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MIND MELD: The Future Of Publishing

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Ebooks and ereaders were hot items this past holiday season, but while this is seen as a good thing by many people there has also been a concomitant rise in piracy of the digital books. Going forward, publisher’s will have to find some way of dealing with a host of issues in an increasingly digital world. We asked our panelists this question:

Q: What will the publishing industry look like after 10 more years of advancing technology?

Here’s what they said…

Cheryl Morgan
Cheryl has been active in the science fiction community for many years, beginning with Emerald City magazine. She can currently be found writing at Cheryl’s Mewsings, SF Awards Watch, and Salon Futura.

I should start by noting that trying to predict anything to do with technology 10 years into the future is fraught with peril. Had you asked me in 2001 to predict what the Internet would look like in 2011 I would probably have been pretty much spot on, but had you asked me in 1995 to predict what the Internet would be like in 2005 I would have been way off base. The state of the ebook market today reminds me rather of the state of the World Wide Web in 1995, or perhaps more like 1997. Things were just starting to take off. Those of us who had computer skills were starting to make heavy use of it, but standards were a complete muddle, software tools were practically non-existent, and if the man in the street had heard of the Internet he certainly didn’t use it. Oh my, how far we have come.

Ebooks will develop considerably over the next decade. We are already seeing Apple starting to introduce proprietary extensions to the epub standard, just as Microsoft tried to do with Internet Explorer and HTML. Color EInk devices are apparently just around the corner. New, cheap tablet devices are starting to pour into the stores. The major bookstore chains are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Where will all this lead?

My guess, and it can be only a guess, is that in 10 years time the publishing industry will be radically different, and much more like Hollywood. The vast majority of book sales will be of a small number of titles that are incredibly expensive to produce, and most of them will involve celebrities in some way or another. What people understand by a “book” will also be radically different. People will expect books to read themselves to you, and to have extensive video content. There will also be all sorts of “added value” options, by which the publishers will mean opportunities for you to spend more money. So having got to the point in the (ghost written) autobiography of the latest big name starlet where our heroine tearfully accepts her first Oscar, you will then be able to buy replicas of the outfit she wore, including the perfume, or a signed photo of her with the trophy, and you’ll be able to bet on her chances of another win with her latest film (inside secrets of the making of which will be revealed in the next volume of her life story, reserve your copy now!).

Naturally the media conglomerates will want to ensure they get revenue from these hugely expensive productions, but thanks to the collapse of net neutrality, at least in the USA but probably the rest of the developed world as well, access to these books will only be possible though the new, ultra-fast internet connections that are only available through the major TV/telecoms companies. Your portable devices will only connect via these services. The Internet will become like cable TV. Everything that you do there will be via major services such as Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple, Fox, Disney and so on.

Where will this leave the fiction business? Well, novels will still be produced, of course, though the best sellers will mostly be (ghost) written by celebrities. Literature snobs like us will still be able to buy novels by actual authors, but it will be increasingly hard for anyone to make a living solely from writing them. Publication will be in the hands of small independents who will be forced to distribute through Amazon and Apple, on ever less favorable terms, because they can’t afford the fees to gain access to the new, corporate internet themselves.

Paper books will still exist, of course, but the high street bookstore chains will all have gone. Even Amazon will have stopped bothering to stock all that heavy, useless paper now that so few people want it. You will only be able to buy paper books on eBay or through dingy, back street independent retailers who will be very much like the second hand bookstores we used to know and love. People who shop at them will be regarded with the same bemusement that is currently reserved for folk who still buy vinyl records.

Meanwhile there will be a thriving market in amateur self-publishing. We’ll all have to do it through Facebook, because no one will be able to afford to have a personal website anymore, so the fiction we write will be full of annoying, animated ads for online games, and Facebook will own the copyright on our work, but huge numbers of people will publish there anyway, because they can, and because there is no alternative. The path to success will be to get sufficient Likes for your Facebook fiction that you’ll be able to bid to ghost-write a new celebrity novel.

Yeah, it is all pretty dystopian, but it could happen. So next time you hear someone discussing net neutrality on the news, don’t tune out, take an interest, because it is really, really important.

