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2014 Book Publishing Industry Predictions -- Increased Competition Between Traditional Publishers and Indie Authors

01/07/2014 01:54 pm ET | Updated Mar 09, 2014

What does 2014 hold in store for ebook authors, publishers and readers? Today I bring you 14 book publishing industry predictions.

Predictions stir our imagination of what's possible. By imagining what's possible, readers and authors can prepare for the future, or take steps to realize the future they desire.

1. Big publishers lower prices - Back in 2009, one of my first posts for Huffington Post was a call for publishers to introduce $4.00 ebooks. Self-published (indie) authors heeded the call, but publishers did not. Until recently, it was rare to see a traditionally published book priced under $4.00. Why? Traditional publishers have fought tooth and nail to maintain higher ebook prices for fear that low-priced ebooks would cannibalize print sales, harm their profitability, and establish unrealistic consumer expectations of the worth of a book. By maintaining high ebook prices, they surrendered the sub-$4.00 market for ebooks to indie authors, which indies readily exploited. The results of our 2013 ebook pricing survey released in May illustrated the competitive advantage of low pricing. The survey found that books priced $2.99 and $3.99, on average, received about four times as many unit sales as books priced over $7.99. For indies who could publish low-priced books that were as good or better than what New York was publishing at higher prices, they were able to out-sell and out-compete the books from the large publishers. For much of 2013, it wasn't uncommon to see indies holding up to half of the top 10 bestseller slots at major retailers on some days. 2014-01-02-crystalball2.jpgBig publishers have taken note. In 2013 big publishers began competing more aggressively on price, primarily in the form of temporary price promotions. In 2014 these price promotions will give way to a new normal of lower regular prices. Discounting is a slippery slope. Once customers are conditioned to expect big-name authors for $3.99 or less, the entire industry will be forced to go there.

2. Price promotions will become less effective - If readers have an increased supply of high-quality books from their favorite authors at under $4.00, it means the pricing advantage of sub $4.00 will diminish in 2013. If you compare our 2013 survey results to our 2012 survey, we see signs this is already happening. Although our 2013 survey indicated an approximate 4X unit sales advantage for $2.99-$3.99 over $7.99+ books, our 2012 survey indicated up to a 6X advantage. It means price promotions will no longer work as effectively as before. Factors other than price will gain increased importance.

3. Ebook growth slows - Here comes the hangover. After a decade of exponential growth in ebooks with publishers and indies alike partying like it was 1999, growth is slowing. We all knew this day was coming. Year over year growth of 100 percent to 300 percent a year could not continue forever. The hazard of fast-growing market is that it can mask flaws in business models. It can cause players to misinterpret their success, and the assumptions upon which they credit their success. It can cause successful players to draw false correlations between cause and effect. Who are these players? I'm talking about authors, publishers, retailers, distributors and service providers -- all of us. It's easy to succeed when everything's growing. It's when things slow down that your business model is tested. The market is slowing. A normal cyclical shakeout is coming. Rather than fear the shakeout, entrepreneurial players should embrace it. Let it spur you on to become a better, more competitive player in 2014. Players who survive shakeouts usually come out stronger the other end.

4. Competition increases dramatically - With hundreds of thousands of new books published annually, and with retailer catalogs swelling to carry millions of ebook titles, it may come across as no surprise that completion will increase in 2014. Yet in 2014, the competition faced by authors and publishers will increase by an order of magnitude, and will make some players wish it was 2013 again. The ebook publishing playing field, which until recently was significantly tilted in the indies' favor, has now leveled a bit. Yet indies still enjoy a number of competitive advantages, including faster time to market, greater creative freedom, closer relationships with readers and thus a better understanding of reader desires, higher royalties rates and ultra-low pricing flexibility including FREE.

5. Ebook sales, measured in dollar volume, will decrease in 2014 - Yikes. I said it. The nascent ebook market is likely to experience its first annual downturn in sales as measured in dollar volume. This will be driven by price declines among major publishers and by the slowing transition from print to screens. Although readers will continue migrating from print to screens, the early adopters have adopted and the laggards will shift more slowly. Another driver of the drop is that the overall book market growth has been moribund for several years. As ebooks as a percentage of the overall book market increase, it means the growth of ebooks will become constrained by the growth and/or contraction of the overall book industry. Global sales in developing countries remain one potential bright spot that could mitigate any sales contraction.

