A lot of people claim that traditional publishing is broken and will eventually die. I disagree. Much like the changes that have occurred in the past in publishing, the big six will survive and so will agents. I do not have any insider knowledge or hidden agenda, nor do I profess to know everything about publishing. Not by a long shot. But I do know how to read the signs of this evolution or revolution, depending on which side of the fence you are on. I believe there have been many signs. Here is how I foresee they will do it.
Self-publishing: In the very near future, all of the houses will spend some of their equity on self-publishing. In order to survive, they are going to have to reinvent the way they do business. This means digging into the self-publishing arena. It's rumored that two major houses are already doing this, and there are likely more to come. Hay House, for example, has already lent their name to Balboa Press which is their self-publishing arm. I have no experience with Balboa so I can't speak to their process, but I do know that part of their sales pitch to authors is that a successful book published with Balboa will be considered by Hay House for republication. Does this actually happen? I don't know, Balboa hasn't been around long enough to show a track record. If publishers get into self-publishing, does that mean they won't be publishing traditionally? Not at all. The traditional model won't go away, but with publishers becoming more and more risk-averse, the model has to change if they're going to survive. And, let's face it, while the number of bookstores is declining, opportunities to sell books and flood the market with books continue to increase.
Direct to consumer: While some publishers are dabbling in this, I'm not clear how successful they will be. Consumer engagement on e-commerce sites such as Amazon, etc. will significantly change the way we buy. What does this mean? I think you're going to see a lot more social buying in the future. Social engagement, consumer recommendations, etc. We're already seeing a lot of this, but I believe we'll see much more of it. Can publishers offer this? Yes, they certainly can, but first they have to overcome the hurdle of consumer awareness. Consumers don't know publishers, they know authors and they know the big e-commerce sites like Amazon, et al. Direct to consumer is great, but when you've been a behind-the-scenes entity for so long, the awareness process can take a while.
The future of the literary agent: I have heard this directly from a few agents -- that in five years literary agents as we now know them will be gone, or at the very least strongly diminished. Will agents go away? Doubtful. I believe the savvy agents will stick around and, like publishing, completely reinvent themselves. Consider this: for years agents have acted as gatekeepers. Ferreting through manuscripts, often editing work and/or suggesting rewrites to the material. They've done more lunches with publishers than you could ever hope to do in your lifetime, and they've schmoozed at more parties than anyone should ever be forced to attend. What does all this mean? It means they are more dialed into the industry than almost anyone and this puts them in a fantastic position. It's already brewing out there; several savvy agents are taking it upon themselves to become book consultants. Let's face it, while publishing opportunities may diminish vis-à-vis the traditional houses, the number of authors who want to get published will continue to grow. There will never be a lack of material, and agents are perfectly positioned to make sure that the majority of it is quality material. Consider this: you have a manuscript and you're not sure if it's a marketable topic. You don't even know if what you've written is any good. Yes, you could hire an editor, but their job is to edit your existing work. Some editors won't give you the kind of feedback that could save you thousands of dollars marketing something that has no audience. An agent can. I foresee that agents will rediscover who they are and what they bring to the table, which is considerable in my view.
Book access: The problem that we've always seen in media relations is this: if the book is self-published with limited distribution, it often won't be considered for a major show because show producers know that consumers may have a hard time finding the book. With e-books and the accessibility of these titles, all of that has changed. Shows are becoming less concerned with how a book is published, they just want topic-related quality titles to discuss on the show. This is great news for authors who previously haven't been able to secure any media for their books because there was no bookstore placement.
What does all of this mean for you, the author? By this time next year the landscape of publishing will look vastly different. There are more opportunities than ever to see your work in print; and moreover, the odd-man-out which used to be self-publishing is finally getting its due. We are going to see a lot more attention paid to the self-publishing market, and the stigma that's always followed it will diminish greatly. Yes, there will always be less-than-quality self-published books, but let's face it, I've seen traditionally published books fall into that same category.
People often lament the end of publishing as we know it. I actually think that's a great thing. Publishing the old way hasn't worked for a long time. It's always been about exclusivity and often seemed like a high school popularity contest. Breaking down these barriers and leveling the playing field will bring many good things with it, including -- and most importantly -- some extraordinary authors.
Here's to the future!