Neil Clarke
Neil Clarke is the owner of Wyrm Publishing, editor of Clarkesworld Magazine, a freelance ebook designer, and the creator of an online submissions system. He lives next to the Great Swamp in NJ with his wife and two boys.

Things That Will Stay The Same

  1. There will still be book and magazine publishers of all sizes.
  2. Print editions of books and magazines will still exist.
  3. There will still be book collectors supporting small press limited editions.
  4. The small press will be taking the majority of the risks/trying new things.
  5. Piracy will exist. Music, movie and gaming efforts have failed to kill it. Publishing will be no different.

Things That Will Change

  1. Book contracts. The old model was based on regional distribution and limited print runs. Ebooks remove warehouse and distribution limitations that framed contract terms. What is “out of print” in a digital realm?
  2. Print magazines will see the bulk of their readership change to the electronic editions. You’ll also see a number of side eprojects that take advantage of old content, particularly from fiction magazines.
  3. Self-publishing will continue to expand and attract more established authors. (Great for back catalog, unusual or experimental projects, novellas, etc.)
  4. Traditional book & magazine distributors will suffer as sales shift to electronic editions. This is the weak link in the publishing business and could present problems down the line.
  5. Although currently prohibited by Amazon and others, I expect to see advertising creep into ebook editions, particularly magazines. Workarounds could be sponsored content or product placement.
  6. Publishers will take advantage of the medium instead of merely converting content (badly) to it. More art, embedded audio editions, video, extra stories, 3D, color design, etc. Size is no longer an issue. (Compares to the addition of extra tracks or video on music CDs, special features on DVD) This will start with textbooks and children’s literature, but quickly expand from there.
  7. Read instantly! This is already happening with DVDs. Expect the ebook to be free with the purchase of your print edition.
  8. Subscription models. Obviously important for magazines, but definitely a future for books. There are pockets of loyalty among readers and this will be capitalized on. (small press supporters, Oprah Book Club, etc.)
Gordon Van Gelder
Gordon Van Gelder has been a professional editor since 1988. Currently he edits and publishes The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He recently edited an anthology of climate change stories called Welcome to the Greenhouse.

Around 1994, I was on a panel with Ian Ballantine and I asked him what he thought the future of electronic publishing would be. “It’s going to be wild,” he said. “Wilder than fast women and wild horses.” (Or maybe it was “fast horses and wild women.” )

Sixteen years later, I find myself wanting to answer your question the same way. Because really, no one knows what things are going to look like in ten years. Technology might change dramatically in ten years. Or possibly the situation in Congo might get so bad that minerals can no longer be mined there and the electronics market will seize up. There’s just no telling.

Sorry I can’t give you any better guesses or predictions.

Nick Mamatas
Nick Mamatas is the author of three and a half novels, including Sensation (PM Press) and with Brian Keene The Damned Highway (Dark Horse Books), the how-to guide for writers Starve Better (Apex Publications) and the sure-to-be indispensable Insults Every Man Should Know (Quirk Books). With Ellen Datlow he edited Haunted Legends (Tor Books) and his short fiction has appeared or soon will on, in Asimov’s Science Fiction, and the anthology Supernatural Noir.

I suspect that, in the end, the split will be around 60/40 in favor of print books, with trade paperbacks predominating and hardcovers increasing in price; they’ll be artfully made gift books more than anything else. Cheaper POD technology will allow for more and better independent publishers–think O/R Books, not–to survive without investing a lot of money in inventory or ending up deep in debt to their distributor. I don’t see the print book going the way of the VHS tape or the CD, but ending up more like the movie theater versus the complex of TV/cable/Blockbuster/Netflix/DVD purchases.

Most ebooks will be read on something other than dedicated ereaders–nicer smartphones will be where regular readers will look at books during their commutes and whatnot. You’ll read on something you already own. In the end, I suspect the Kindle isn’t going to be the future, though people will remember that weird old device fondly as they download the Kindle app onto their phone. itself will likely have limited warehouse space and make its money selling its infrastructure and space to third-party sellers of any commodity that needs fulfillment and shipping–to a certain extent this is already occurring.

