A lot happened in 2020 and many of us are happy to see it gone, I know I am.  This past year was filled with so many challenges but I can’t consider 2020 a loss, because it was a learning experience a long, nightmarish experience.  So what do we have to look forward to in 2021?  Predicting the future of the publishing business has been a fun tradition for me and today, I’d like to dust off my crystal ball in order to look and see where we’re heading in 2021.

Sales Will Continue To Improve

The beginning of the 2020 pandemic saw the temporary closure of many bookstores which killed a lot of book sales in spring. However as independent bookstores adjusted their business models and began delivering products or providing pickup services, they prevailed.  Sales are actually better than they were in 2019, in fact, they were up by 8%!  This was mainly due to the fact that people were desperate for entertainment and chose television, video games and books for their escapism.

As the COVID-19 vaccines are distribute world-wide, things will return to normal meaning book fairs will commence, as will book signings and conferences.  I believe once that happens people will begin to pour into stores spending money on the things that bring them joy.  Diehard fans will line up to conferences and book fairs in order to meet their favorite authors and to connect once again in person.  It will be a celebratory time.             

Social Media Retail Will Start To Hit The West

Social media shopping will continue to evolve as sites like Facebook, Youtube and TikTok compete with Amazon for consumer cash.  Yes, you heard me right, social media sites are gearing up to take Amazon’s retail crown. Just last year Facebook purchased a company called, Kustomer to acquire its customer service tools.  Why?  Because Kustomer uses data from social media as well as online history to connect agents with the right products for the right consumer.  It makes sense if social media companies want to achieve success, they’ll have to be better than Amazon at seamless transactions as well as product recommendations.  This is totally possible since social media companies have more data to work with and that means authors who advertise on social media can get better conversion for their ads. Also, they won’t have to link outside to stores like Amazon in order for consumers to complete the purchase.  Every online retailer knows, the fewer steps in the buying journey, the better the conversions.  Social media shopping is already done in China, with WeChat, a popular social media platform where users can connect virtual wallets to their social media accounts.  Maybe that’s why Amazon’s Jeff Bezos gave that speech in 2018, predicting Amazon’s eventual downfall?  Hmm…       

Audio Will Continue To Evolve

With voice technology and AI, the copyright laws are going to have to be rewritten in order to include these new technologies.  Audio translations are expected to explode in the next few years as AIs start translating books from every language imaginable.  Not only can they translate the work, they can also narrate it. Currently, some AIs can read books aloud without sounding too robotic which will eventually lead to AI licensing in all future publishing contracts.          

But that’s not all, last year Spotify’s CEO made a statement that he plans on taking his company into the entertainment business.  In September of 2020, they entered a deal with Chernin Entertainment to turn podcasts into movies and T.V. shows.  It’s not unrealistic to see either Spotify, or some other company offering streaming books unlike Audible’s business model which is static and non-scalable for creators (as of this date).  I can easily see a company offering listeners live, dramatic performance audio books. 

This could also include subscription tiers for various types of audiobooks.  For example, an audiobook read by an AI could cost less than one read by a cast of voice actors.  As you can see, the sky is the limit with audiobooks.  Speaking of AIs…          

Your Next Rejection Might Be From An AI

These days a lot unsolicited manuscripts sent to publishers are vetted by college interns.  They pick the ones without obvious errors and drivel then send them up the ladder.  Years ago, I read a story where a former intern talked about the pizza parties her boss would throw in order to motivate them to read through the slush pile.  Since nobody wants the job, it will have to be automated and why not?  These days AIs can be used as data analysts and will eventually have the ability to calculate the odds of a manuscript becoming a bestseller.

If you think the publishing industry wouldn’t be interested in this type of technology think again. In July of 2015, the Canadian CEO of Random House, rocked the publishing world when he publicly admitted, “I’m not interested in a book that is going to generate less than $100,000 in revenue unless, the editor or publisher has a compelling vision for the book and/or the author.”  

This type of technology would be great for the bottom line but terrible for diversity in the publishing industry.  We’re already seeing it with large publishers only publishing books from big names and smaller to midsize companies publishing everything else.  This business practice will be put on steroids once AI joins the ranks.    

Crowdfunding Will Become More Common

This past summer, a record was broken on Kickstarter, when five million dollars was raised for a book project.  Though this author was traditionally published years ago, and known within the sci-fi world, he broke the mold.  It’s taken 12 years for an author to raise that much money on Kickstarter.  Today real fans want to support their favorite artists and are willing to put a few coins in the tip jar whenever they can.  However, authors are gonna have to work on their brand to make this work. Speaking of brand…       

Brand Will Be More Important Than Ever

Entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk had this to say about branding, “If you actually build a brand, you outsell any salesman, any day of the week.”  A brand sets you apart from the others, it isn’t only logos and slogans, a brand is your reputation as an author.  This is a big problem since most authors don’t brand themselves and therefore can’t separate themselves from the pack. 

If you think this is an indie problem, think again, as more and more publishers refuse to publish books by unknown authors, brand is going to become the lifeblood of any author’s career.  At the Digital World Book Expo in 2017, representatives from Hachette and Perseus said they evaluate an author’s platform and report those findings during acquisition meetings.  This shouldn’t be a big surprise since literary agents have been doing the same thing for years.  They want proof that you are marketable and a big part of that is having a brand.   

In Closing…

I almost didn’t want to write this post, because of the deluge of bad luck that 2020 bestowed upon us but I was surprised when I saw that things are going to get better, much better. However, I don’t believe the industry is ever going to be the same after this year. It was said that 2020 ushered in technological changes that weren’t expected to take place until 2025. So there’s no going back to the way things were and that’s not a bad thing.

Nevertheless, I believe authors should start planning their next move as the world begins to return to normal (whatever that means) so when we’re able to meet again, we can enjoy it instead of merely enduring it. 2020 certainly showed us what we’re made of and many of us discovered we’re a lot tougher than we thought. So let’s take those lessons into 2021 as we move on to bigger and better things.