5 Ways That Publishing Will Look Different in 5 Years (or sooner!)

BookBaby President Brian Felsen and I have, for the last few days, been attending the Frankfurt Book Fair, the biggest book and media fair in the world, with over 7,500 exhibitors from more than 100 countries, 300,000 attendees, and 10,000 journalists. To say this is a monster event would be an understatement. And though our feet are tired and flattened (since this place is HUGE!— Imagine about 10 of the halls pictured below) we’ve had some great discussions with publishers, authors, media experts, service providers, and book/eBook retailers.

There’s been a lot of valuable idea-sharing going on as everyone here is guessing at how the industry will move next. After soaking it in for a few days, I  thought I’d share my take. Here are 5 ways in which I suspect the publishing industry will be different in 5 years:

1. Digital Book Remixes

Musical albums get to be diced up and sold as single tracks. Why not books by chapter? Imagine that you’re taking a trip to Germany, but only going to be in Frankfurt. You don’t need the WHOLE Rick Steve’s guide to Germany. You don’t need the WHOLE Lonely Planet guide. But what if you could buy the “Frankfurt” chapter from the most popular 4 or 5 guidebooks, put them together into a new eBook (like the book version of a themed mix-tape), and download it straight to your phone or eReader? Handy, huh?! The same could be true for technical manuals and computer books, self-help, history tomes, etc.

Allowing consumers to choose and purchase only the part of a book that is most useful to them could turn EVERYONE into a book consumer. Companies like eBookPie are blazing the way here.

2. Physical Books Come Last

A conversation with Todd Sattersten opened my eyes to a correlation between audio-books and eBooks. Currently, publishers only produce audiobooks for a small percentage of their titles. It takes a decent amount of dough to hire audio engineers, studio-time, a producer, and voice talent. Then there are manufacturing costs. So it only makes sense to take this risk on the superstar sellers. They bet on the sure-thing. Eventually, the same will be true for physical books, which are also expensive to make and distribute in comparison to eBooks. Just as today’s model for publishers is “books for every one of our authors, and audio-books for a few,” tomorrow’s model will be “eBooks for all of our authors, and physical books for a few.”

3. Divided Buyership-

I thought I just invented the word “buyer-ship,” but a Google search proves I’m not the first. Anyway, by “divided buyership,” I don’t mean consumers will be split in two like some kind of pre-gendered Greek Mythological being. But there will be further segmentation between those folks who want to purchase media-rich content (eBooks or book apps pimped out with audio and visuals and flashing lights and endless links and interfaces and interactivity and the magic of Tomorrowland) and those who want their reading experience to be immersive, mostly text-based, and… well, fairly traditional: black words on a white page/screen.

This isn’t to say, as buyers, we’ll be asked to pick allegiances; a single person may, on the one hand, want to buy the newfangled eBook9000 for a Beatles biography (including concert films, video interviews, and audio references), and, on the other hand, also prefer the now-old-fashioned form of an eBook when it comes to War and Peace; but I think writers, publishers, marketers, and retailers will become increasingly aware of the distinctions between the two types of consumers, and create and market these two kinds of products in increasingly different ways.

4. Digital Book Serialization

Charles Dickens did it in the 1800’s. Tom Wolfe did it a couple decades ago. It never really went away, but it’s on its way back all the same! Digital publishing allows for immediate access and an almost instantaneous meeting of demand. But serialization isn’t just for authors who want to release a novel one chapter at a time. It’s particularly promising for non-fiction and instructional books, as well.

If you’re writing a manual about the latest computer code, your readers might not want to wait until it’s published. The code could be outdated by then! Instead, you’ll be able to get them to make an upfront purchase for a subscription where you give readers each subsequent chapter as it’s finished.

Meanwhile, your readers can help get you instant feedback, and you can revise as you go. Then, by the time you release the full book, it will have gone through an invaluable editing process (for free) and it will be completely up-to-date. This is what Cory Doctorow and others have called “crowd-sourcing” the editing process.

5. Expanding Market for Shorter Forms

10 pages or 10,000 pages, with eBooks and digital storage, size really doesn’t matter. It only matters how useful and engaging the content is. So, pretty soon the novella will be back en vogue. Short stories will sell individually. That 10-page eBook on how to properly unclog a toilet will finally find its target audience. If you’ve got something valuable and succinct to share, you’ll no longer have to “pad it out” with fluff, filler, or filigree. (I’m pretty sure that last sentence just had some filigree going on). Short eBooks: write ’em. Distribute ’em. Sell ’em. Repeat.

OK. So those are my predictions. Now, for my wish-list of improbable hopes:

Dear Santa Claus,

Please, please, please help us create a world where everyone, everywhere can access the information they want, and more importantly, the information they need. Please help us break down the barriers to compatibility so everyone, everywhere will be able to read everything on every available device. I promise to be a good boy. Thank you,

Chris Robley from BookBaby


Chris Robley

About Chris Robley

Chris Robley has written 563 posts in this blog.

is an award-winning poet, songwriter, performer, and music producer who now lives in Portland, Maine after more than a decade in Portland, Oregon. His music has been praised by NPR, the LA Times, the Boston Globe, and others. Skyscraper Magazine said he is “one of the best short-story musicians to come along in quite some time.” Robley’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in POETRY, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Beloit Poetry Journal, RHINO, Magma Poetry, and more. He is the 2013 winner of Boulevard's Poetry Prize for Emerging Writers and the 2014 recipient of a Maine Literary Award in the category of "Short Works Poetry."

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