When it comes to disruptions in the book publishing landscape, we may be monks swimming for the Under Toad.

What the heck do I mean by that?

In John Irving’s greatest novel, on visits to the beach Garp’s son Walt continually receives warnings to watch out for the undertow. It takes years for Garp to realize that Walt’s mishearing of the word has led him to conjure visions of “a giant toad, lurking offshore, waiting to suck him under and drag him out to sea. The terrible Under Toad.”

In a similar vein, Malachy McCourt’s entertaining memoir A Monk Swimming takes its title from his youthful mishearing of a line in the Hail Mary. “Blessed art thou amongst women” becomes “Blessed art though, a monk swimming.”

People mishear things, misread things. Sometimes they just put the emphasis in the wrong place, based on partial knowledge, past experience or personal preference. I wonder how much analysis of book publishing these days falls prey to these problems of false perception or sheer intellectual laziness.

I have observed, for example, that most people who pooh-pooh the electronic book future don’t own ebook readers. These people talk about the benign feel and smell and heft of paper books and associate e-readers with the eye strain that they get from the computer screen. They may have heard about electronic ink, but they haven’t experienced it. Yet I’ve never met a person who wasn’t crazy about his or her Kindle, even the clunky early version. Everyone I know who actually owns an ebook reader purchases most or all books on the device. So what’s going on here?

Nassim Nicholas Taleb might have a thing or two to say about the syndrome. In The Black Swan this great truth teller and exposer of charlatans relates a story told by Cicero: “One Diagoras, a nonbeliever in the gods, was shown painted tablets bearing the portraits of some worshippers who prayed, then survived a subsequent shipwreck. The implication was that praying protects you from drowning. Diagoras asked, ‘Where were the pictures of those who prayed, then drowned?’ The drowned worshippers would have a lot of trouble advertising their experiences from the bottom of the sea. This can fool the casual observer into believing in miracles.”

Taleb calls this “the problem of silent evidence.”

In the echo chamber of book publishing, the reader’s voice is being heard not because anyone bothered to ask her but because she voices her preferences with her wallet. And guess what? Prognosticators have grossly underestimated the sale of ebooks for three years running. They keep missing the silent evidence.

That great unseen and rarely heard beast is the undertow, folks, not the Under Toad. It’s amongst women — and men, too. It will drag all in book publishing to the bottom of the sea, but some will survive. And won’t those people have a tale to tell.

15 Predictions for the Future of Books

1. Superstores as we know them will disappear.

I believe Barnes & Noble’s superstores will hang on for a good long while, but in ten years you won’t recognize them. Internet stores are more comprehensive than any brick-and-mortar building could hope to be. Even if B&N survives on the strength of its ebook store, the company will have to find ways to build traffic at retail, which means they will migrate to a broader selection of merchandise. What kind? Who knows? Alas, it will not be more books.

2. Independent bookstores will survive.

In cities niche bookstores may continue to thrive, places like Partners & Crime in New York and The Writers Store in Los Angeles. Also, major independents may continue to do well. But in order for this to happen they will have to go into the experience business (see my last post on “8 Predictions for the Future of Bookselling”), offering paid appearances by authors and intellectuals, live shows, classes, etc. Any store not following this impresario model will not get out of this decade alive. It will wither under the ebook onslaught.

3. Publishers will learn to sell direct to consumers again.

There is a place for channels of distribution and may always be, but publishers can not thrive in the 21st Century while maintaining blissful ignorance of their end users.

4. Ebooks will dominate the market.

The Yankee Group projects that ebook sales will explode from $313 million in 2009 to $2.7 billion in 2013. I’m sure someone paid them a lot of money to crunch the numbers on this bold projection and I’m equally certain that this estimate is absurdly low. Consider that the American book market was $23 billion in 2009, according to the Association of American Publishers. Ignoring inflation and presuming zero growth, the Yankee estimate therefore has ebooks growing eight-fold to a 12% market share. But consider just one point of real recent data (not a projection): according to the New York Times, at HarperCollins ebooks made up 25 percent of all young adult book sales last month, up from six percent in 2010. That’s a four-fold increase in just one year! Skeptics may note that it was off a small base, is just one category and just one publisher, yada yada yada. These skeptics are whistling past the graveyard.

Another statistic: sales of ebooks on BN.com are already exceeding sales of print books, according to B&N. That is astonishing growth considering that the Nook e-reader has only been out for 16 months.

Based upon these data points alone, it should surprise no one when ebooks claim a majority share of all book sales no later than 2015.

5. Hardcovers will become instant collectors’ items.

Whither our old friend, the hardcover? I see convergence between hardcover production and the collectors’ market, whereby enhanced hardcovers (slipcases, leather bindings, fold-out maps, etc.) sell for higher price points to readers seeking trophies for their shelves.

6. Print on Demand may replace offset printing, but it won’t matter.

When P.O.D. met the Internet, it was love at first sight. Suddenly self-published authors didn’t have to fork over tens of thousands of dollars to get the offset presses running, and Amazon gave them market access. But most of these books have an audience of 100 people. The real advantage of P.O.D. is that it enables publishers to keep backlist books in print longer, giving them incremental revenue.

P.O.D. quality has lagged the quality of offset printing, but the gap seems to be narrowing. By the time the two technologies produce interchangeable products, however, it may not matter because print will have been reduced to so small a market share.

7. Publishers will publish more titles, not fewer.

Publishers thus far have mostly responded to market uncertainty by narrowing their lists based upon perceived quality or their own market expertise. The big challenge has always been amortizing fixed costs against the numbers they are likely to move. This problem won’t go away, but the market uncertainty will eventually decline to a manageable level again. When it does, publishers will bulk out their lists again — and many of these titles will only be available as ebooks.

8. Ebooks will carry advertising.

There’s already a great deal of speculation about this. The problem with potential advertising in printed books has always been their small (and uncertain) circulation. But someone soon (hello, Google?) will figure out how to aggregate the ads across related books, pumping up the eyeball count. The big question will be where this revenue goes — to authors or publishers. Of course, it will end up being shared, and standards will develop. This revenue, if managed properly, will enable publishers to expand their lists (see No. 7) and may promote a virtuous circle, getting more good writers into “print.”

9. Better royalties will replace advances.

I’ve said it before: the royalty structure as we know it was not handed down by God. Advances and royalties are about the distribution of risk. In capitalism, he (or she) who takes the most risk usually reaps the biggest reward if things work out. The days when publishers front-load their risk (by paying everyone an advance) may be coming to a close. But if the author takes on more risk (because he’s not getting paid an advance) he or she will rightly demand a greater share of the revenue. If he doesn’t get it, he’ll go rogue.

10. Agents will have their own imprints.

Agents exist for a couple of reasons, of course, but one big one is to relieve authors of the time (and bandwidth) burden of wading into the business end of things. Most authors just want to write — and spend their idle hours on the set of Oprah and The View (or, barring that, The Nervous Breakdown). While barriers to market entry have fallen and will continue to do so, most authors don’t want the hassle of self-publishing. Yet they’re not making any money from that unsold project languishing in the drawer, either. Enter the shrewd agents.

