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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Publishing Prophecies & Predictions for 2011

Okay, I do NOT have the gift of prophecy. But as I look ahead at the year 2011, there are a handful of things I think are clear about the world of publishing…

First, 2011 will be the year of the publishing start-up. I think we’re going to see an explosion of new companies. Technology changes (in the way books are written, edited, acquired, produced, marketed and sold) have slowly re-shaped the large publishing houses. But those houses have tried to keep the same basic model in place for how they run their businesses. Now we’re going to see a bunch of small, print and e-book publishers arise who are faster, more nimble, and conduct business in an entirely new way.

Second, publishers will begin to re-organize around smaller business units. That means a small team of people (editor, marketer, sales guy, accountant) will have one sharp focus and will produce fewer books, but will try to have a better plan for each title. We’ve already seen this happen with nonfiction, but now we’re starting to see it happen in fiction. This has huge implications – think if a house had a small team producing one great thriller each month, another creating one big Amish book each month, and another team producing two strong historical romances each month. They’ll compete with each other for acquisition and marketing dollars. That means fewer titles, stronger books, and better support for each title.

Third, everyone will finally recognize that e-books are not only re-shaping the way we read books, but the way we manage the business of publishing. E-book sales rose roughly 400% last year. How we manage the growth, and how we react to the unique challenges of e-books will reveal which companies thrive in the future. The big questions for those of us working in the industry? (A) What is a fair royalty, and isn’t 25% a bit low, since publishers are making more money off e-books than print books? (B) How do we manage English language e-rights in foreign countries? (C) How can retail stores benefit from the sale of e-books in a tangible way? (D) Will consumers view the iPad, the Kindle, and the Nook as unique devices, or simply as brand names on a utility device?

Fourth, Borders is going to go bankrupt. The company is struggling with huge debt, much of it due to real estate leases. They owe hundreds of millions to publishers for books. The solution, of course, is to declare bankruptcy and reorganize, therefore cancelling many of those bad contracts and giving them debt relief. But the owners recognize that bankruptcy means they lose their investment in the company, so they’re fighting it. A shame, since Borders is still most publishers’ third biggest account after Barnes & Noble and Amazon. And B&N needs the competition -- history has proved that a monopoly is never a good thing for consumers. So eventually the owners will face facts and go through a bankruptcy. Let’s hope they survive.

Fifth, the Google Book Settlement will finally be decided… and then it will meander its way through the court system for a bunch of challenges. What started as a huge power-grab by Google has become recognized as a good (even perhaps a necessary) step. A couple million out-of-print books suddenly becoming available in a digital format? That’s a boon for researchers, readers, and writers.

Sixth, the Espresso Book Machine will be embraced by local bookstores. Print on demand will continue to grow, and that means indies will adopt the technology for you to walk in and print ANY BOOK YOU WANT. Consumers like immediacy – so no more waiting for shipping from Amazon. Come in, print it, and take it home.

Seventh, brick-and-mortar bookstores will continue their move toward gift centers, curriculum centers, game centers, toy centers, and snack centers. CBA bookstores have long done this with religious jewelry and t-shirts and Christian crap (“I always stop into a CBA bookstore – whenever I need a Precious Moments statuette!”), and now B&N is focusing on games, Borders on educational toys, Books-a-Million on yogurt. There will be fewer book titles on shelves, and they’re all still trying to figure out how to get people using e-readers to regularly visit the store.

Eighth, your platform and participation in marketing will be more important to publishers than ever before. Book marketing has shifted from “business-to-business” (e.g., an ad in a trade magazine) to “business-to-consumer.” That means the future of marketing your book is going to be focused on social media. It also means you, as the author, will be expected to take an even bigger role in promoting your title. And not just via Facebook and Twitter -- you’ll want to know about Wattpad, Copia, Figment, Flickr, Tumblr, Cursor… the list goes on.

Ninth, the self-publishing craze will remain hot, but it still won’t make people any money. Sure, somebody with a huge online platform like Seth Godin can do it successfully, but for most everyone else, self-publishing continues to be largely an exercise in vanity. Without the ability to stand in front of thousands of potential readers, you’re probably just doing this to make yourself feel important. I don’t know how to tell you this, but if every publisher has looked at your manuscript and told you it isn’t salable… well, they could be right. Sorry.

Tenth, there’s going to be this great unknown writer who breaks out and sells a ton of books, thus giving hope to novelists everywhere. Why do I think this will happen? Because it happens nearly every year. I don’t know who it’s going to be, of course (though I’m hoping you’ll pick up a copy of Kimberly Stuart’s fabulous OPERATION BONNET). But it will happen. And we’ll all be excited that, once again, genuine talent has been discovered.

Chip MacGregor is President of MacGregor Literary Inc., a literary agency that works in both the CBA and general markets.


  1. As always, excellent information Chip. Miss your blog. Thankful you looked into your crystal ball for us. Inside it did you see the Precious Moments figurines holding hands with the Willow Tree faceless ones? :D

    Number eight applies most to me so I'm going to check out a few of those you listed there.

    ~ Wendy

  2. Chip, welcome aboard. We're honored to have you as part of the team. Good info as always.

  3. So glad to see Chip back in the blogging saddle! I hope this means we'll be treated to the top products at ICRS again. That post alone provides my yearly dose of good, clean Christian snark.

    Like Wendy, I need to investigate the tools in #8. Thanks for an informative post.

  4. All things we should keep in mind, especially #2 for me. Every writer needs to realize the better quality your book, the higher chance an editor will take that chance on you.

    Great info, Chip!

