Monday, August 1, 2011

More on the World of Tomorrow

With Borders no longer with us and digital sales comprising more and more of the market, I thought now would be a good time to revisit how these trends have evolved over time and where they might lead over the next few years.

First, while I don't think there's much of a physical future for magazines and newspapers, I do think there will always be a market for physical books. (I think magazines will go entirely digital over the next decade, with existing name brands already finding some success—the New Yorker has made a cool $1 million with their iPad app.)

The market for physical and used books five and ten years from now will certainly be smaller than it is today, and my expectation is that most physical media will eventually be found only in libraries. Independent and used book stores will, I believe, remain in business, but I think by the end of this decade almost all new books—almost certainly all new fiction—will be produced and consumed electronically.

Categories such as coffee table/art books and children's books will probably take longer to make this transition.

Second, I expect a continuation of a phenomenon which I predicted last November: the resurgence of the independent book store. Will indies control as much of the market as they did before the chains took up residence in the 1980s? I don't think so. But I do think there is a demand for physical books and that there are dollars to be had, and many areas that have lost Borders locations may well turn to independents to supply their books.

Also, as I've mentioned before, the independent book store is the go-to location for author readings, book signings, community events, open mic nights, and in-person browsing. Try as they might, online vendors can't replicate these advantages.

Finally, while I'm not sure how Amazon and Barnes & Noble are going to develop as competitors, I think that each will have to offer a spate of unique—perhaps proprietary—perks and technological advantages in order for them to coexist. Right now Barnes & Noble's primary advantage is its physical retail space, but I don't know how long that will continue to be the case. The further we trek into digital territory, the more important the Nook and e-book sales will be to B&N, and the less appealing it will be for the company to maintain its warehouse, shipping, and storefront infrastructures.

What do you think, mes auteurs?


  1. Good article! I think you're right about indy bookstores not going out of business. It just seems that they won't be affected like the big stores have.

  2. I am still trying to formulate what I think. I do appreciate reading your thoughts on the subject.

  3. From your mouth to Oprah's ear, Eric!

  4. author readings, book signings

    As more people move digital, it won't be long before author readings take place on Ustream instead of in stores. And how does the author sign your ebook? A few early options are out but nothing that makes me go, there it is!

  5. I agree, but I think you may have it wrong about the coffee table and children's books. I was at a meeting of the Society of Technical Writers in Montreal in May for a discussion on ebooks as it relates to technical writing. (Preparing of e-pub manuals etc) One of the presenters showed us the books already made by Callaway Dital ( which was formerly an art-book press. They have been working on interactive books for children as well as recipe books for Martha Stewart. These books take advantage of the html used in e-pub and are not only beautiful but fun as well. That may be the direction fiction writers can look at as well - as a new take on the old pop-up book.

  6. Bookshops will survive because a lot of people (ahem, yes me) need to see something before they buy it. I can easily imagine the stores becoming centres of knowledge about books and ereading and selling the downloads from terminals instore.

  7. I don't think fiction will completely digitize, because of the visceral pleasure of holding a book - but novels may eventually become a luxury item, available hardback only. That'll be a while, however. Even when everyone in America possesses an affordable version of an e-reader (and that is still a LONG way off, in my opinion probably two to three decades at absolute minimum) third-world countries and foreign publishers will still continue to produce physical books for generations.

    On the other hand, I do expect to see publishing companies beginning to use the "branding" concept to distinguish themselves. As e-readers pick up sales, it's easy to see self-publishing increasing at an exponential rate - and with the vast discrepancy between excellent self-published and horrible self-published writers, readers will begin to seek some indicator of consistent quality. I see publishers staying in business during the decrease in physical sales by marketing themselves as "brand names" - stamping their books with, more or less, a seal of approval to show a book has been vetted by an editor. If that happens, self-published authors who present high-quality material would find themselves once again needing to seek a publishing house in order to succeed. There will probably, therefore, be a quick rise in the number of online-only publishing companies, most of which will probably begin implementing a relatively quick submission-publication turnaround time in order to distinguish themselves from traditional publishing houses.

    Anyway, that's just my take on the future of publishing and books as we know them.

  8. You're the first 'expert' I've heard mention indi bookstores and I find myself hoping this prediction is true. How welcome it would be to return to the individual character and personal aspects of a local book store for those special aspects of reading that make it enduring!

  9. Juturna, I think your prediction is spot-on! There are a lot of people who can't afford e-readers yet even in the first world, and when we look internationally, it's a bit ridiculous to expect e-readers to take hold in certain places within a few years. I do think, though, that it is more likely for print novels to become hardback luxuries more quickly in the U.S.

    And as physical sales decrease but the number of people self-publishing increases, publishing companies will definitely begin branding themselves in order to serve as seals of quality for their authors, and distinguish them from the rest of the pile. Well said.

  10. I'm pretty much totally on the same wavelength as you, especially in regards to the rise of the indies again. I'm not particularly sympathetic to Borders going out of business. I didn't dislike them. I spent about $50 a month there but it's hard to be sympathetic to company that made so many boneheaded moves. I look at it as a big slice of what's left of the retail book pie opening up for small/indie book stores.

    I also think physical books are going to have a longer shelf life (pun not intended) than even 10 years. I think I'm not alone in liking the physicality of the book. And at least at this point I have few friends that have gone the strictly digital route.

    I actually posted about Borders closing on my own blog (I swear I wasn't copying) today though in a much less informative way.

  11. I'd been hoping indie bookstores would flourish, but the indie bookstore where my writers' group has been meeting for 6.5 years is closing at the end of this month because business is way, way, way down and has been for some time. Maybe just a fluke? We'll see, I guess.

  12. The closest bookstore to me is a small indie shop (and about an hour away). It's also the closest bookstore, period. They've recently merged their shop with the clothing store next door. It's primarily a tourist area, so I hope they both survive. But it's a tiny story, with limited selections.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

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  14. It's hard to imagine magazines being totally digital. i just got a nook and reading a magazine on it isn't quite the same. What I can say for sure is that, as far as books are concerned, the days of the big publishers ruling the land will be over soon, or will at least be replaced with imprints from places like Amazon, places that offer the POD model. The days of Macmillan printing 50,000 books and destroying half of them will be over soon. Thank God.

  15. From what I have seen of the various eReaders, I like them and assume they will continue to improve. However, until eBook prices come down to a reasonable level, I am not going to buy them.

    Also (and maybe this already exists and I just haven't heard about it), I want to have any eBooks I purchase associated with an online account, regardless of where I purchase the book, so that the book belongs to me no matter how many eReaders I go through.

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