11. There won’t just be one way (or two).

Self-published. Mainstream published. Big publisher. Small publisher. As the market changes, authors and their agents may choose to pursue multiple strategies at the same time. For those not pulling down major advances, non-compete and next-book contract clauses may fall by the wayside.

12. Writers organizations will stop discriminating against authors who bootstrap.

As it stands, organizations like Mystery Writers of America are happy to take a writer’s membership money but won’t lift a finger to help her unless her publisher is on the “approved” list, which consists of those publishers who will not take a nickel from the author (among other requirements). One can understand that any membership organization must discriminate in some way in order to define itself, but persisting with this policy is tantamount to keeping your country club restricted or racist when society long ago moved on. As the lines between publishing models grow fuzzy, writers organizations will have to choose between promoting writers and promoting the status quo. I think they’ll ultimately pick the former.

13. Book clubs will rise again.

People mostly read what someone else tells them to read. We get advice from the ever-shrinking book review section of the newspaper, from friends, from bloggers — but it’s not always enough. And some people find the Amazon recommendation engine downright creepy. That’s why social networks of readers have evolved (o.k. — one of them’s owned by Amazon) and will continue to do so. They will go increasingly niche, I think, and these expert-driven or peer-to-peer environments will be book clubs in all but name.

14. Marketers will rescue book publishing.

I attended a liberal arts university. We had majors like economics and English, not marketing and communications. Then I went into an industry that is staffed largely by those who majored in the humanities, smart people, earnest people, but people with certain predilections. Generally, they resist change rather than leading it. They enjoy more the thrill of discovery than the hard work of invention. They value words more than numbers, anecdotes more than hard data. I’m painting them with a broad brush, of course, making unfair assumptions. If it’s any consolation to those I’m offending, I consider myself to have the same weaknesses.

When W. Howard Lester bought Williams-Sonoma, the company was being run by Chuck Williams, who was good at buying merchandise but not so good at the other aspects of business. Lester, who knew how to build a business and a brand, kept Williams on to do the buying, and together they grew four stores into a $3.4 billion behemoth.

Book publishing needs its humanists and its tastemakers the way Lester needed Williams and Steve Jobs needs electrical engineers. But book publishing also needs marketing visionaries. Ebooks — and other changes — are washing over the industry like a tsunami, setting authors adrift in deep waters. If we are to avoid the Under Toad, a marketer will lead us.

15. Storytelling will be reinvented.

O.k. This last one’s a kind of cheat. Storytelling will be reinvented the way it’s always being reinvented: creative writers finding ways to make it fresh. But it will also remain the same, as dependent on rhythm and structure and conjuring empathy as it ever has been. There’s a reason we still read Homer today. Whether we listen to it as the spoken word or read it on paper or via electronic ink, we are a story-telling, story-hearing species, and we will always heed that siren call, no matter the medium. That won’t change much.

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J.E. Fishman, a former Big Six book editor and former literary agent, is author of the thriller Primacy, which Publishers Weekly called "appealing" and Kirkus called "good, boisterous fun." His mystery novel, Cadaver Blues, was serialized in 2010 on TNB and you can still find it here if you dig deep enough. It's now available in ebook and paperback. His financial thriller, The Dark Pool, was published this year, and his new series of police thrillers, Bomb Squad NYC, will be published in February 2014. He blogs here and at the Huffington Post. Please visit and follow him at his very fancy and expensive official author website.

60 responses to “15 Predictions for the Future of Books”

  1. At first, I was like, “Since when is Garp a character in A Prayer for Owen Meany,” because you mention John Irving’s greatest novel. (This is totally a joke. I’ve never read a John Irving novel.)

    I liked a lot of this. Especially your first few predictions. It’s already happening, I think. Borders is exploring–if not outright declaring–bankruptcy. Barnes & Noble’s most popular/best-selling product is the nook. There were basically three big-box retailers (Barnes and Noble, Borders, and Books-a-Million, and I think in that order); there will probably be three big-eretailers (Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Apple). Brick-and-mortar bookstores (with actual, rather than virtual, book shelves) will become largely independent entities, and their focuses will be two-fold: on the collectible hardcover you mentioned (as well as paperback) and experiences. Experiences are manifold: could be a coffee klatsch, or a book club, or author readings (which may require admission, a la bands in bars, but probably if-and-only-if writers can embrace the public performance that is making a reading killer to everyone else in the room).

    As for paperback, I’m wondering if we’re not finally tipping toward the Espresso machine, in the same way that iPad and Kindle 3 finally tipped ereaders. We’ve heard about the POD ATM for years, but it’s never really made a viable appearance. I could definitely see that changing at some point.

    The indie bookstore of the future: a single Espresso ABM with its uber-connected, completely digital library surrounded by bookshelves proudly displaying jaw-droppingly beautiful hardcover editions of myriad favorite titles with a full coffee bar and a stage, as well as a BYO clause.

    “BYOB, because your favorite books are ours.” “BYOB: Come share the experience of your favorite books.” “BYOB: Books. Booze. Banter. Bring it.”

    Of course I like the idea of marketing rescuing bookselling.

    I really dislike number ten, however. Not that I have anything against literary agents, but I do really dislike the whole authors-should-eschew business mindset. I think it’s false and hollow, and I think it’s–in the longrun–detrimental to writers creating new and ever-innovative ways of connecting with readers, mainly because I feel like it gives everyone an excuse to propagate the harmful myth of the lone author composing in a secluded tower. Writing is, first and foremost, communication intended for audiences, and connecting with audiences shouldn’t be a dirty idea (nor an intimidating one); business provides myriad insights into the best options and possibilities for doing so, as well as a way to parse what works and what doesn’t. Eschewing business principles doesn’t strike me as a way to allow writers more time to focus on craft and words; rather, it strikes me as a diva-esque way to pass of the mindset of “Oh, I’m a writer. With delicate sensibilities. I have people to worry about such things while I use villanelles to explore emotion and theories of identity in the modernist-postmodernist construct of neological conditioning.”

    Love eleven and twelve. Thirteen, too, but I wonder how much social networking will factor into that, as well. Like, Goodreads is sort of awesome. Book clubs were always for discussing books, right? I mean, who needs a living room for that?

    • J.E. Fishman says:

      With regard to #10, I stick by my prediction, Will, but I agree with you that the sooner authors realize we’re all entrepreneurs, the better. (In fact, I’m working on a future post on that subject.) But that doesn’t mean we all need to publish our own books.

      Oh, and people writing villanelles in 2011 should probably not quit their day jobs, no matter how they plan to be published!

      • Oh, I think your prediction is accurate, Joel. I fear your prediction is accurate, in fact. Then again, I think that pretty much anyone with some modicum of business acumen with regard to publishing should be thinking about starting his or her own imprint right now. Andrew Wylie proved your prediction accurate several months ago when he attempted to implement Odyssey Editions, and I’m sure he’s not the only agent who will.

        Although, I should ask, for clarification, what you mean by “imprint,” here. Traditionally an imprint is sort of a subsidiary of a larger corporate publisher, like Avon is an imprint of Harper, right? I don’t know much about how imprints actually work (generally it’s been that a corporation purchases a smaller price and makes it an imprint within the larger house, isn’t it?). So you’re sort of saying that say, the afore-mentioned Andrew Wylie will actually have an imprint within Harper (or somesuch), and actually operate within the publishing company?

