Tuesday, 5 January 2016

2016 And Beyond

Hi guys,

Hope you all had a great Christmas and are enjoying the new year. I thought I'd start this year off by making some predictions for what's coming in the literary world in 2016 and beyond. Feel free to agree with them or not.

1) In store on demand printing – espresso book machine.

I think this is an idea whose time has come. In 2007 the espresso book machine was developed –essentially a portable small scale printery / bindery which can be set up in a back room. It has made some inroads into the world of books, mostly being taken up by large public libraries as it allows their customers to simply print any one of the millions of publicly available books, many of them no longer in print, and walk out a couple of minutes later with the book under their arm. The EBM though was an idea that the world wasn't ready for. It was expensive –one hundred and some thousand green backs, which has held things back a little. Never the less it is out there and slowly becoming more common.

But now I think, we sit on the cusp of its arrival. Look at the market forces at work in the industry at present. Booksellers are being squeezed. Ebooks are now a significant segment of the market and booksellers don't sell them. (You wondered why your corner book shops were closing down?) At the same time the big five (used to be six) have sort of cornered the market as far as what booksellers can sell. They essentially have arrangements that say they will supply the shops with their goods, provided that the store doesn't stock competitors. This means indies. (You wondered why your book stores often don't sell indie books? That's one reason. Another is of course the perceived quality issues and the issue of unsold returns making each indie book they stock a risk.) And the cost of EBMs? Coming down. There are now even second hand machines available.

This is heading for a perfect storm of economic factors, and my prediction is that over the next few years the uptake of this technology will explode.

Soon customers will simply wander down to their local bookseller with either a name of an out of print public domain book, or a file and walk out with their book. Any book. Not just the ones on the shelves.

There are no copyright issues for the bookseller, since the work is either public domain or the files were provided by the customer, and in any case they did not “sell”the book – they printed it. Suddenly they have a whole new bunch of customers in store, those who want books in the physical format, but don't want to have to wait for them to be delivered in the mail, pay freight etc, or be limited to what's on the shelves.

Expect the big five to start squawking though.

2) Kindle Unlimited 2 is here to stay.

Around the middle of 2015 Amazon changed the algorithms of Select and came up with KU2 as it's called. The new Kindle Unlimited. Under the original algorithm authors were paid a flat rate for every book downloaded by customers regardless. This meant those who wrote short stories got the same fee whatever length it was or how much the book sold for. This in turn led to a strange market distortion on KU where novelists were less encouraged to use it and more encouraged to go non Select and sell through other channels. The monies from borrows were often less, even much less than they were getting from sales and novelists don't write as many books a year as others. Meanwhile short story writers were over the moon as an author could price a book at 99c get 35c commission every time he sold a copy, but get a couple of bucks every time someone borrowed it. In extreme cases they were actually getting paid for borrows of books that were free!

KU2 has corrected these issues and now authors get paid by the number of pages read. This means a short story writer who was making a killing on KU1 as he could write a book a week, now only gets paid according to the number of pages Select customers read of each story. So bad for them I'm afraid. But novelists who could perhaps only put out a few books a year by comparison, now also get paid according to the pages read. And whereas a short story might only have ten pages, a novel might have five hundred. Suddenly the economics swing to them in a big way.

And add to that the fact that KU2 is boosting recognition of their books / names and providing a significant revenue boost for many, and it becomes a godsend.

For Amazon of course this means that Select is slowly being stocked with novels as those who write longer works suddenly see the value in it over selling through other channels. Naturally there will be a migration to Select by them. And the economics for Amazon are telling too as Select now becomes a tool whereby it can increase its market share over the big five etc.

So I see this model staying no matter that many short story writers are unhappy. Speaking as a novelist – I certainly hope so! (Also speaking from a purely selfish and probably somewhat judgement impaired point of view, there is something incredibly satisfying about seeing your monthly balance sheet from Amazon with figures in the millions on it! Even knowing it's pages read and not books sold it looks so damned good!)

Expect to hear the big five squawking some more though.

3) Increased uptake of successful indies to dark side (oops – I meant trade publishing!)

This is a trend that has been going on for some time. Agents and publishers have been perusing the shelves of Amazon and others looking for indie authors who seem to be doing well, and making offers. After all it looks like a win win to them. If an indie with limited resources for covers, printing, marketing etc, is hitting the mark, imagine how much better they could do with a professional team and industry contacts behind them?! And for the agent why should he waste so much time with submissions from writers who've never been tested when he can go straight to a ready made crop of authors who have been tested and achieved some success, and start harvesting?!

I expect this trend to continue over the coming years and grow until ultimately (and somewhat ironically) the best way for an author to get an agent will actually be to self-publish.

Of course there will be winners and losers as always. If this is good for indies it's bad for those just starting out and desperate to go to the dark side (Damn – did it again! I keep meaning to write trade publishing and my fingers slip on the keys!). It will become even harder to get an agent and a contract, and contracts as we all know, are becoming smaller.

The big five may actually coo a little bit here – very quietly – if it means they get more successful authors and hence more sales.


4 Greater acceptance of self publishing as a legitimate career choice.

This isn't so much a prediction for 2016 as it is an ongoing trend. But I think as ebooks start to dominate the market and self publishing becomes the norm, the potential for us indies to make a living writing grows. Granted I don't mean all self publishers. Most of those who do self publish will have problems; poor editing, poor covers, weak plots etc etc and they will naturally enough fall by the way. There's no way around that. But for those who are willing to put in the hard yards, hire editors and cover designers, school themselves in the business of writing and publishing, the prospects of making more money going indie than dark side (naughty fingers!) improve.

In the old days those who weren't willing to do this would simply never have got an agent and so would have made nothing. Now they can get their work out there, but still probably won't make a lot. However, for those who are willing to invest the time and effort, the economics of indie publishing are undeniable. You get better commissions on each sale, you can put out more books per year than a dark side author (I'm trying to stop it – really!) and you have far greater artistic control of your work. You don't have to write the gazillionth version of sparkly vampires or whatever trend is out there that your publisher wants to see.

In 2015 we saw another writers organization start accepting indies as members – the SFWA. (Too little too late in my view but that's another matter.) We've seen surveys showing that indies are becoming ever greater segments of the ebook market. We've heard ever more indie success stories. And some of the old stereotypes are being washed away.

In the old days the advice given to aspiring authors was always – “never self publish”. Then people went sort of quiet with that advice. And now I think the advice would be– “yes, self publish – it's your best chance of making a go of writing – but do it well!” And these days that would be my advice too.

I'm damned sure it won't be the advice of the big five or agents though!

Anyway, that's my guess as to where things are heading in 2016 and beyond.

Have a great year all.

Cheers, Greg.