Monday, December 31, 2012

Predictions--one more year

The year is wrapping up. Strike that, it's pretty much over. And that leaves me reflecting on what's gone on in the past, and what will happen in the next year.

This year has moved at an astonishing rate. Really. E-sales have exploded and e-books are neck and neck with paper and ink. Barnes and Nobles is looking rather lonely, sitting on a corner across from a dead Borders, and Amazon is twiddling its thumbs and pretending not to be a player in the DOJ lawsuit as every one of the defendants points their fingers that way. The Big Six edge towards the Big Four, dipping into vanity publishing in hopes of raising much-needed cash, and are surprised to find their staunchest defenders drifting away in light of this 'financially sensible' move. Hosts of internet publishers peek over the edge, searching for purchase in the new publishing world, and some begin to rise with heads held high. Self-publishing becomes legitimate and respected, and self-published millionaires rise, shine, and get traditional deals.

It's a war zone in this new publishing world. And we, authors and readers, are the armies.

So what do I expect for 2013?

First off, economics isn't quick. So my predictions aren't as sudden or as dire as most. I think everything we have now will still exist, but will expand: drastic changes will occur on 5, 10, and 50-year bases, not year-to-year.

So what I expect for the next year is this:

1. Amazon, having won the DOJ vs Big Publishers lawsuit through the publishers' settlements (despite being technically not involved, as neither the plaintiff nor the defendant), will lower prices on books to a point that impairs other companies' ability to compete, including both Barnes & Noble and indie bookstores. Apple and Macmillan will fight in court, but the battle won't be resolved by 2014. In any case, Macmillan will still gradually switch to more or less the same tactics the other publishers have been forced to adopt, due to pressure from the consumers. I doubt there will be any "technical glitches" causing Buy Buttons to disappear from Amazon; at this point, Amazon has already won, and anything so obvious would muddy Amazon's name.

2. Barnes and Noble will still be running, and probably profitable, by the end of 2013. They've got a large backlog of money, enough to keep them up and going for a few more years. And, having a lock on the brick-and-mortar stores, they've got some leverage.

3. Amazon will open brick and mortar stores. 

4. Amazon will continue to strongly fund indie book stores, and act as the small-publishing guardian angel by bailing out numerous small publishers. Several authors from small publishing companies will inexplicably become best-sellers as Amazon pushes them hard, making the small publishers more popular and the small publishing market more appealing to new authors.

5. Major publishing houses will still be able find and recruit talented new authors at the same rate as in the past. 

6. More self-published millionaires will rise, and then accept traditional publishing deals.

7. E-book sales will settle down to approximately 50% of all book sales, neither rising nor falling significantly beyond that, as readers continue to cherish physical books even as they enjoy the convenience of e-reading.

Big industry changes will take longer. Obviously, these predictions are pure speculation, but what I expect within the next 10 years:

1. Amazon will purchase Barnes and Noble.

2. Small publishers will dominate the non-Amazon market. The "Big Six" will be the "Big Three" due to multiple mergers, and one of these three will be Macmillan, which will have bought or merged with a few well-established small publishers.

3. There will be a rise in coffee-bookstores, sponsored by online publishers, wherein readers can take a book down from a shelf, read it, but cannot purchase it in the store. Instead, they may scan the title and buy the e-book. Many of the titles will be print-on-demand copies (or copies from extremely small print runs) of e-books. This allows readers the browser experience while lowering the overhead of the store by reducing the amount of stock kept on hand, and the amount of employee time spent caring for the stock, allowing employees to focus on their main duty: making coffee and/or tea. Since the stores will be subsidized by outside sources (Amazon, indie publishers, small publishers, online-only publishers), they won't need to be profitable on their own, but many may become so if they become trendy.

4. Amazon will have faced increasing pressure to remove DRM from their books, but after purchasing B&N and making all future Nooks compatible with Kindle files [and no, I don't think they'll stop the Nook line; it gives customers the appearance of competition], the furor will begin to die down and Amazon will keep their DRM. They will, however, make it even easier for Kindles to upload small publisher and Kobo titles, streamlining the process further to appease the market. Major competitors, such as Apple, will remain incompatible. Apple will continue to have a hand in the market, but will never make the majority of its profits from books or publishing, and will remain a thorn in Amazon's side without ever actually being a threat to Amazon's profits.

5. For a while, Amazon will look like it's about to become the only player on the market, despite the "Big Three" that have emerged and that will continue to be profitable. Then another non-book company (think Google or Target or Facebook) will turn some serious attention to publishing, using the same tactics as Amazon, and become Amazon's next major competitor, preventing Amazon from ever obtaining the true monopoly the industry fears.

I think that's enough predicting for now. Here's to 2013!

What do you see happening in the next year? The next ten years?


  1. Very nice post!

    On the academic and paleontology front:
    1) Open access will become increasingly popular since it doesn't put knowledge behind paywalls. PLOS ONE will continue growing in size, popularity, and impact factor. More and more paid journals will offer an open access option where the author pays a lump sum to make their article open (some, like JVP, already are). More and more people will learn and adhere to the idea of "taxpayers already paid for the research, they shouldn't have to pay to read the results". The number of non-academics reading academic journals is small, but they will be very appreciative of open access.
    2) Elsevier will not die. Their pricing is exorbitant in the face of the open access movement, but the outcry over them earlier this year fizzled away after they withdrew support for the Research Works Act. Plus, they publish too many good journals. :/ Academics are still going to submit to, review for, and read them.
    3)More and more journals will offer the option for electronic access only. Eventually, most people will take this option as it's cheaper and no one aside from new graduate students reads journals front to back; we just read/print off the ones we're interested in. But the option for print journals will continue to be offered because they just look so nice on a shelf. The price difference may eventually increase to the point that this is rare.
    4) After the passing of Farish Jenkins (may he rest in peace), Harvard will finally have to give tenure to someone who will have the very big task of filling his shoes. It will probably be someone who attended Harvard. They've already passed people up, including one who probably should have gotten it. The [not-really-a-]joke is that the position is not a tenure-track professorship, it's a six-year post-doc (and an awesome one that I wouldn't mind having).
    5) SVP will continue to grow in size, but the growth rate will start to slow. After continually losing money from the annual meetings, perhaps one year a test run of holding the conference at a smaller, cheaper center will happen. And I bet it will go just fine.

    1. I'd love to see open access to research findings! Maybe I don't read a lot of scientific articles these days, but being able to check the stats on articles written using them and make sure the article accurately represents the data and conclusions--that would be invaluable.

    2. PLOS ONE is the best open access journal and a good place to start. It's highly regarded and encompasses all scientific and medicinal fields.