        I wonder how that will work. Won’t that prevent agents from courting multiple corporate publishers with a single manuscript? Like, if Wylie were to get his own imprint at Harper, would he no longer be able to send a proposal to Random House? Given he’d have his own imprint? And if Harper gave Wylie his own imprint, would they automatically be taking on the manuscripts of the authors Wylie represented?

        Do you think, perhaps, it will become a difference between digital and physical rights? Like, Wylie’s venture was meant to be digital, publishing a backlist electronically. Maybe Harper would allow Wylie to use its name for digital editions of Wylie’s clients’ books? Or something?

        Because if hardcover is becoming collectible, as you predict, and ebooks gain dominance, as you also predict . . . I mean, we’re already sort of seeing a decrease in electronic price (the New York Times and Galleycat have both been noting that the $9.99 price point for ebooks is starting to feel high, as Stieg Larsson’s first book in The Millennium Trilogy is one book among myriad that are going for $5 or less). So if corporations publish more books, not fewer–as you predict–while agents and editors accept fewer clients/manuscripts (the afore-mentioned Wiley is one agent among myriad who doesn’t accept unsolicited submissions. And many corporate publishers don’t accept unagented submissions. So if publishers won’t accept unagented manuscripts, and many agents are closing to submissions . . . ), I guess I wonder where you predict the more books as coming from.

        • J.E. Fishman says:

          I didn’t mean imprint of a publisher. An imprint can be subsidiary, if you will, to any enterprise.

          As for sheer numbers, corporate publishers don’t have to be as picky as they are today. They’re rejecting a lot of good stuff from agents. Just before I went to work for Doubleday in the mid Eighties, it was publishing 500 books a year. If every imprint (there’s that word again; now used like you were using it, Will) at Random House, say, did even a quarter of that number, the whole company would be publishing a lot more books than they do today.

        • So you mean, that, like, the Wylie Agency would maintain Odyssey Editions as an auxiliary to their literary representation? Do you have any ideas as to how an agency would determine which of its manuscripts it would publish on its own and which it would propose to publishers?

          It seems like it would sort of push publishers–at least corporate publishers–aside, and make corporate publishing more about the production of the collectible hardcovers you mention and less about digital. If hardcovers become collectible and the dominant form is digital, and a literary agency has a digital publishing imprint, surely it would propose only the most commercial of properties to publishers–payment structure would certainly be easier, as might contracts, although then a prospective author/client might need a secondary party (lawyer) to read any contract to be signed with a literary agent (which would have been the former function of the agent, no?). But the most commercial of properties might not be the most collectible, and vice-versa; collectibles would be collected only by the most dedicated, while mass-market volume would be just that–it might even create for the publishing industry what high-end headphones and amps have created in the music industry, creating a bifurcation between the bibliophile and the reader (all bibliophiles are readers, but not all readers are bibliophiles. You can tell the difference whenever the ebook debate comes up and you hear people citing the smell and feel of a physical book; they’re bibliophiles).

          I’m not at all saying your prediction is inaccurate. I just think it’s really problematic.

        • J.E. Fishman says:

          Well, it’s the agent’s job to maximize the author’s opportunity. If that means getting an advance or a really good royalty rate (or both), the agent might do a traditional deal. If the agent thinks the author can make more money by going directly to the marketplace, maybe that will happen. I don’t see a conflict in that. The agent’s both an advocate and a middleman already. Plus, let’s not forget, publishers traditionally have been advocates for authors. And there was a time when agents paid authors advances, not publishers (or not exclusively publishers, anyway). Who says we won’t go back to this? If the agent has a passion for getting that author into the market and the “traditional” channels are barred to him, for whatever reason, the fact that it’s easier than ever to go direct to market will be a temptation that I think some agents won’t be able to resist. And why should they? Anyway, I’m not advocating one way or another, but I do see this as a likely scenario, a piece of the puzzle, if you will. Wylie backed off his thing for now, but if the power of major publishers wanes then the price of going this route will diminish.

      • Judy Prince says:

        And I was working my way through a collection of my beloved villanelles, JE. Downer.

        Might take the route of trillions of triolets, though. Or 60 sestinas.

        I like the bottomline money-pragmatic act via seemingly competing forces (e and real) of authors reading at bookstores. Noshes necessary, natch. I’m thinking barbecued chicken wings (spelled, cutely, “wingues”) and Old Speckled Hen beer.

  2. Fascinating post. I worked in publishing for years (and for an agent), and what I knew then and what I did then seems like ancient history. I wonder about the role of agents now. They’ve been hurting (and hesistant to even try and sell work they know is good and that they responded to) because the publishers were buying so little–and all the same dreck.

    Do you think that if publishers once again start buying books that agents will have something to do? Or will we have moved beyond agents, in some cases, by then? I understand how and why agents will still be necessary in order to get the big deals, the film rights sold, the foreign rights, etc (not entirely necessary, but nice to have, I mean). If the market becomes more about getting royalties on the back end, then authors can do that themselves.

    Then again, I may just be saying that because I know how to market a book myself. Many people still have no idea.

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts about distribution. If e-books take over the market, we won’t need those distributors, really. Or will we?

    Best,

    liz

    • J.E. Fishman says:

      Many authors will continue to benefit from having some kind of advocate, an agent or someone else. Good agents add value to an author’s business dealings. They’re not just salespeople.

      Distribution is an interesting question. Consolidation has been going on for years among book distributors. So long as there is some demand for paper books, there will be distributors to get the books into book stores and, equally important, newsstands and mass market outlets. But you’re right I suppose, that at some tipping point it will be as hard for book distributors to survive as for bookstores.

  3. Greg Olear says:

    I’d love to see a prediction along the lines of, “A novel by the likes of Snooki will never, ever, ever appear on the NYT bestseller list,” and see it come true. Alas and alack…

    Fascinating as always, Joel.

    • J.E. Fishman says:

      Don’t hold your breath, Greg. No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American people.

      • Didn’t the Snooki book do badly (or not as well as expected)? I thought I heard that the other day, that publishers lost $$ on Snooki. Perhaps people do have some taste…then again, Sarah Palin’s “Going Rogue” was apparently the fastest-selling book ever. So, the taste is questionable.

        • Word is A Shore Thing sold just fewer than 9,000 copies in January, and the Situation’s book didn’t sell much better. And I’m going no on Going Rogue; last I’d heard, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows had held that title by selling more than 1 million copies in its first 24 hours of sale. Palin’s book did well, but I don’t think it did Harry Potter well. It’s also worth noting special circumstances: three online retailers engaged in a price war for presales, selling it for ten bucks, and word is that Palin used $63,000 from her political action committee to purchase copies of it (which she later gave away to donors to said committee).

        • J.E. Fishman says:

          O.k., so maybe you CAN go broke underestimating the taste of the American people if you pay a big advance. Then again, most lit fic authors would kill to sell 9,000 copies in a month!

        • I will respectfully disagree with you, Will, about “Going Rogue”–but I have neither the time nor the inclination to pull up sales figures. It is very possible, though, that Palin herself is pushing the “I wrote the fastest-selling book ever!” line…yet, I am sure that I read that in a few places, and of course it nauseated me.