  5. Thanks, Chip. I'll be checking out that list in #8 too.

    Just a couple of words about self-publishing. (you did expect this,right? ;) - I've self- published three devotional books and have done quite nicely with them. My platform isn't huge - I speak to women's groups about 7 or 8 months out of 12 and my sales have been quite decent.
    Though I agree with your statement in general, painting the self-pub. world with a wide brush really doesn't do it justice.
    That said, my next devotional will be an ebook. :)

  6. MArcia, I think self-publishing is very viable for non-fiction if, like you, the author has the speaking ministry to go with it. It just doesn't work very well for fiction.

  7. There is no one funnier or better than descriptions than Kimberly Stuart. Operation Bonnet is sooo funny.

  8. Chip,
    It's good to see your face on a blog (an active one!) again.

    I'm intrigued by this whole Espresso Book Machine concept. Who would a thunk it?

    #8 is the one that frightens me. (Okay, maybe that's too strong a word). As a pre-published author I already spend a lot of time on Twitter, perusing Facebook and have started a writing-focused blog. I also write fiction, but it would appear the line is blurring when it comes to needing a platform (a requirement for most non-fiction authors) or not.

    It will be interesting to track the changes the next two years. Look how much has changed in the past two?

  9. Such wonderful insight, as usual. Miss your old blog, Chip--your knowledge combined with a healthy dose of snark got me through! :) Glad to see you on here!

  10. Ah, the joy of shopping for Precious Moments figurines, Walking with Jesus socks and getting a cup of mocha latte while my book is being printed. It's enough to make a person wish... if only there were milk, eggs and bread to be had at the book store... ;)

  11. Good point, Ane -- I was really speaking about self-publishing novels. For all the talk, there's not much success in it yet (and no, don't bring up THE SHACK to me... that made news because it was the exception to the rule).

  12. As much as I buy books (and I buy LOADS of them), what will e-books do about the library question? I read the books I buy, but I also read books from my local library.

    Will libraries be able to "loan" me a book for my Nookindlepad? If they can, I'm more likely to buy one this year. But which one?

    Welcome aboard Chip! Good to hear from you.

  13. It's so good to hear from Chip again! I ate this post up.

    Thanks for the predictions. It's an exciting time to be in publishing, that's for sure.

  14. Very interesting list. It's exciting to see the changes happening, especially with the e-readers. I hope they pull more people into the beautiful world of books!

  15. Wonderful to hear from Chip. Have enjoyed the post and the predictions.Exciting changes ahead!

  16. Glad to see a recognized leader in the industry finally acknowledging the Espresso Book Machine IS the salvation for the brick & mortar store. Walk into a B&N (or drugstore) swipe your credit card and leave with a book. No $3.99 shipping from Amazon. No waiting 3 days or more for the mail. Read instantly on your Kindle or Nook and almost (you have to drive up the road) instantly with Espresso.
    Nice job, Chip.

  17. Samantha Fury Author4:12 PM, January 28, 2011

    # 9..Self Publishing

    Chip I think a lot of people these days don't even show their work to anyone, but their readers.

    I don't think they want to spend their time writing query letters when they could be writing novels.. :)

    Sure, there is a lot of Novels out there that are not up to par, but those of us that have repeat customers will have a growing audience, and those that don't will feel pride in the fact that they tried even if they didn't succeed.

    There is a lot of work, and stress being the owner/operator but it also brings freedom, and sometimes success.

    I know we self-publishers won't get rich quick, and that most of the time we are not considered real authors, but we can sale our novels at steady pace and add to our income and most of all have our Novels in the hands of readers..

    That alone can mean more than any amount of money.


  18. I think readers are a lot smarter than agents and publishers at picking "quality." That is, the books they want to read. It is that unmet need and hunger that is going to earn indie author Amanda Hocking a million dollars this year (yes, really--maybe you should do some research before you make sweeping generalizations).

    Plenty won't get rich. Others, like me, who did publish in New York, are for the first time in their lives able to write as a full-time job, on our own, creating our own small businesses of which you speak, except we aren't sharing. Thanks, NY, for teaching us that we had to market our own work. Now we know how to do it, and we can beat you on price, and your one competitive advantage--the bookstore--is going to be dependent on a POD machine because people want to drive somewhere and download a book instead of downloading it right onto their device of choice? Good luck with that.

    I hate to see anyone lose their jobs, but I'm afraid New York doesn't hold the monopoly on dreams.

    Scott Nicholson

  19. I don't like ebooks. I love to hold the book in my hands.
    I don't think that bookstores will go out so quickly. Maybe in the next generation.

    Anna Labno

  20. Chip--excellent list. I think Borders was bailed out this week.
    Small presses for electronic and POD books already flood the landscape. Most are for romance novels, but I believe others will soon produce mysteries, etc. I'm not a young woman, and since I began writing later in life, tried the small presses. I now have several releases and more contracts.
    I, too, still love a print, and even though all mine are offered as eBooks, I also have the prints--and a Kindle.
    Thanks for the list--Celia

  21. Hi Chip,

    I hate to burst your bubble, but you blew it in predictions #9 and #10.

    See my explanation here:

  22. There's an interesting assumption with #9 here...that "every publisher" has looked at a particular manuscript. What about those of us who are sort of tired of the whole submission process in general, but are still willing to work incredibly hard on their projects and still run them by editors/critique groups? That doesn't mean the quality isn't just means some of us are tired of trying to jump through contorted hoops just for the sake of jumping through hoops.

  23. Hi Chip,
    I'm new to your blog. I found it interesting. I'm an old fogey who still prefers the print copy of a good novel. However, as an author I have to live in the real world and I do see the ebooks going places. Even my grandson's nanny has a Kindle. So with this new manuscript I'm working on I might consider epublishing.

  24. Thank you for providing such useful information to us all! :)


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