The end of year predictions for the future of book publishing are beginning to flood social media and I was particularly taken by those made by Mark Coker, founder of my main distributor, Smashwords. To my mind, the most important of his 2014 Book Publishing Industry Predictions is that mainstream publishers will lower ebook prices, in order to remain competitive against the rising tide of indie published bestsellers. Indeed, his subtitle "Price Drops to Impact Competitive Dynamics" shows that he, too, sees this as the Big One prediction about the Big Four publishers (he writes from a US context, where mainstream publishing is concentrated in the hands of a few New York based companies). This price dropping will level the playing field for mainstream published ebooks and so will negatively impact on the marketability of indie published authors.
This trend brings into sharper focus Coker's non-headline 2013 prediction that there would be a gold rush effect on the world of indie ebook publishing. His subtitle had been that "Indie Ebook Authors Take Charge," but this prediction would be better expressed as indie authors pay charges. His gold rush analogy appeals to me as I am drawing to the close of my writing sojourn in Seattle, a city that enjoyed a major financial boost due to the Klondike Gold Rush. Coker's gold rush analogy is that after a few people get rich, multitudes join in the fortune hunt, but the main beneficiaries are not the miners, but those who provide services to them (such as the businesses of Seattle, who eventually got their first World's Fair out of it, in 1909.) In the indie publishing world, Coker predicted that the main money would be made, not by the authors, but by those providing services to them - graphic designers, editors, print publishers, marketers, etc.
This year has certainly seen a tail-off in ebook sales due to the lack of publishing phenomena to match the Fifty Shades of Grey and Hunger Games trilogies. The expected income from an indie published book is very low, and many non-established authors would not cover their costs. Debut authors need to particularly be aware of the dangers of spending too much, as I warned in The Editor's New Clothes [the article is now called Self Editing]. Coker does not repeat this assertion in his 2014 predictions, but there is a very real danger of a gold crash in the indie publishing world. With incomes for indie authors due to be squeezed even harder due to more aggressive mainstream pricing, there is likely to be a reduction in demand for the services of those publishing services.
To publish an ebook via Coker's Smashwords is free, but if you follow his advice to spend wisely on professional cover design and professional editing, then you may need some bridging finance until sufficient sales come in to defray your costs. If Coker's prediction of mainstream price-cutting comes about, there is less likelihood of those costs ever being recovered. This will lead some to give up as indie authors, but I suspect that it will lead many others to do what businesses have always done in hard times; trim their costs. I expect free services to benefit from this gold crash, which will hit local printing presses hard, as indie authors take the safer option offered by free print on demand services, such as Amazon's CreateSpace.
Marketing is likely to become even more focused on the indie author's self promotion via social media and this income squeeze might see a decline in using paid-for websites (like MMMporium) or obtaining internet domains (such as merciamcmahon.com). There will probably also be a decline in those willing to pay for professional editing services and an increase in authors doing edit swaps, much in the way that writing buddies act as critique partners. This trimming of the indie authors' sails will have a major financial impact on many indie authors, who currently subsidise their art through editing or design work. This could lead to a downward economic spiral, where those authors then have to trim their costs. This could have the unfortunate consequence of indie publishing becoming dominated by those who are already successful, who have a wealthy and supportive partners, or enjoy a well-paid day job. In other words, indie publishing could become a less stigmatised version of vanity publishing. Or alternatively, its radical roots will be embraced and indie authors will increasingly reclaim the notion that being an indie author is about your freedom from someone else's rules on how to produce your novel. So, my prediction for the future of publishing is that there will be a big fight back from the mainstream publishers and a fastening of the hatches and trimming of the sails by indie authors. The worst storm-proofed, however, will prove to be the providers of services to indie authors.
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