6. Ebook unit market share will increase - Ebook consumption, measured in unit sales and downloads, and measured in words read digitally, will increase in 2014. The industry-wide sales slowdown, caused by the drop in average prices, will mask the fact that more books will be read than ever before. This is great news for book culture, and good news for indies who despite the loss of their once-powerful price advantage, will still be positioned to profit more from low prices, or to compete at ultra-low (sub $3.00 and FREE) price points.

7. A larger wave of big-name authors will defect to indieville - Multiple market forces will conspire to cause more traditionally published authors to turn their backs on big publishers. Publishers will try to hold the line on their 25 percent net ebook royalty structures, which means big authors will see their royalties suffer as prices drop and as the unit sales advantage of low prices decreases, and as the disadvantage of high prices increases. At the same time, readers will continue to transition from print to ebooks, making the print distribution to physical bookstores less important, and thus weakening the grip big publishers once had on bigger-name authors. Big authors, eager to maximize their net, will feel greater impetus to emigrate to indieville.

8. It's all about the writing - It's back to basics time. In a world where readers face an unlimited quantity of high-quality low-cost works, the writers who achieve the most success in 2014 will be those who take their readers to the most emotionally satisfying extremes. Books are pleasure-delivery devices. It doesn't matter if you're publishing a cookbook, romance novel, gardening how-to, memoir or political treatise. Your job as the author publisher is to release that super-fabulous book. That involves great writing and professional-quality editing. It also means avoiding all the mistakes that create unnecessary friction that prevent readers from discovering, desiring and enjoying the book. To understand these points of friction, and how to avoid them, check out my discussion of Viral Catalysts in my free ebook, The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success, or in my Youtube video on ebook publishing best practices.

9. All authors become indie authors - Back in the dark ages of publishing (prior to 2008), you were either traditionally published or weren't published. Writers who couldn't get a publishing deal were seen as failures, because without the access to the publisher's printing press, distribution and professional know-how, it was virtually impossible to reach readers. Today, failure is not an option. The next generation of writers can begin writing their book today with the full confidence that one way or another, it will get published. Inspired by the massive success of some indie authors, traditionally published authors now realize they have desirable publishing alternatives they never had before. Once a writer -- any writer -- comes to the realization that the power in the publishing industry has transferred from publishers to writers, it opens up a new world of possibilities and choice. Publishing no longer becomes an either/or question. The best writers will have the option to publish independently AND traditionally, or do one or the other. It's their choice. Both options are worthy of consideration by all writers, and can be mutually complementary. Even if you're a traditionally published author today, you're an indie author because you decide the fate of your next project.

10. Subscription ebook services will change the game - If the ebook subscription services -- the most notable of which are Scribd and Oyster -- can make their business models work, then they'll drive a game-changing shift in how readers value and consume books. For ebook subscription service users, reading will become an abundant resource that feels free. It'll become a utility service in the same way that water and electricity are utilities. When we flip the switch to turn on a light, or when we turn the knob on the faucet to brush our teeth, we're not thinking about how our next 60 seconds of that service will cost us one or two cents. We pay our monthly service fee, and for the most part we use the utility as much as we want. With ebook subscription services, the reader will pay $9 or $10 a month and enjoy virtually limitless reading. Readers will be relieved of the cognitive load of having to decide if a given book is worth the purchase price. Instead, they'll surf and sample books with minimal friction, as if every book is free. The reader's attention, and the book's ability to hold the reader's attention, will become the new factor in determining a writer's success. Even if these subscription services fail, they'll change the future of publishing by giving readers a taste of friction-free reading-as-a-service. It's a taste readers are unlikely to forget.

