Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Unofficial Scott Nicholson Ebook Predictions for the Future of Publishing: Updated

Just for giggles, I thought it might be fun to go back to some of my "Predictions for the Future of Ebooks" I made in September 2010 at Debbi Mack's blog (complete post is here). I will give myself a grade from A to F based on what has happened since and where it may be trending. Even though the predictions were fairly tongue in cheek, they were based on what I knew at the time. As usual, I only learned that I don't know very much! Feel free to chime in with your own predictions.
1. The Kindle will deliver the knockout punch to the Nook, Sony Reader, and Kobo e-reader by Christmas 2011. 
GRADE: F. I clearly botched this one, but I do believe Sony and the Nook are about at the end of the road, and Apple has still not entered the ebook market. Kobo has made great worldwide steps and looks to emerge as Number Two behind Amazon's Kindle.
2. By December, many of the indie writers who jumped on the $2.99 pricing bandwagon for e-books will drop to 99 cents in an effort to drum up numbers.
GRADE: B. Most indie writers do price their books at 99 cents, although an increasing number of the more successful indies are moving to $3.99, and it seems to work. Apparently, the $2.99 price point, like the 99 cent price, has become for some readers a warning sign that the book is indie. An author who charges more is worth more, even if it's the same author! Why didn't I think of that?
3. The Big Six group of publishers will be down to the Big Three in five years, and Amazon will be a bigger publisher than those three survivors put together. 
GRADE: B. Still too early to tell at this point, but Amazon is trending up up up. I've been impressed by the transition big publishers have been able to make, steering the massive ship just in time to avoid a head-on with the glacier, but I still believe scraping the bow will be enough to sink her. Still, we can't discount the huge cargo of backlist she's hauling.
4. Small publishers with identifiable markets will adapt better than large publishers who have no identifiable markets, because publisher brands are meaningless to the average reader.
GRADE: C. Again, it's early, but a lot of small presses have done very well in the ebook era, thanks to low overhead and in the joy of ditching the whole bookstore distribution system that always freighted them with a disadvantage. But publishers have not lost their writers as fast as I thought they would, and there seems to be plenty more writers willing to board the sinking ship, just to say they were there when it happened. A small but vocal core of readers also seems to be demanding protection from those pesky indie authors and their millions of unedited books (while big publishers scan paper copies and dump out inferior formatting in far too many cases). I only give myself "average" because publishers have done better than I expected (for now).
5. In five years, there will be about 200 bookstores in the United States, centered in the major cities.
GRADE: A. And you can say good-bye to Barnes & Noble, which has pretty much gutted its shelf space to start selling Nooks and carpets and toys and beanie babies and iPads. (I guess it depends on at what point you stop considering B&N a "bookstore" and start calling it a "general merchandiser.")
6. In five years, there will be 10 million e-books for sale at Amazon.
GRADE: A. I'm sticking with this one. Ebooks passed the one million mark early this year and, at the rate at which indie authors are befriending me on Facebook and the frantic rush of veterans to get their ebooks out (not to mention everyone turning their short stories and articles and blog posts into ebooks), I'd buy stock in this prediction.
7. The publishing industry won’t exist in 10 years. Instead, we’ll have 20,000 cottage industries supplying digital content, very few beyond the hobbyist level.
GRADE: C. I believe something calling itself "the publishing industry" will still be around, but it will be fairly unrecognizable-- about on the order of what "record labels" and "movie studios" are now--a few big power brokers but tons of tiny cottage industries. And those agents are doing a pretty good job of turning themselves into epublishers, although I still don't see what advantages they can offer over doing it yourself.
8. In five years, even the e-book bestsellers will sell for 99 cents. Most of the rest will have no value. 
GRADE: B. I'm sticking with this but downgrading myself because it's going to be difficult to determine "value"--because advertising will make a big impact on book pricing.
9. The 20 surviving novelists still getting published in print in 10 years will make out like bandits.
GRADE: A. I'm sticking with this one. And I'll bet half of those bestselling authors will be dead, with the names farmed out. For the record, the complete prediction was based on rack presence in retail stores, not POD or those antique specialty shops we'll nostalgically call "bookstores."
10. The authors unfortunate enough to have been moderately published in New York this decade will be the worst off in 2020, when most sales are digital and they have signed clauses that basically grant their e-rights in perpetuity. 
GRADE: B. I've observed an interesting phenomenon with the authors who have signed major deals and kept publishing their own books. Their own books sell better than the major releases! Even at lower prices, they earn far more money. So they are using their major publishing deals as LOSS LEADERS!!! That is something I hadn't expected. But those authors locked in at 9.99 retail prices with publishers who have forgotten them will be lucky to ever see a nickel in royalties. And yet people are STILL querying agents, signing contracts, and banking their futures on someone else's needs.
11. The Big Three will have some spin-off revenue in enhanced digital books, but only for the brand-name authors who died and didn’t have heirs smart enough to start their own publishing companies.
Grade: C.  Well, Pottermore is attempting to launch, and Pattersonville, ClancyPants, and Cusslerland can't be far behind, but the only people who get even remotely excited about enhanced ebooks are the middle players who want to "intermediate" themselves into the production process. For money. That no reader wants to give them.
12. In a desperate survival attempt, publishers will move to a subscription model, similar to the Netflix model, where consumers pay a flat monthly fee for the books they want to read. 
Grade: B. I knocked this out of the park with Amazon, which last week announced it was rolling its own lending library into its Prime subscription (which is basically Netflix without the bad management). But I am flubbing on the feet-of-clay publishers taking advantage of their one main strength: an actual library of content. 
13. By 2013, 85 percent of the writers who published their rejected manuscripts in 2010 will give up for good, retiring with $200 in net profit and a good story for the grandchildren.
Grade: C. I am already seeing dramatic announcements of "I'm quitting" from writers who nobody knew had even started. But it seems like a lot of writers are earning at least a little bit, and since there's no overhead, there's no reason to quit. If nothing else, 2011 will be remembered as the year shameless self-promotion crested into a tsunami and flooded every social media stream. And way more people are entering the game ("Gee, I hear you can make a million on Kindle. I'm going to start writing!") than are leaving it.
14. The smart writers who are dumb enough to stick with it will earn their money through content advertising, product placement, multimedia branding, and tireless promotion.
Grade: Incomplete. I still think ads are coming, presaged by Amazon's Prime library and the reduced-priced "Kindle with bargains," but it is still too early in the evolution to pat myself on the back or kick my rear.
15. Half of these predictions will be wrong, and no one will be able to tell which ones they are, because this blog post will be stored in a free e-book that no one ever reads.
Grade: C. I don't think I've put this in an ebook yet because it will date badly one way or another. Sorta like the guy walking around with a "The End is Coming!!!" sign. Even if you're right, you're still an idiot.
16. I will still be writing in 20 years, and no one will care about my predictions. 
Grade: Makeup Test. Depends on how many people drop by to read this and comment.
Final Grade: Pass. By following what I believe, I've managed to carve out a career, so my predictions are working for at least one person. Okay, I admit, I graded myself on a curve. What can I say? I'm the teacher's pet.



