneration rate (to draw in more writers), or perhaps one that does away entirely with the idea of exclusivity and instead attempts to paint Amazon as the “evil empire” trying to control the entire e-book market with KU’s exclusivity clause (NOTE – I do NOT believe Amazon is trying to do this, I’m just engaging in conjecture on how a competitor might try to portray Amazon).
The most likely retailers would be Google (utilizing Oyster’s assets/brain trust and its increasing — and well-founded — fear of Amazon), or Apple (leveraging its experience with iTunes/iBooks, and its stupendously deep pockets).
Perhaps this is wishful thinking on my part? I’m going with it anyway.
A social media or marketing outlet will begin selling books direct
Perhaps it’s BookBub, perhaps it’s Facebook. I think BookBub has this in mind in the long-term plans — assuming they continue in their current form even after being acquired. Facebook has made no secret of the fact they are seriously looking at the viability of all sorts of direct sales models through their site(s).
A MAJOR caliber best seller will go indie
Think King, Roberts, Brown, etc level of sales. After growing disgusted with lowering sales, restrictive contracts, and tales of the amount of control, flexibility, and money indies are able to make in the current market, a true heaviest of heavy hitters will ditch their publisher and go more or less full indie with future work (and any existing backlist they can wrest away from increasingly tight-fisted publishers).
One of the Big 5 will close its NYC headquarters and move to another state
This will be done in order to significantly lower overhead. Though this pick isn’t as “sexy” as the other ones, it would be a huge event in our little industry. The publisher that does this will have, by this one action alone, significantly increased their chances of surviving the next 20 years as something other than a zombie IP holding company.
Okay, that’s enough prognosticating from the blabber-mouth scribbler. Let’s see how 2017 plays out. If any of you have predictions of your own (or want to throw rocks at any of mine), feel free to comment below.
Until next time.