          I believe I read that when her second book (is it “America by Heart”? It’s fluffy; I know that) was released. ABH is a mish-mash, from what I’ve seen, of historical facts seemingly taken from Wikipedia, and quotes by famous politicians and philosophers (note the irony) jammed into a Palin-speak treatise on conservative values. Anyway. Palin reportedly got a ridiculous advance for that, based on the success of “Going Rogue.”

          It would be nice for other authors if a few celebrities didn’t suck all of the potential advance money out of publishing. I can only dream.

          Harry Potter was rejected by how many publishing houses before Scholastic took a chance on it? There is a great lesson for agents/editors and authors…

        • I think the number I’ve read was 26 agents before Christopher Little took it on? Something like that? And then rejections from publishers.

          Everything I’ve pulled up, including this article from the Washington Post, calls Going Rogue the fastest selling political book in history; I think that “political” is qualifying, there. That article there notes that Rogue ultimately sold 2.2 million in hardcover; Deathly Hallows achieved half that on its first day.

        • Okay…”political book” maybe. Memoir by a politician/celebrity, too, perhaps?

          I think I read (way back when) that 60 editors rejected Harry Potter. Fantasy wasn’t “in” at that moment. Now, we can’t get away from it!

        • Greg Olear says:

          I read somewhere that fantasy is “in” in times of economic hardship, and sci-fi is “in” when the good times roll. The next big thing will be unemployment at six, the Dow above 15,000, and robots.

  4. Becky Palapala says:

    #8 is interesting to me, mostly because I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about Noam Chomsky’s manufactured consent.

    It stipulates, roughly, that wherever news is a business whose actual commodity is NOT information but ad space/time, news will be propaganda.

    This doesn’t mean state-owned or non-corporate news isn’t propaganda, it’s just a more direct route to it.

    Anyway. I won’t belabor the finer points, since you may already know.

    Maybe I’m getting way ahead of myself with the literary dystopia speculation, or at least imagining it on too grand a scale, but when you’re talking about the potential for widespread advertising in–at least commercial–literature, what are the content implications, do you suppose?

    As benign as literary “product placement?” Like, my heroin doesn’t buy smokes, she buys Marlboros specifically?

    Or do the implications ripple out and amplify and entangle with politics (more so, more nakedly so, or less nobly so than is conventional for literature), as they have done with so much news?

    And, of course, more importantly, if it were the latter, would we notice it was happening?

    • Becky Palapala says:

      HeroinE.

      Lot of meaning wrapped up in that little letter.

    • J.E. Fishman says:

      I don’t think advertising inevitably corrupts art, because the artist can always choose not to allow herself to be corrupted. But, for the record, for $1 million I will happily name my next main character Pepsi.

      • Becky Palapala says:

        Okay. But here’s more what I’m after:

        “Propaganda” has only had a necessarily negative connotation for about 50 years. I mean, what constitutes corruption or virtue in the context of propaganda is usually subjective, so I’m not even trying to go there, except for to say that propaganda of some type will emerge. (It goes without saying, if you accept that advertising is, in many cases, propaganda.)

        I’m asking less about the individual artist–because of course any artist can refuse to sell advertising (as can any news outlet or website or tv station or whatever)–and more about the net effect of many individual artists on the medium. Sure, an individual artist could reject advertising. But will very many? And if they do not, what will the potential effects be on content, dominant genres, topics, etc. What kind of implications, beyond the potential for a writer to get one miiiiiiiiiiiiiillion dollars, does such an arrangement have? Trying to envision the ripples, whatever they might be, good, bad, or otherwise.

        Off the top of my head, there’s no reason to think, at this point, that paid advertising would have a different effect on literature than on other mediums. Or maybe it will be characterized as some kind of neo-patronage.

        • J.E. Fishman says:

          Beware the advice of anarchist linguists with tenure. Those of us trying to make a living from writing have more important things to worry about than the so-called deleterious effects of actually getting paid.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          It’s a legitimate quandary and fruitful area for speculation. No one said it was deleterious but you, so if you don’t want to discuss it because it gives you some agitated bout of cognitive dissonance, that’s fine, but get your dukes our of my face.

          Nobody’s trying to fight with you.

          I asked a serious question. I’ll take the conversation elsewhere.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Why do you regard my comment, my question, among the many here and even those that disagree with you openly as somehow hostile to you or your predictions or your desire to make money?

          Is it born strictly of some disdain for academics/the academy? Like, if I hadn’t mentioned Chomsky, would this conversation be different? Is that problematic somehow?

          God as my witness, I see nothing wrong with the tone or content of my comments and questions, certainly nothing that should, as far as I can tell, earn me the pithy condescension treatment. I am nonplussed.

          If I am missing something, enlighten me. Help me help myself, Joel.

          How could I have asked this question in such a way that you would not feel hostile toward it?

        • J.E. Fishman says:

          Hmm. I might ask why you seem to be taking my comment personally. I don’t have a lot of patience for Noam Chomsky. It’s nothing to do with you, except that you’re the one who happened to bring him up.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          I can totally answer that.

          I was interested enough to read and to post a comment, and a thoughtful one, I think (I think a reasonably interesting one, or at least one from a different perspective than many of the comments represented here), based on my own particular interests and curiosities (contemptibly sociological as they may be), so to be brushed off twice, the second time in a summary dismissal that included the suggestion that I’m being intellectually led along by anarchist academics who think it’s evil when writers get paid was pretty hostile (and way off the mark, suggesting you never even stopped to really consider what I was saying, despite the time I invested in saying it).

          You certainly didn’t mean it to flatter. And I feel safe in saying that it wasn’t intended to appreciate/validate my perspective or suggest that it was welcome.

          So. That’s why I felt insulted and reacted accordingly.

          That question answered, what you’re saying is that it was the mention of Chomsky that got me in trouble.

          You want me to ask again without mentioning Chomsky? I have my own problems with him. A closer read will reveal that I only ever said I had him on the brain, not that I necessarily agreed with him.

          This was a conversation I genuinely wanted to have. My comment and curiosity is sincere.

          Or maybe we’re too far gone now? Too late? If the way advertising might look and what its broader implications will be is genuinely not something that interests you at all, Chomsky or no, I can’t make you interested. I do wish you would have just said so in the first place, though.

          If that’s the case, I’ll just sit here and wait to see if anyone else wants to take it up.

      • Scott Witebsky says:

        This has nothing to do with the point you were making, but fyi, author Jonathan Carroll actually did name a character Pepsi in his great novel Bones of the Moon

    • “As benign as literary “product placement?” Like, my heroin doesn’t buy smokes, she buys Marlboros specifically?”

      Interesting, this. A lot of authors mention brand names in their stories. Critics–and I mean academic commentators there, not negative reviewers–have mentioned Stephen King’s frequent use of brand names in his books as one of the reasons for the appeal of his books, which they have suggested have a more grounded-in-reality feel. Characters do smoke, say, Pall Malls–and, in fact, sometimes brand choice can reveal a lot about a person, so a mention of brands can speak volumes; if I say one character uses Linux on his rig while another uses a Macbook Pro, people who know computers know the former is technically savvy and can probably hack while the latter is more interested in design and aesthetic and may be an artist of some sort.