Piracy will always be with us, and in the end it’ll just be figured into the cost of doing business; ebook prices will come down to a more reasonable level and piracy will be a problem along the lines of shoplifting. Writers will be more likely to license World English rights rather than territorial rights for their books to make them more widely available to readers who pirate out of fannish desperation.

I also anticipate at least one of the major publishers crumbling back into its component imprints, which will actually be a good thing–indeed, it’ll be the thing that will allow ebooks to come down to the $3-5 price range. There’s a lot of whining about how print costs are only 10% of the cover price of a book, so ebooks prices can only sink so low, but the plain fact is that publisher overhead, specifically in the forms of Manhattan real estate and payouts to distributors with giant warehouses, are both utterly superfluous and easily eliminated. The major houses are pigs and some of them are going to die. We should gleefully bathe in their blood and fat! So as the 1980-1990s had conglomertization and buyouts, the 2010s will have fragmentations and the (re)creation of boutique and niche publishers. Most writers won’t notice much difference in their incomes, since writer income has always been low anyway. One issue will be rising above the ocean of bad writing that self-publishing will release, but the curator publisher/bookstore–again, O/R Books is instructive–will solve that problem for most dedicated readers. The casual reader can’t tell good from bad half the time, and the other half the time prefers the bad to the good anyway.

The chain stores are almost certainly toast, but the surviving independent stores will be able to compete as they always have–with a curatorial selection rather than an exhaustive one. If you live on the coasts or in a college town here in the US, you’ll have nice, clean bookstores to go to. If you don’t, you’ll have a kiosk in a shopping mall with a POD machine and some sort of instant download station.

It won’t be bad, unless you’re one of the few people making money right now with mindless hackwork. If you are the 2010s will be your decade to suffer as the rest of us have suffered these past thirty years.

Lou Anders
A 2010/2009/2008/2007 Hugo Award nominee, 2008 Philip K. Dick Award nominee, 2008/2006 Chesley Award winner/nominee, and 2006 World Fantasy Award nominee, Lou Anders is the editorial director of Prometheus Books’ science fiction and fantasy imprint Pyr, as well as seven critically-acclaimed anthologies, the latest being Fast Forward 2 (Pyr, October 2008) and Sideways in Crime (Solaris, June 2008). He is the author of The Making of Star Trek: First Contact (Titan Books, 1996), and has published over 500 articles in such magazines as The Believer, Publishers Weekly, Dreamwatch, DeathRay, free inquiry, Star Trek Monthly, Star Wars Monthly, Babylon 5 Magazine, Sci Fi Universe, Doctor Who Magazine, and Manga Max. His latest anthologys are Swords and Dark Magic and Masked. Visit Lou online at

There will still be books, some of them even printed on paper.

There will still be authors, some of them even making a living.

There will still be publishers, some of them even large conglomerates.

Fans will still debate the borders of various subgenres ad nauseum.

Despite what critics say, the biggest names will still be Tolkien, Jordan, Goodkind, Brooks, Card, etc.

There will be a vast sea of drek (some of it incredibly popular) with a smaller number of truly magnificent works (some of it incredibly popular) and a wealth of “good stories well told.”

I’m not being flippant. eBooks don’t spell the death of publishing, though we are in a watershed moment. In ten years, eBooks will be the dominant form of book, and, of course, some books won’t even have print editions.

But it’s always been about the content, not the delivery mechanism.

Tim Pratt
Tim Pratt is the author of the story collections Little Gods and Hart & Boot & Other Stories, the poetry collection If There Were Wolves, the novel The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl, and an urban fantasy series about a sorceress named Marla Mason that begins with Blood Engines and continues with Poison Sleep, Dead Reign, and Spell Games.

We seem to have reached a tipping-point in terms of e-readers (so long the nichiest of niche products!) becoming popular, and on the publishing side, electronic rights have gone from being an afterthought to a sought-after commodity. Some big publishing houses seem to be quietly buying up electronic rights to the out-of-print backlists of various writers. There’s no question that e-books are going to be a big part of publishing in the future, and some editors I know think e-books are going to replace mass-market paperbacks as the “disposable fiction” format. That seems plausible to me.