11. Traditional publishers will reevaluate their approach to self-publishing - The vanity approach to self-publishing, as witnessed by Pearson/Penguin's acquisition of Author Solutions (operates AuthorHouse, iUniverse, BookTango, Trafford, Xlibris, Palibrio, others...), has shown itself to harm the brands of all traditional publishers. I predicted this last year. 2014-01-02-spectrum.pngThe Author Solutions business model is wholly dependent upon making money by selling overpriced services to unwitting authors. Their business model is expensive at best, and unethical at worst. It's about selling $10,000+ publishing packages to authors who will never earn the money back. The model represents the antithesis of what the best and proudest publishers have always represented. Great publishers invest in their authors. The money flows from reader to retailer to publisher to author, not from author to publisher. At the same time Author Solutions has tarnished the reputation of all traditional publishers -- even those not engaged in such practices -- the indie author revolution has continued in full swing. Indies are stealing market share. Indies have learned to publish like professionals. Many indies no longer shop their books to agents and publishers, and instead choose to publish their books directly to readers using self-serve publishing and distribution platforms such as Smashwords, or KDP, Nook Press, and others. Publishers are losing access to the critical deal flow that is their lifeblood. I talked about the implications of this in my discussion of black swans in last year's predictions here at Huffington Post. If publishers lack an effective service offering for indie authors, they risk finding themselves on the wrong side of history as authors move on without them. The stigma once associated with self-publishing is melting away as the stigma of traditional publishing grows. How can publishers stem the defections and recapture relationships with authors? The answer will come by publishers reevaluating their attitude toward authors. They must recognize that publishing is a service, that they serve at the pleasure of authors, and they must offer a spectrum of services -- from self-serve to full-serve -- to meet the needs of all authors. Now that authors have choices, the publishing game can no longer be about, "What can the author do for the publisher?" Authors no longer need to bow subservient to publishers, so business models based on this old practice and attitude will be rejected. The new publisher mantra must be, "What can the publisher do for the author that the author cannot or will not do on their own?" Publishers must abandon the culture of NO because authors no longer have the patience or tolerance to hear it. Authors know they have choices, and they've gained a taste for the joys of self-publishing. How can publishers say YES to every author, yet still earn a profit? The answer: they need to build, acquire or partner with self-serve publishing platforms. A self-serve platform would allow them to say YES to every author -- to take a risk on every author -- and to form a relationship with every author. By operating a free publishing platform, the publishers would have the ability to serve the diverse needs of all authors. DIY authors would select the self-serve option. They'd be responsible for their own editing, cover design and marketing. Authors with proven commercial potential who don't want to hassle with the responsibilities of being one's own publisher might opt for a path somewhere along the spectrum between DIY and full-serve where they willingly trade lower royalties for increased investment and services from the publisher. Such a full-spectrum approach to publishing, where authors pay nothing, is 100 percent aligned with the author's interests, and 100 percent aligned with the best practices of the best publishers. A good self-serve platform doesn't employ sales people. It doesn't take money from authors. So the question is, can publishers introduce their own free self-serve platforms to broaden their services offerings? Time is running out.

12. Author platform is king - If you're an author, your platform is your ability to reach readers. Authors who can build, maintain and leverage their platforms will have a significant competitive advantage over those who cannot. Think of author platform as a multi-layered infrastructure that allows you to reach both new and existing fans. Elements of this infrastructure include your social media followers on Twitter, Facebook and the RSS feed of their blog. It includes the breadth of your retail distribution (more retailers is better than fewer), your uninterrupted presence at each retailer for every book, and the reviews at those retailers. It includes the number of readers who have "favorited" you at Smashwords, or who have added your books to their booklists at Goodreads. It includes subscribers to your private mailing list. It includes your celebrity, and your ability to leverage social media or traditional media or the love of your fans to get your message out. There are two primary factors that drive sales of any product or brand. The first is awareness. If the consumer is not aware of your product or brand, then they cannot purchase it. Authors must place their product in front of a consumer and gain their attention before the consumer can consider purchasing it. The second is desire. Once a consumer is aware of your product or brand, they must desire it. The author is the brand. Your job as the author is to build awareness of your brand, and to build, earn and deserve positive desire for your brand. Awareness plus desire create demand for your product. This is why platform will become more important than ever in 2014. Your platform helps you get the message out to existing fans who already know and desire your brand, and helps you reach new fans who will attach their wagons to your horse. The larger your platform is, the easier it is to grow your platform further, because well-maintained platforms grow organically.

13. Multi-author collaborations will become more common - In 2013, I observed a marked increase in the number of multi-author collaborations. Authors will collaborate with fellow authors in their same genre or category on box set compilations of existing and original content. These collaborations are often competitively priced and offer readers the opportunity to discover multiple new authors in the same genre or category in a single book. The collaborations also enable multiple authors to amplify each other's marketing efforts by leveraging each other's platforms.

14. Production takes on increased importance in 2014 - One of the most important secrets to ebook publishing success is to write more books. As a writer, your writing is your unique creation. It's your product. Authors who write great books (and produce more of them), are the authors who build sales and platform the fastest, because each new book represents an opportunity to please existing fans and hook new ones. Organize your time to spend more time writing and less time on everything else.

View some of my previous predictions:
2013 Predictions at the Huffington Post (published Dec 23, 2012)

10-Year Predictions at GalleyCat (published Jan 4, 2010)

Did my crystal ball miss anything? Please add your own predictions below.