      There’s a scene in Casino Royale on a train during which James and Vesper speak after meeting. They’re sizing each other up, basically, but there’s an element of each attempting some dominance; what can they tell about each other at a glance (and they’re not altogether kind in their analyses). Caps with Vesper saying something about Bond’s attempts to out grow his boarding school days, down to the designer watch on his wrist. “Rolex?” she sniffs.

      “Omega.”

      I’m not sure it’s in Fleming’s original text (though it wouldn’t surprise me if it were), but it’s certainly not the first time a movie had product placement (Wayne’s World actual makes a joke about it). The biggest difference is probably that the producers of Casino Royale got a check from Omega (and Rolex?), while Stephen King hasn’t when he’s mentioned Pall Mall. More noble, or failure to capitalize?

      Fay Weldon did it with The Bulgari Connection, and caused a controversy that made a lot of folks question intentions and artistic merit.

      • Becky Palapala says:

        Certainly product placement is nothing new in the world, and I don’t see anything wrong with using specifics to illuminate a character. And I have no problem with commissions, a time honored artistic tradition and what The Bulgari Connection effectively seems to be, if I’m understanding correctly. That other writers are turning themselves inside-out about it seems disingenuous and sour-grapes-y. If she were writing commissions exclusively, that might be a different story…in any number of respects.

        I’m wondering if the inclusion of widespread, pervasive advertising in literature would essentially formalize/contractualize/commodify something like the existing restrictive standards of “market appeal.” Like, there would be a move from telling writers to write what readers want (readers who are influenced via the advertising of other media) to advertisers telling writers directly what they need readers to want.

        In that sense, I wonder whether or not advertising in literature would result in a similar phenomenon. If it may, at least in certain respects, turn this into a “revolution” in name alone. Will “indie,” when everyone is more or less at liberty to be indie, end up replaced by “ad-free?”

        Will advertisers, in turn, simply become the new gatekeepers? The new “big publishing” of literature? Will they control, ultimately, not only the content people read when they pick up a book, but by virtue of that, and in turn, what books people WANT to read?

        (We already know that advertisers hold considerable say in the content of print magazines, for example.)

        Will publishers, individual writers, or e-reader companies hold the ad contracts, and what difference would it make which? What if it is the e-readers and you can’t put your book on Kindle without accepting advertisements? On and on. The questions are endless.

        It seems obvious enough that the instant advertisers catch on, if they are any kind of savvy advertisers, those writers/publishers willing to acquiesce to their demands (how extreme remains to be seen) will get to have the advertisers’ money (how much remains to be seen) and those who aren’t won’t.

        It has the power to change literature’s function in society utterly. For better or worse as one’s inclinations allow, but potentially NOT in terms of ensuring the empowerment of writers. Depending on their willingness to allow ads or conform to the stipulations of an ad company, they may still not be able to get their work in front of any eyes, just like they can’t now because they won’t cave to the expectations or don’t conform to the preferences of other entities.

        • Tom Hansen says:

          I have to agree. Call me a socialist, whatever. But I have first hand experience with how advertising effects people and the world they inhabit. — I spent a lot of time in Norway when I was a kid–yes it was a different time, place, society, demographic, etc, but there were NO advertisements on television. I know my eyes are slightly clouded by nostalgia but I also DO definitely think this contributed to the freedom of their no-fear society.

          Advertising’s main purpose is to sell things, and if what they’re selling lies outside the basic human needs the way they go about it is to create a need where there was none before. Do we really need to be told what to buy? Wouldn’t it be better to rely on social and community interactions to find what to buy? Or, here’s an idea, just figure it out for ourselves. By thinking.

          The forces of money and art are very often conflicting. How would a book like Fight Club go about placing advertisements inside? What’s wrong with this picture? This may be the future and I may be an old codger but I say keep them out.

  5. […] The Nervous Breakdown thenervousbreakdown.com/jefishman/2011/02/15-predictions-for-the-future-of-books/ – view page – cached J.E. Fishman requests that all ye who enter here reclaim thy hope, lest ye fall victim to the Under Toad., J.E. Fishman requests that all ye who enter here reclaim thy hope, lest ye fall victim to the Under Toad. […]

  6. Richard Cox says:

    I always enjoy your predictions and discussions about the publishing industry because you seem pretty spot on to me. You’ve got a lot more insight than I do about the business.

    And a lot of us here are invested in these discussions because we are writers, and ultimately, content producers in an artistic medium that is undergoing upheaval in the way it delivers an experience to consumers. The upheaval being driven in large part because of new options provided by technology, but also in the entertainment and discretionary time behaviors of consumers.

    It makes me curious how consumers themselves feel about the “upheaval.” Do they care? I’m sure many of them are excited for their book collections to become more portable, and to be able to instantly read new books instead of having to go to the store or wait for the mail. Which also happen to be the best things about digital music. And just like vinyl enthusiasts, there are those who will bemoan the printed book passing into history, and keep buying physical books as specialty editions. And like music, this practice may largely be driven by the content producers, who are especially bonded to the idea of their art existing as a tangible object and not just pure information, which it ultimately mostly is.

    What’s different about literature is that the barriers to entry in the digital marketplace are low, and yet the effort to consume it is high. I can’t really read a book and cook a meal, or exercise, or really anything (leaving aside audio books). So for me to sit down and read a book instead of, say, watching a film or browsing the Internet, is a highly important choice. Reading consumes 100% of the allotted time. Going to see a film in a theater also consumes 100%, but only for two hours. Reading a novel takes much longer.

    And the barrier to making films is high. It costs a lot of money and requires skills most folks don’t have. Same with television and music. So the relative number of films I have to choose among is low. Gatekeepers exist in the form of financiers, which are mainly movie studios. Whereas, since almost anyone can type a manuscript and upload it to Amazon, the gatekeepers could conceivably removed from the equation. But is this a good thing?

    The midlist writers on this site (which include me), or those so desperately striving to become one, may think so. Why should we give money to publishers when we can market directly to consumers? It makes sense in a way. But I personally like the idea of there being some criteria, some hurdle to cross, before a manuscript can become a book. And I bet the average reader out there who isn’t a writer might think the same. Otherwise, in a world where anyone with a laptop can “publish” their poorly-written and typo-riddled manifesto/novel alongside actual works of literature, suddenly the average reader is faced with millions of different choices instead of thousands, which is a lot of noise, and pretty soon those who haven’t already replaced book purchases with Internet reading probably will.

    Is that what we want? To commoditize literature to the point where no one is willing to pay for it any longer? In a bid for a little more money, or to stroke the ego of those writers who struggle to break through, do we want to give it all away for free? We already do it here on TNB. Published authors give away content in exchange for the perceived marketing value, and to participate in our lively community. If Amazon becomes choked with millions of bad novel manuscripts, and it takes a powerful search engine to find the most relevant and most-read works, how is that different from the Internet we already use for free? And unlike musicians, we don’t have much opportunity to sell concert tickets to make up for the lost revenue.

