I'm an avid trend-watcher and base my predictions by extrapolating trends to their logical conclusion. The publishing world is still in huge flux and I think it'll get worse before it gets better.
Penguin recently announced it had created Book Country, a self-publishing package for writers. (A very pricey package at that.) Dean Wesley Smith posted an excellent report on Penguin, Simon & Schuster, and the unsettling remarks by Robert Gottlieb, chairman of Trident Literary Agency. Notice on Trident's page that they never call it self-publishing, yet that's what it looks like to me.
Because I edit the newsletter for OWW, (Online Writing Workshop for SF, Fantasy and Horror) I've long kept track of agents and their blogs. Fewer are blogging about the fantastic deals they've made for their clients. Some have established self-publishing arms for their business. Others have simply disappeared.
Giants like Amazon, Google, Apple, and Barnes & Noble are expanding their empires, robbing traditional publishing of their leads before the trads get a chance to react.
But the most telling development of all, the one I've been watching closely, has been with the average consumer. Every time I see someone with a book or an e-reader, I always ask what they like to read and how they choose what they read.
The two most common answers? Mystery is the top favorite, followed closely by romance. The people I polled said they buy the author--not the publisher or the genre. If they like someone, they simply keep buying him until he starts to disappoint. (This doesn't apply to the giants like King, Rowling, The Nora, and Patterson. Their fans will read them no matter what.)
This is a most unscientific poll, but I've been doing it for so long, it's begun to form a pattern.
But the trend that struck me as most dramatic has come from yard sales. You can tell a lot by the things we recycle and dispose. I've been seeing a significant drop in paper books at backyard sales. Even at used book stores, recent releases are fewer and snapped up quickly. Books that sold poorly on their release glut the shelves and languor there.
This can mean several results in 2012.
• Smaller demand could make paper books more expensive to produce and buy, reducing author advances even further.
• Traditional publishers might have to turn their operations to Print On Demand (POD) to stay solvent.
• Watchdog groups and lawyers will be scrutinizing traditional publishers even more as publishers try to lure unsuspecting authors to self-publish with them.
• Droves of authors will try self-publishing and fail. Not because their work is bad, but because they'll drown in obscurity as the market becomes increasingly glutted.
Not very cheery, is it? What we need is an outfit that can stream new book releases through many outlets at once, aggregated in such a way that it'll be easy for the consumer to window shop in their jammies.
Amazon has done this best, but Google with its massive reach ought to be able to tap a few smart people who can create an entirely digital shopping experience.
What can authors do? Write more. Chat less. Sometimes, we insulate ourselves among peers and rabid readers, forgetting there is a huge group of consumers out there who don't give a flying fig who's got a blog tour or a book trailer. They just want something to read and your book happened to have caught their eye.
Call them the real silent majority. They're the ones calling the shots now.