Prognostications on Publishing

Back in 2008, I offered up my own view of where publishing was going, in particular the indie bookseller sector and the Espresso Book Machine (EBM). Over the years I’ve continued to bang on that drum, illustrating a vision of an evolved bookstore that’s more Internet cafe than the hallowed stacks of print books. In some ways that vision has been realized, in others not.

To date there are only 57 EBMs worldwide, (US 28, CA 13, AU 2, AE 2, PH 2, CH 1, DO 1, EG 3, NL 2, JP 2, UK 2), in the following sectors: indie bookstores 21, universities 17, libraries 16, other 3.

Part of the difficulty with this remarkable technology has been the cost, and part has been distribution partners. Combine that with the phenomenal rise of eBooks, and it would seem the EBM may be destined for the 8-track and beta-video museum.

There is no disputing print books are rapidly evolving into eBooks. And while many of my contemporaries are wailing about the demise of print, I find myself standing off-camera, observing the scene. This is a strange experience for me (my love of digital books versus print), given I’ve spent most of my life madly, passionately, hopelessly in love with the printed word. Our home is filled with books, shelves and shelves of them. Much of our leisure time, even working time (given I’m a publisher) is spent with books. It is an old, familiar and comfortable relationship.

But I find myself eschewing the print book for my own personal reading. I would much rather delve into the Bag of Holding (something like Hermione’s bottomless handbag) known as my Kobo, than hold a printed book. Quite aside from reduced strain for arthritic hands, it’s just so much easier, more engaging to read on an ereader than it is a printed book. And since owning my reader, (Christmas 2010) I have purchased only two print books, and then only because I required them for research, and they weren’t available in eBook format.

And while I will always publish printed books (more as an art-form) alongside eBooks at Five Rivers, my heart has been completely stolen by the digital medium.

It would seem I’m not alone. Staunch bibliophiles I’ve known for years are quietly slipping out the door of their love-affair with print, seduced by digital magic of eBooks.

And nowhere is that seduction apparently more powerful than with children., according to a recent article in Digital Book World. Disney’s publishing arm reported:

In the first two weeks of sales for The Serpent’s Shadow, a new title in a series by Rick Riordan that came out on May 1, 30% of the sales were digital.

I’m going to invite an egg facial here and predict that over the next years we’ll see print die and transform into an art form, much the way print photography has evolved. Bricks and mortar stores will be a rarity, tend to speciality and trendy. Book lovers will buy digital, online, from their readers or computers.

While all that’s going on, libraries will morph into something else, not quite sure exactly, but sort of repositories for print books in the way museums are for artefacts, and become study centres, WIFI providers, research assistants, lots of Skype and interactive modules. And there will be fewer libraries.

Children’s picture books will morph into mini-movies and become highly interactive, and expensive to produce because of technological and intelligence requirements. Books will become shorter as attention spans atrophy, although there will always be a place for longer books. Graphic novels will follow along with children’s picture books, morphing and exploding. More books will sell and less money will be made.

And those gatekeepers, the decision-makers in the ivory towers of publishing will pretty much lose their influence because the barbarian hoardes will not only have crashed the gates, but overrun Isenguard. They will lose their influence because of simple economics. While the Big Six will continue to charge mass-market paperback prices for their eBooks, hoping to pay the mortgage with the sale of every eBook, the small and indie presses, and the self-published authors, will be offering up their books for under $10.00.

In the end it’s all about economics. Will the paying public be willing to fork out, while shopping online from the comfort of their homes at three of the A.M., in their jammies, between $15 and $23 for a product that doesn’t actually exist, or will they start investigating those less expensive titles priced under $10 from the small-fry of the publishing world?

I have a feeling it’s going to be the latter. If you read a book and been dissatisfied and spent $15 on it, you’re going to grumble. Whereas if you read a book and been dissatisfied and only spent $5, well, you figure it was the price of an expensive coffee. Equally, if that $15 has been a treat, it’s not going to seem as much a treat as that $5 eBook you absolutely loved.

So there you go. The Oracle has spoken. Make of it what you will.