    I think readers want some kind of gatekeeper to make their choices more manageable. Book clubs will help, sure, but I believe publishers still have an important role. During our Tulsa filming, Erika Rae broached this subject on camera with a group of highly-literate readers, and there was a general consensus that literature should be defined by someone. They want to know someone has vetted the work. They understood the benefits of completely democratizing publication of the written word, and they still didn’t want it. Of course they were just one group of ten readers among billions, but at this point, even if none of my novels are ever commercially successful, I tend to agree with them.

    Also, I like the idea of someone helping me market my work. Above, Will makes the argument that writers who employ representation are somehow elitist, but is it elitist to recognize that each of us possesses unique talents? Sure, some writers are great marketers, but some are just great writers. And even if the publishing industry is struggling to understand marketing at the moment, amidst the upheaval, that doesn’t mean they always will. To assume everyone possesses the ability to market a book is the same as assuming everyone possesses the talent to write a book–it’s just not very smart.

    • J.E. Fishman says:

      Wow, Richard…a lot of material here. I think I’ll address issues of gatekeepers in another post, not to mention the problem with free. You are spot on with regard to book-length fiction being relatively inexpensive to produce yet time-consuming to consume (sorry for the redundancy there). The time factor is also a big problem within the industry. An artist’s rep or a music producer can know he likes the look or sound in seconds or minutes, but it can take a literary gatekeeper half a week just to formulate an opinion, then countless hours to try to monetize her belief in a work. Yet, amazingly, the industry seems to resist all efforts at mitigating this point of friction, rarely using focus groups, for example. I once founded an Internet marketplace for subsidiary rights that was meant to replace push marketing with pull marketing, thus saving agents and subsidiary rights managers from the frequent plight of working below minimum wage to land a rights sale. Despite my best efforts, nobody seemed willing to change this model. The venture sank like a stone!

      • Simon Smithson says:

        Fascinating stuff here, Mr. Fishman, as is the contribution from RC. I’m over in SF at the moment and unable to write more – as I’d like to – for now, but I’m sure I’ll be back. I think this is kind of analysis of the publishing model and the shift in the landscape is timely and worthwhile – it would be so even if it was strictly academic, which, given that so many of us here are in the business of writing and/or publication, it is not.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Yeah, sorry for the long comment. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I read conversations about the evolution of publishing in various places. It’s difficult to know exactly where we’re going. Music has been through this already, but the medium isn’t exactly the same, and neither will be publishing’s reaction to the format changes.

          You know, the music I purchase is almost exclusively of the independent variety, and not even high profile indie music. I have to search, sometimes at length, to find albums I enjoy. So in that way I love the options the Internet affords me, and how almost any band can find a niche audience because they don’t necessarily need the traditional distribution model. But as you point out, forming an opinion about written work isn’t the same. It takes time, too much time, to search the way I search for music. So I’m always going to rely on recommendations for books. I prefer someone else to do that work for me. This is why I don’t think “bootstrap” publishing is going to work any better in a new world than it does in the old world. Sure, writers will enjoy a low cost to enter the marketplace, but aside from rare instances I think they’ll continue to sell less than 100 copies, the way they always have.

          I think DIY writer/publishers assume a new publishing paradigm is going to somehow even the literary playing field. It certainly lowers the cost to enter the marketplace. But the marketplace is appealing books, and just existing in it is not enough.

          Also, to add to your predictions, how long do you think it will be before a major author goes directly to the marketplace with a major release, a la Radiohead or NIN? If anyone doesn’t need publishers, it’s bestselling authors. Not the unknowns.

        • J.E. Fishman says:

          One of the interesting questions to ask is not whether we need gatekeepers but what gate should they be standing at. Is it the gate to the printing house or the gate to the bookstore or the gate in front of the reader’s home. The last one allows for bootstrap publishing while acknowledging that few people are likely to read that book unless a friend or a social network or a reviewer gives it a thumbs up.

          With regard to your last question, the thing about major authors is that they are being heavily compensated with advances — the risk laid off on the publisher — so it may be awhile before one breaks the chains. More likely, perhaps, is the self-made author turning down the big advance to stay out on his or her own…

    • “But I personally like the idea of there being some criteria, some hurdle to cross, before a manuscript can become a book. And I bet the average reader out there who isn’t a writer might think the same. Otherwise, in a world where anyone with a laptop can “publish” their poorly-written and typo-riddled manifesto/novel alongside actual works of literature,”

      And you call my argument “elitist”?

      No, but seriously, great comment. I agree with some of it.

      I have to say, I don’t think it’s that I dislike the idea of there being some criteria (and I know you’re not saying I do, just taking that as your position), but if there is going to be some criteria . . . hmmm. I was about to write “shouldn’t it be objective,” but that’s not entirely what I mean, I don’t think. Maybe I want to suggest that the idea that there is some criteria (and I realize you’re not saying there is) is seems a rather happy fiction (in the world of A Shore Thing). I guess it’s more like, well, okay, but what hurdles? Who will determine these hurdles? What qualifications will they have to hold the position of determining hurdles, and what/whose criteria will those hurdles represent?

      “To assume everyone possesses the ability to market a book is the same as assuming everyone possesses the talent to write a book”

      Well, but that’s the thing: anyone can write a book. NaNoWriMo, every year, demonstrates how many people believe they can do it (and in a month, at that). And really, if you sit down, and write 1000 words every day, you’ll have a novel in two months.

      The key is that not everyone can write a good book, of course. However, my mentor, Sid Stebel, used to have a saying about that, something like “Talent can’t be taught, but writing can be.” But then we go back to words like “good” and “criteria” and who determines them. So far as marketing, I do think anyone could learn it.

      So far as midlist, one prediction I was surprised Joel didn’t make was the disappearance of the midlist. The front list is the big stuff, the Palins and the Meyers and the Rowlings, while the backlist is their old books (and those of others), and it’s all filled out with the midlist, the paperback originals, the “small” books. With the rising dominance of digital distribution and ebooks gaining such traction, I wonder if that’s what’s going to disappear. Not paperbacks or hardcovers; people still physical books, still want stuff on shelves. But maybe it ties into Joel’s prediction that publishers will publish more books and not fewer; many might begin a exclusively digital offerings. Digilist is the new midlist, or something?

      • Richard Cox says:

        In the past, the criteria has been someone is willing to pay for the right to publish it.

        Unfortunately for struggling writers, publishers have realized they can often make more money in the short term off celebrity books than they can trying to break out a new writer. And maybe they can’t always predict who is going to break out anyway, so they throw up a bunch of first novels or memoirs to see what sticks and discard the rest. No one can fault them for this if it drives profits. Especially not an MBA guy like yourself.

        And I should have defined my use of the word “book,” because I don’t consider a novel or any other manuscript a “book” until it’s published.

        Maybe it’ll shake out that, in the future, only celebrities and literary authors will be paid by publishers, and all the rest of us will have to self publish and do our own marketing or hire a book marketing specialist to do it for us. Because if you think about it, part of the reason midlist authors are struggling to find/retain an audience is because the time we spent reading them is now spent on the Internet. There are only 24 hours in a day. I read a lot more novels when there was no World Wide Web, and specifically no TNB and Facebook.