I think there will continue to be a demand for books on paper (at least until everyone who grew up reading books on paper and considers that “natural” dies off), and there’s still the appeal of having the physical object on your shelf. We may see more books appearing as both fancy, relatively expensive limited editions — *beautiful* objects — and cheap e-book editions, and a lot of people will probably buy both, just as book collectors have shelf copies and reading copies of the same titles.

More authors will experiment with self-publishing, as the barrier to entry for doing so with e-books is comparatively low. Some will have success with that; lots of others won’t. and perhaps other purveyors of online books will increasingly attempt to take on the role of publishers, “curating” e-book collections. I don’t expect publishing as we know it to disappear, by any means, but the field is going to become crowded by self-publishing — some of it quite good — and weird hybrids, and new companies springing up to fill whatever inevitable gaps are left by the relatively slow-moving major publishers.

It will likely get harder for writers to make a living doing nothing but writing fiction… but most writers I know don’t make a living exclusively writing fiction anyway. We’ll have to explore new methods: direct appeals to readers, weird limited editions with interesting extras, patrons, corporate sponsorship, kickstarter fundraisers in lieu of novel advances — who knows.

Those are pretty cautious guesses, I know, but hey, science fiction writers are generally crap at predicting the future. (And I’m mostly a fantasy writer!) In ten years, the world could be unimaginably weird. I certainly hope it will be. But I’m sure I’ll still be reading books, even if they don’t look much like the books I grew up with.

About JP Frantz (2322 Articles)
Has nothing interesting to say so in the interest of time, will get on with not saying it.

20 Comments on MIND MELD: The Future Of Publishing

  1. My non-expert, just-a-reader opinion:

    1. Out-of-print will be much less of an issue but not non-existent. Some publishers/authors may not want to “flood” a market with titles especially if the author is still active.
    2. Not only will there be niche publishers but also an abundance of niche authors. Expect to see many more semi-pro writers who are satisfied with smaller returns than a professional would be simply because the overhead is much less. If an author can produce a work for a specific audience and be happy with a few thousand dollars total sale, then in his own eyes he will be a success.
    3. Printed books will always exist but will increasingly be for collectors or nostalgists. Once e-books become the dominant format, expect to see printed books have a resurgence around 20 years after that point among young people who think it trendy to read paper books.
  2. I’ve tested some of the new available technologies: author websites, free giveaway samples online, Print-on-Demand, Kindle e-books… and while they are fun to use, it strikes me that nothing trumps the power of marketing.

    Whatever the medium, you’ve still got to sell the product. And that costs money and time (properties which are increasingly becoming one and the same).

    So my follow-up question is: What is the future of marketing? Will media corporations continue to reign through their (supposedly) superior marketing power? Will social media allow the author to become his/her own successful salesperson? I don’t know.

  3. Out of all the above predictions Mamatas seems to be the most realistic.  Though, I would expect once the ratio of books to e-books has it’s big change it will then slowly change over time until those of us who grew up with paper books are all dead.

    I bet Morgan is fun at at parties.

  4. The “Read Instantly” idea from Neil’s response is something that came up during at least one of my Arisia panels (and since none of them were directly about this topic, I actually can’t remember which panel it was). It seems like an oh-so-obvious thing to do, but I suspect it’ll take some ironing out of the current e-book contracts. I can’t wait for it to happen, though.

  5. Morgan and Clarke talk about added value to ebooks, like 3D fashion videos and whatnot, and Clarke mentions extended albums as an example. But the real effect of digital music on the music industry isn’t that albums have become giant transforming cyborgs, it’s that people don’t really buy albums any more. They download songs, and sometimes they download every song on an album. An album is an organizing concept now, not a physical container.

    It seems to me that the effect of digital publishing might be that people won’t talk about “books” any more, at least in fiction. A book is an object. They’ll talk about stories. If this prevents every genre novel from being half again as long as it should be, then I for one welcome our et cetera et cetera overlords.


