Laurie is one of the driving forces behind the San Francisco Writers Conference and San Francisco Writers' University. For more than 20 years she ran a public relations agency in California’s Silicon Valley, so she is wise in the ways of marketing and business. She is also a novelist herself, so she can empathize with what we're all going through in these wild and crazy times in the publishing business.
Laurie McLean’s Crystal Ball
by Literary Agent Laurie McLean
I am really taking a risk by making any kind of prediction here, since there are startling developments in publishing every single day. But what Anne demands, Anne receives. She’s got that kind of blogging power! So here are my predictions (with a little perspective) on the next steps for the book publishing industry.
Before we get to the future of publishing, let’s all think back to 2008. A mere four years ago. The Amazon Kindle debuted. So did Smashwords. So did Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. This made it easy and profitable for authors to self-publish all kinds of writing. No more gatekeepers and hurdles. Just write and publish. Score a big one for our side!
In 2010 the first Kindle Millionaires were born, and vanity publishing was swept away in a tsunami of respectability once and for all. Sure, some assisted self-publishing options are still out there fleecing the unsuspecting. But for the most part, most writers know how to create an eBook and get wide retail distribution for free, and create a Print On Demand book for nearly nothing.
This year, traditional publishing fought back with eBook originals, higher royalty rates that even escalated the more eBooks you sold, a ramp up in work for hire projects, eSerials, price wars, free novellas as marketing vehicles, and a price drop for book one in a series when book two was about to pop. Whoa!
We also saw the agent’s role changing (I am an agent, so my views are both informed and tainted).
Agents became publishers, self-publishing guides, freelance editors and specialists. I love it because while each agent knows the business of publishing, they also each have special skills and now they can come to the fore. Plus it means we probably won’t become obsolete in this brave new frontier.
I started two ePublishing companies this year with two of my award winning clients: Joyride Books for out-of-print backlist romance titles; and Ambush Books for out-of-print classic tween and teen titles. Bringing classics back so today’s reader can enjoy them makes me feel great. I think we’ll see the trend of agent-hybrids, or what I call author managers, accelerating in 2013.
Also this year the Department of Justice dropped the hammer on big publishers. Some settled (Hachette, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins) and some are fighting the government’s charge of price fixing (Apple, Penguin, Macmillan). What this will ultimately mean for the future of eBook pricing (and author royalties) remains unknown. Will this benefit the reader or create a monopoly…or both? The jury’s still out. Literally! Most feel that Amazon has already won the day. But my high tech background taught me to never count on the dominance of a clear leader. Remember how IBM owned the PC market? That is until Dell and Microsoft pulled the rug out from under them. Then there was Apple. And Google. So Amazon, watch your back for the smaller, faster, more nimble tech innovators in publishing.
Okay, here’s where the big risk taking happens. What will happen in 2013?
I have been predicting for six months that one of the Big Six would be acquired. But I guessed that Amazon, who is the only publisher with beaucoup bucks, would buy HarperCollins or Simon & Schuster.
I was totally blindsided by the Penguin/Random House merger.
Will this open the floodgates for further mergers?
Will we have the Big Three instead of the Big Six?
- I’m still holding out for Amazon to buy its way onto brick and mortar bookshelves through the credibility of an established publisher. Buying Marshall Cavendish’s and Dorchester’s backlist was a solid start. But let’s face it…they’re not HarperCollins. I think Amazon is not done buying publishers.
- Next up: Mobile Publishing. There are six billion, yes, billion, mobile phones worldwide, with China, America, and India as the biggest markets with the most growth potential. Smart phones also make nifty eReaders and most people carry their smart phones with them everywhere. Some even keep them by their beds while they sleep (you know who you are). So watch for short content, serialized stories, cliffhanger endings, flash fiction, articles, novelettes, and more experiments in publishing designed specifically for mobile computers. Text walking (and crashing) could be minor compared to being lost in the virtual world of a novel and ending up lost somewhere in the city!
- Publishing in the Cloud. Ah, yes, the cloud. It’s where data is going to be stored from here on out. It just makes too much sense not to do it that way. Regardless of your device, wouldn’t it be nice to have a ubiquitous library available to you anywhere? Google Play, the Kindle Cloud Reader, and iCloudBooks would be instantly available to you no matter what tablet/laptop/Kindle/Kobo/ iPhone/Android you have handy. Seamless bookmarking anyone? I’m in!
- Digital Paper/Folding Screens: We’ve just shaved off the tip of the iceberg with cool reading devices. How about digital paper that you can shove into your briefcase and unroll to read a full-page article or book page or app? Or a folding screen that fits in your pocket for quick reads or unfolds for larger types of applications? This technology is already here, they just have to bring the price down so it’s affordable.
- And talk about being affordable. How about the $13 eReader. Yes, you read that right. A German company has created the TXTR Beagle and is pricing it at $13 US, available worldwide. It is subsidized by the cell phone companies and it is bare bones basic. Works on AAA batteries. But for people who cannot afford even a $70 Kindle, this is inching us towards the razor and the blade with the eReader being the razor and content being the blades. I know what’s on my Christmas list.
- And finally, an easy one. Apps and enhanced eBooks are going to explode in 2013. They’re already phenomenal for children’s picture books. To me picture book apps are the modern equivalent of the Fisher-Price baby dashboard with the cranking handle, clicking steering wheel, beeper button, etc. And that’s just scraping the surface in creativity. I predict apps are going to start popping up for all kinds of books in all kinds of genres. I can’t wait. I mean you can already turn your book into a basic app using Smashwords. For free. What are you waiting for?
So tell me…
What do you think is going to happen in publishing in 2013?
Laurie is also the Dean of San Francisco Writers University, which offers classes on the craft of writing, the business of publishing and technological advances in both. In 2012 Laurie co-founded two ePublishing companies with two of her client partners: JoyrideBooks.com for vintage out-of-print romance books with her client Linda Wisdom; and AmbushBooks.com for out-of-print classic tween and teen books with her client Douglas Rees.
Many thanks to all the bloggers who hosted and mentioned Anne and this blog this week, including Porter Anderson, who gave us some nice cyberink at Writing on the Ether and Debra Eve, who spotlighted Anne's books at Later Bloomer and Write it Sideways. A big thank you to D.D. Scott at the Reader's Guide to E-Publishing for posting my travelogue/love letter to Lincolnshire, the setting of SHERWOOD, LTD. And I much appreciate the Golden Review of THE GATSBY GAME at Indie Authors Anonymous.