        It was this line of yours that gave me pause:

        “Oh, I’m a writer. With delicate sensibilities. I have people to worry about such things while I use villanelles to explore emotion and theories of identity in the modernist-postmodernist construct of neological conditioning.”

        This is like saying a baker shouldn’t hire an accountant or someone to make television commercials for his store, because clearly, in addition to baking excellent bread, he ought to also be a CPA and professional videographer. Because otherwise he’s a culinary snob.

        • Maybe a new criterion could be that someone is willing to pay for it.

          And I see how you could have taken it that way, but that’s not really what I meant. To consider bakers, do you know Buddy? The so-called Cake Boss? The baker, on TLC? Now he’s the Kitchen Boss?

          I’m sure he has an accountant. And a camera-man (somebody’s got to tape the show while he makes the cake, after all). But I’m also sure the man knows a lot about business and marketing. I mean, I don’t know if he has an MBA, but I know he’s not saying, “I’m a baker. I care about recipes and ingredients. I’ve hired people to worry about distractions like business and marketing so I can concentrate on fondant, cupcakes, and the depths of human taste and sensuality.”

          I don’t think it’s something authors can dismiss. Like, for example, Franzen’s initial rejection of Oprah’s Book Club was arguably the most brilliant writing marketing move of last decade. And he knew it. His claims of “discomfort” are his own marketing.

        • Richard Cox says:

          I’ve worked in the digital media marketing industry for eleven years. I’m certainly not arguing against the need for authors to be champions of their own work.

          But I do think the self-aware among us realize we all have strengths and weaknesses, and it could be possible some authors are both poor marketers and non-elitists. Those authors, if they have the means, might look for someone to help advocate their work. Not all writers who want to concentrate on writing are necessarily burying their heads in the literary sand.

          I’m not familiar with the Cake Boss. Is he related to Greg Behrendt?

        • J.E. Fishman says:

          I’m totally digging this exchange, guys.

          This debate about authors learning marketing vs. not learning it…or having marketing talent vs. not having it… strikes me as a false dichotomy, kind of the way nature-nurture is. We’re all somewhere along the continuum, aren’t we? Some of us are Emily Dickinson, so shy that we’ll die in our bedroom. Others are Charles Dickens, willing to tour foreign countries to sell our wares. Like talent vs. craft, having both is better than just having one. Thus if you want the world to hear you — if you want to maximize the opportunity — it behooves you to write AND to learn to promote yourself, both. I think this is Will’s point.

          Also, Richard, I think defining a published book as something someone else is paying for the right to PUBLISH is perhaps a little too old school (not to mention a bit of a tautology). Why not define a published book as something someone else — anyone else — is willing to pay to READ?

          Let’s take an example of a completely different kind of commodity, say a share of stock. Some stocks are traded on the big exchanges and some are traded on smaller exchanges and some are traded over the counter and some are traded on the pink sheets and some private shares are traded in one-to-one transactions. Yet they are all valid claims of equity interest in some particular company and all have equally valid, if relative, economic value. So a work of art is also valued if someone is willing to trade for it, isn’t it? Regardless of the market in which that trade occurs.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Clearly there is a spectrum. I only chose the opposite end of it than Will to make the point that just because people are less interested in marketing, that doesn’t make them a literary snob. And if someone is heavily vested in marketing their work, that doesn’t make them a sellout. As you say, it’s not so black-and-white as that.

          Defining a “book” is a slippery slope when it comes to the market. If I’m a famous person and I stitch together a collection of my grocery lists, and someone is willing to buy that on eBay, then maybe that is also a book. Ultimately in the case of commodities it’s just semantics, really.

          Looking at art as purely a commodity may make sense from an economic and transactional standpoint. How an individual chooses to appreciate art and value it is somewhat more subjective. While every manuscript ever written is ostensibly art, in the old-world view books have been valued when a publisher considered them worthy of their time and effort. I recognize this view may and likely will change, it will always evolve, just as markets and society does. Ultimately this discussion serves no functional purpose other than to entertain ourselves. 🙂

          It may be the case, in the future, where there are millions of books “published” every year, and if you can sell thirty copies of yours, that may be considered success. But I also wonder how writers will ever command a premium or even be able to get paid at all when the virtual bookstore is no different than browsing the Internet. When I think of democratic publication, I think of the World Wide Web. And so I suppose your idea of product placement could be the way writers get paid. And ads, etc. Only time will tell.

        • I wouldn’t have used words like “snob” or “elitist” in making any marketing arguments (and I don’t think I was arguing about marketing in the first place), but your note about burying heads might be more apt. It’s always seemed to me–and for what it’s worth, I may just be sensitive to it, coming as I do from a diverse background that includes advertising and, now, marketing in a very explicit sense–that the note Joel put forward (“Most authors just want to write — and spend their idle hours on the set of Oprah and The View [or, barring that, The Nervous Breakdown].”) is detrimental, and the snippet you’re referring to as elitist, Richard, and putting yourself on the opposite end of the spectrum of was really my hitting the opposite end of Joel’s spectrum.

          Because of course you’re both right. It very much is a spectrum. Because the way Joel phrased it (“Most authors just want to write [emphasis mine]) made it sound precisely the way you just put it, Richard: “Writers who want to concentrate on writing are burying their heads in the literary sand.” That point up there, in Joel’s post, seems to suggest that “most authors” want to bury their heads in the literary sand while spending “idle hours” on Oprah–or, more likely, TNB.

          However, that point is part of a greater prediction about literary agents assuming their own imprints, which, as I note above, I perceive as potentially detrimental. The scary thing to me is that many writers are intimidated by marketing, promotion, publicity, and social networking, but rather than seek information and education about it, many defer to the authority of agents, editors, and publishers.

          Publishing is not just agents and editors and books on shelves; it’s the dissemination and reception of information, in whatever form. Agents and editors and books on shelves have, for the past several decades, been the retail manifestation of publishing, but only the retail manifestation; the Internet rather shattered that paradigm, and that brick-and-mortar doing business–returns, anyone?–is struggling (rather unsuccessfully, see: Borders) to keep up. Which I note because Joel brings up Dickinson; is that even possible nowadays? Sure, she shut herself up in her room and wrote her poetry to stuff into the drawers of her dresser, but really, nowadays, any young woman writing poetry is liable to shut herself up in her room and writer on her livejournal or Facebook.

          Or, you know, drop an email to Brad to become a contributor here.

          Because isn’t that what we’re pretty much all doing right now? TNB isn’t yet an app (hey, Brad, maybe get on that?); it’s a site we all frequent from our living rooms and bedrooms, where we converse and discuss and post stuff that we’d probably otherwise either never write or stick in a drawer.

          I think maybe my argument is that the days of being “just” a writer are pretty much over.

          “While every manuscript ever written is ostensibly art, in the old-world view books have been valued when a publisher considered them worthy of their time and effort.”

          Except it’s not really “old-world” so much as “mid-twentieth century-ish,” isn’t it?

          I think this is a really unique moment, in fact, for the reason already mentioned: everyone has a voice, and the ability to make noise. Authors, agents, publishers, editors, readers, etc. Thing is, I think readers don’t make much, because they’re more interested in listening (albeit not to the debates most authors and publishers and etc. are having, like this one. I know I’ve probably bored the utter shite out of pretty much everyone by now). I’m not sure the world is flat, but I do think that people are jockeying for a position of authority, and I think most of those people already involved in publishing are attempting to hold on to the positions of authority they’d maintained in years previous.

