It’s the beginning of a new decade, so I thought it was time to write my first “publishing predictions” blog.
The first two decades of the new millennium were filled with innovation and disruption in the publishing industry. Online bookselling, the rise of Amazon, the tremendous growth of self-publishing, and the popularization of the eBook were just a few of the major changes that rocked the industry.
By the end of the second decade of the new millennium, another wave of change had arrived. The rising popularity of audiobooks gave readers yet another way to consume books while mobile and online fatigue prompted a slow but steady return of readers to the unique offline experience of physical bookstores and physical books.
Not since the invention of The Gutenberg Press in 1440 has publishing seen so much change.
So what might the new decade hold for those of us working in today’s ever-changing world of publishing? Here are my top three publishing predictions for 2020:
Prediction #1: Independent authors will gain access to distribution channels and programs once only available to traditionally published authors. 2020 will mark a turning point.
Due to many of the trends I mentioned above, the economics and workings of publishing have changed dramatically. This has opened doors for independent authors who publish high quality books. New channels and programs are becoming available to independent authors, enabling them to reach large new audiences and build substantial and scalable businesses around their work.
On one side, physical retailers—both big and small—are looking for new, diverse voices to differentiate their offerings to readers. These retailers are also asking for financial terms that enable them to make a profit in an industry that has seen its margins shrink dramatically. With the right book and the right terms, physical retail doors will open for more indie authors in 2020.
Direct selling will also become a more lucrative and scalable channel for independent authors who are willing to master the art of social selling and eCommerce. Independent authors who can produce top quality books and learn the business side of book publishing—a world where ad spends, growing email lists, lead magnets, and marketing technology are important—will find that affordable marketing and ad technologies, powerful eCommerce platforms, and instant access to readers can lead to more direct sales at higher margins.
The caveat, however, is that these opportunities will only be available to authors who:
—can produce books of the highest caliber for a clearly defined audience
—are willing to work hard to build a following for their work
—are open to learning the business of publishing, marketing and distributing books
Authors who say they only wish to write will find that the days of “publish it and they will come” are long past.
For business-minded authors, however, everything and everyone they need to publish a top-notch book is now available for hire. Independent authors who seek the best editors, designers, publicists, marketers and publishing and distribution partners can work with them. Times have changed. Many of the best and the brightest from the publishing industry now freelance and share their expertise with indies who are willing to invest in their success.
Quality books and professional business practices will become paramount for independent authors who want access to new distribution channels and the world of opportunity they offer—and, yes, it’s a global opportunity.
Prediction #2: Technology—specifically Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Blockchain—will bring new efficiencies, cost and time savings, global opportunities, and better outcomes to independent authors.
It can cost a lot of money to publish a great book. That’s about to change. A variety of new technologies will streamline publishing workflows, cut out the middleman in financial transactions, and demolish outdated obstacles that stand between authors and readers.
Not all of this technology will be available this year, but we will see the first beta tests available in 2020. I know, because we’re building some of these technologies at Bublish and partnering with other publishing-tech companies with similar visions. Bublish’s October 2019 announcement at The Frankfurt Book Fair about a partnership with Bookchain provides a hint of what’s to come. The partnership enabled Bublish to make its first title available on the blockchain, a promising new technology that allows authors to sell directly to consumers through smart contracts, which instantly execute payment at the point of sale.
Other emerging publishing technologies will not only save authors time and money, they will help them create better books, reach a wider audience, and make more money for their efforts. We are talking about technologies that create massive opportunity and disrupt the status quo. Keep an eye on this blog for updates as these technologies become available this year and beyond.
Prediction #3: A professional class of entrepreneurial indie authors will grow more quickly in 2020. They won’t have the instant home runs that the early indies had, but they will break through and build significant careers with growing financial reward.
The statistics are gloomy: most indie authors sell less than a hundred copies of their book. Publishing, like any creative industry (acting, screen writing, singing, painting, entrepreneurship) has a high failure rate. Many try, but few succeed.
First time authors will face many hurdles. The learning curve is steep. It takes time for an author to hone his or her craft, grow an audience, write a body of quality work, and build a recognizable author brand. It also takes entrepreneurial spirit and true grit.
My prediction for 2020 and beyond is that more indie authors will embrace the realities of what it takes to make it in this business. There will be fewer authors who buy into the hype that they can become bestselling authors overnight. There will be more indie authors—both fiction and nonfiction—who will commit to the hard work of building a business around their work. Indie authors will begin to think more like entrepreneurs, or “authorpreneurs,” as we call them here at Bublish.
The exciting news is that there are many successful business models for today’s entrepreneurial author. Orna Ross, founder of The Alliance of Independent Authors, has a great post explaining ten of the emerging business models for indies. Click here to read her post.
As this professional class of independent authors grows and produces more work, changing consumer tastes will facilitate a shift to books written by indies. In 2020, book consumers and the retailers who serve them care less about who published a book and more about the uniqueness and quality of the reading experience. For fiction writers, this is reminiscent of indie rock’s move into mainstream music. There’s a fascinating article on how this unfolded for indie musicians on pitchfork.com. Click here to read it.
Storytelling is about to enter an era that mirrors this embrace of indie rock over the last decade. The power of a unique voice and story will trump how that story was published. As a nation, we’re tired of the political and cultural shouting, divisiveness, and noise. We’re spending more time thinking deeply about how we got here as a nation. We’re actively seeking new voices and perspectives. Outside the box is becoming better than inside the box. Readers want more diverse reading lists. There is an unprecedented opportunity for indie authors in this shift.
Those are my predictions for 2020. My advice to authors navigating these changes: Hone your craft. Hone your business skills. Learn and grow from the inevitable failures and rejections. Listen to and engage your readers. Get to know them. Support them as much as they support you. Give the world something interesting and worthwhile to read. Work hard to get your work into the hands of readers. Commit to being an outstanding publisher of your own work.
Here’s to all the possibilities of the new year and the new decade. xo, Kathy
Kathy Meis is the founder and CEO of Bublish, the world’s first complete publishing platform with built-in marketing. Authors can write, promote, publish and track their work—all from one dashboard. Kathy has been a writer and editor for more than thirty years, working for such iconic editorial brands as CBS and Forbes. A sought-after expert on the topics of independent publishing, author branding, book marketing and disruption in the publishing industry, Kathy has spoken at Book Expo America, San Francisco Writers Conference, Women in Media, ALLi’s Indie Author Fringe conference, GrubSteet, PubSmart, AuthorU, IndieRecon, and many other publishing conferences.