Jaye said...

A+ for the post, Scott.

Anonymous said...

It's amazing what's happened in my lifetime (of 71 years); that I published, with a "small press" at my age amazes me. And blog posts such as this one are amazing--and SO very interesting. A++ from me for it!!
Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror, A Memoir of Shattered Secrets

author Scott Nicholson said...

thanks, Jaye. I cheated...

Ann, that's great to hear. I have a 94-year old friend who is still producing a book every year or so!

robertswilson said...

Very interesting. I wonder where Kindle Singles and the new Amazon Indie store fit in the whole picture of things when it comes to indie authors and publishers. I've not looked into it enough yet myself.

Mark Terry said...

You've done pretty good on your predictions. My crystal ball is a bit cloudy.

Swands said...

Things are moving too fast to even think about predictions. I find myself just watching it all in amazement, but I still think we will see print books for a long time. I buy maybe a CD or two per year, and even though everyone says that digital music killed the CD--it's still around. Books are held in a much more esteemed manor and so I think they will die slower still.

Draven Ames said...

Those are a lot of bold predictions. The lending libraries scare me the most. Will writers get any money for these? If not, that will kill off most success that new writers find on their own. People won't want to pay for a no name author's new book when they can check it out for free.

In the end, great writing will trump all. The lending libraries might just become a new filter for self-published authors. There are so many factors, we could talk all day about this.

Great post.

Suzan Harden said...

Scott, I think #13 deserves at least a 'B'. Some of these writers are flogging the one or two books they've put up and not writing new material. Your prediction may be off by a year or two, but it's starting to happen.

Robert Francis said...


Delighted to see that you returned to this list. I remember coming across it in The Indie Journey, and being curious to know whether your thoughts had changed...

I'm intrigued by the predictions, but appreciate the list, above all, as an indication of where to look for important changes going forward...

David Gaughran said...

Loved this post. It's great to look back on the predictions and see how much has come true, and the ways others are developing. Will be interesting to check in on them in another year.

author Scott Nicholson said...

Robert, I'd guess Amazon wants to better let customers know what they are getting (Singles are shorter, etc.) and the indie store is just another doorway into the store, not a ghetto as some people fear.

Mark, your guess is a good as mine!

Swands, I see paperbacks as a minor subsidiary right for writers--a nostalgia item. Sure, they will be around, just like CDs. So are vinyl records. Just like wax cylinders from 80 years ago. I just don't think that's where the money will be.

Draven, right now it's set up so writers ARE compensated for library checkouts. It's a longterm concern but too far away to really worry about.

Suzanne, I am not sure those types of people are real writers, anyway. That's the equivalent of throwing up an acoustic cover of "Yesterday" on YouTube and calling yourself a professional musician.

Robert, there's probably a lot I have overlooked, but I have studied this rather closely for over two years.

David, I will keep adjusting until I look like a genius!

JL Bryan said...

Scott, I'm giving you an "A" for the 99 cent prediction, and I'd even say that last year's "99 cents" is turning into this year's "free." (You and I both using free lately...)

I'm going to give you an A+ for this line: "Sorta like the guy walking around with a 'The End is Coming!!!' sign. Even if you're right, you're still an idiot." True! If the world's ending, can't you think of something better to do?

author Scott Nicholson said...

Jeff, next year's "free" is we'll be paying people to read our books!

Edward Brock said...

Does the new Nook Tablet change your mind about B&N? I am (thus far) a Nook user & the fact that there are still physical B&N stores is a plus. All-in-all, I just prefer the look, feel & readability of the Nook. I do have the Kindle app on my PC & Phone though.

I find myself visiting small bookshops more (I collect Vintage PBs)& our local bookstore is doing well as books seem to be coming a "collectible" hobby.

author Scott Nicholson said...

No, Edward, because the "new Nook" that comes out every six months still never catches up to Amazon, or stays even for that matter. And BN's segment of the ebook market is declining, too. While the in-store tech support is a nice plus, that doesn't mean as much since they are closing stores (and I expect the avalanche of closures to begin in earnest by summer). Still, the Nook will be around for a few years. I just would sell my BN stock if I were you;)

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