          How will readers find the signal among the noise? Honestly, I don’t know the answer there. It’s naive to just think that the good rises, but it’s also naive to think that the traditional/corporate publishing model helps much. Sometimes it makes a signal stronger, which is great, but a lot of the time it seems only to make all the noise that much louder, while at the same time attempting to reduce the amplification of other signal. Used to be, a weak signal might only be picked up by those closest (I’m thinking of ham radio enthusiasts, I think), but nowadays the Internet changes that.

          “Thus if you want the world to hear you — if you want to maximize the opportunity — it behooves you to write AND to learn to promote yourself, both. I think this is Will’s point.”

          Yeah. I think I’ll go with this. When it comes down to it, I pretty much believe in empowerment.

        • Tom Hansen says:

          Great discussion. Myself I’m one of those poor self-promoters/marketers. I’m still trying to improve myself in this area, but it goes against my nature. But at the end of the day this is the conclusion I came to: Do I want more people to read my book? Yes. Do I want to be published/recognized by a big NYC publisher? Yes, again. But as time goes on I realize most of my reasons for wanting these things was to validate my fragile self-confidence and for the damned gatekeepers to tell me my book was good. Well, I don’t need that anymore. I reached the point where MY opinion of my book was the most important thing. It would be nice to sell a million copies, but given the dumbing down of readers in general, it often signals that your book is ok but not too good. I want my work to the be the best it can be, and if that means niche sales that’s ok. The NYC editors who were talking six figures for American Junkie wanted me to make it less dark, more redemption, more recovery. I probably could have done that and got the deal, or had a much better shot, but I never would have been able to live with myself.

          And in the end I think as long as we do the best we can, poor marketers or brilliant, our books will find the appropriate audiences and corresponding sales. My dream is to make the poverty line just by writing. I don’t think it’s too much to ask

  7. I was pleased by #2, as I’m sure many of us were. Hopefully indie bookstores will not only survive but will flourish for years to come. The big book chains have always sickened me with the drivel they sell. In the UK it’s a bit different from America, but we have our own versions of Sarah Palin and Snooki. The front windows are (actually, were, because they’ve all but disappeared from the high streets) stocked with the most awful crap. Each store is identical to the last… Urgh.

    There are a handful of indie bookstores remaining and it’s nice to actually see a selection… to be able to walk in and look around, rather than to be accosted by thousands of copies the latest predictable fad.

    As I’ve mentioned on numerous threads now, I have never even seen an eBook reader before. I was originally put off because I mistakenly thought it would be just like trying to read off a computer screen… then they were too expensive… then I didn’t want to lose my collection because of a hard drive malfunction… and then I ran out of excuses. I like the idea of eBooks and I hope that one day I actually bring myself to buy one of these devices. Seems like a good way of bringing some choice to the market.

  8. This piece and the comments here are fascinating. I was totally a non-marketer when my first book was published — and I definitely learned quickly that I had to take on much of the responsibility. But man, did I stumble through. If not for the good graces of some already published authors who mentored me through the process — it would have been much, much, worse.

    I feel like I may be committing suicide if I admit that while I pay attention to what is happening in the publishing world, I probably don’t give it as much thought as I should. I can’t devote head space to it while I’m writing so I just crawl back in my happy place and continue to write and hope when I am ready to publish again, that there still exists a way to get my work out there.

    And as far as your #1 prediction. When I moved to Saratoga I was thrilled that there existed 3 indie bookstores, all downtown, all walking distance from my house. Then Borders moved downtown and slowly the other stores closed until all but one of the indie’s remain, and that is a store for serious collectors with lovely first editions and stacks of cast-off required reading from college lists. Today came the news that Borders Saratoga will be closing, and that will leave a 25,000 square foot store in the center footprint of downtown…empty. For all of its big box faults, it was a heavily trafficked store. Clearance sales are to start as soon as this weekend. Very soon, I will live in a town without a book store. And that is truly mind boggling, not to mention depressing. I feel like making a sign for the window that reads: NEXT?

    • J.E. Fishman says:

      Regardless of the future, it is incredibly depressing for any writer or reader to watch these brick-and-mortar bookstores die in the uncertain present. To add insult to injury, in towns where there is a viable independent and a closing Borders, the liquidators will be putting the hurt on the survivor for months while they get rid of Borders inventory. As if fans of independents needed further reminder: be careful what you wish for!

      • The scariest thing about Borders is all that–well, okay, I don’t quite understand bankruptcy yet, at least on that level. But I know if I declare bankruptcy, it looks like crap on my credit but means I don’t have to pay any of my creditors, right? So Borders, by declaring bankruptcy, is pretty much avoiding paying any publishers for any of the books it’s stocked for at least the most recent quarter or so, right?

        So publishers are going to take a major profit hit in Q1, right? I mean, certainly Borders hasn’t yet paid for all the books it sold over Christmas yet, correct? And neverevenmind all the books coming out this quarter, which have already shipped.

        I mean, this is a pretty harsh hit overall, right? Will it take a while to hit authors’ wallets, or is it going to take a few months? Royalties are always sorta backdated, right? I don’t know the timeline for royalties; Amazon just direct deposits for me every month, and I’ve never had to wait for a corporation to pay an agent whose payroll manager would then cut me a check.

        Is it even going to affect authors much, or is that system so based on advances that effects on royalties are diminished?

        • J.E. Fishman says:

          A bankruptcy judge will determine which creditors get paid and how much. It doesn’t mean all creditors get nothing. It will almost certainly mean that Borders can walk away from leases for the stores it’s closing, and it’s unlikely that publishers will get 100 cents on the dollar.

          As for the impact on author royalty payments, my recollection is that contracts with conventional publishers have clauses that pertain to the bankruptcy of the publisher, not the publisher’s customers. So if the publisher stays solvent, paying royalties wouldn’t be an issue. If the publisher goes belly-up, it’s usually possible at least for the author to take the rights back automatically.

          The payment of royalties owed wouldn’t be affected unless the publisher has major cash-flow problems.Then the question is with regard to order of claim. I would think royalty payments are pretty high on the list. In any event, remember that publishers also do hold reserves against returns. This, in effect, is an ongoing discount on royalties paid, usually for titles out less than two years. So there’s a kind of cushion.

          The biggest impact of the Borders fiasco is possibly on sales going forward. It’s hard to say whether all of these will be captured by other retailers or will just disappear. Conventional wisdom says more outlets are better for suppliers, but I’m not so sure. More likely it’ll be a blip within more secular trends.

  9. Annie says:

    Great points! Readers are voting with their wallets and it is starting to show. I don’t have an official ebook reader but all of the new books I purchase now are digital–I just read them on my laptop. Why bother with caring for dead tree editions when you can save so much space (and help the environment) as well?

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  11. Jeff Brunson says:

    As a true self-published writier (hired my own copyeditor, cover artist, etc.), I certainly appreciate your article … and your forward-thinking. Keep sharing this good thinking.
    Jeff Brunson

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