    I like the idea of getting an e-book with a hardcopy purchase. I’ve had a couple of occassions to read books at the same time that way – reading at work on my iPad or at lunch, when turning pages is harder, before switching to a hard-copy book at other times. 


    I’m also heartened to see that so many people think that the physical book isn’t going anywhere – I like my collection of books, for various reasons, but Lou said it best: 


    “But it’s always been about the content, not the delivery mechanism.” 


    I’ve wondered – and some of that is echoed here – if book sellers such as Borders or Amazon or Barnes and Noble will experiment more and more with releasing their own ebook lines: a token project that might grow with demand. One thing about book stores (at least from my experience and on the sales floor) is that they know books – they know their markets. That’s changed a bit (especially reading about what’s happened with Borders) but I don’t see it unreasonable for publishers to sell books exclusive to their own stores. Borders has already done a little with that – I can’t remember the title or author – but it was something that was pushed hard, and it did go up on a couple of best-seller lists. I don’t know if that’s been experimented with before, but with a couple of major, best-selling authors, it’s something that I can see, either in physical print or via e-book. 

  7. An album is an organizing concept now, not a physical container.

    Yes. In trying to be brief, I glossed over that. There are CDs with extra tracks. There are mp3 “albums” with more tracks than the CD. The point I was trying to make is that there will be more content than we might have traditionally received for the price we paid. This was mainly a point on novels, but the opportunities for short stories collections/anthologies/magazines are even wider since they already have the concept of bite-sized content to work with.

    I’ve wondered – and some of that is echoed here – if book sellers such as Borders or Amazon or Barnes and Noble will experiment more and more with releasing their own ebook lines

    It’s already happening.

  8. I’ve been trying not to do this, but I’ve got some followup/more comprehensive thoughts:


    @Neil – I believe it – major element of publishing, do you think? 

  9. jeff vandermeer // January 26, 2011 at 3:54 pm //

    What Nick Mamatas said.

  10. Paul Connelly // January 26, 2011 at 7:52 pm //

    The final collapse of the banking system a few weeks after President Palin’s re-election to a third term and the resultant shuttering of many large employers were probably the biggest stimuli for the resurrection of free public lending libraries in the US. Banned from offering DRMed content, the libraries rose again on the strength of popular interest in old (paper, not electronic) books, and the old books in people’s basements and attics suddenly became prized community resources. Hoarding was frowned upon (by one’s heavily armed fellow citizens in most cases). Pulp fiction and self-help (basics of hunting, growing medicinal plants, etc.) were the most sought-after genres. With gasoline over $5 a gallon, car-pooled trips to the library became a favorite leisure activity, helping to bring people and their neighbors closer together (probably closer than most would have liked).

    The Euro-zone still struggled to keep the ebook market afloat while dealing with its own problems of resurgent (and usually illegal) local currencies, but China and India remained at the forefront of implementing advanced Internet publishing. The terrorist nuking of Hollywood made high level content production talent much scarcer, but the BRIC nations (and, perhaps not so surprisingly, South Africa) became new hotbeds of talent development. The World Court’s inability to deal with the backlog of claims to ownership of the intellectual properties of the defunct American media giants led to a distasteful situation where new media conglomerates in Bollywood and Hong Kong were forced to create some original content, but it was hoped that at least some of this could be recycled into the normal mega-franchises when the first big hits with staying power appeared.

    Or: I’ll see your dystopia and raise you two!

  11. “People will expect books to read themselves to you, and to have extensive video content.”

    I couldn’t disagree with this more.  People will expect books to have text to audio enabled, yes, but video content?  This push to redefine ebooks as the Special Edition DVD with added extras really misses the point.  Added extras are fine and all, but video slows things down and takes up more space.  Even with the better bandwidth and higher storage of ten years from now, book readers wants BOOKS from their ebooks, not movies.  If they want added extras, a hyperlink to the added extras is more than enough.  The occasional fancy special edition with animated headers and little spiders that crawl through the text of Charlotte’s Web will be cutesy collectors items, but the reader is going to a book for a book experience, not a video experience.

    Nor do I expect publishers to go away, or stop publishing midlist.  I do expect them to wake up and make a rights grab for a POD tail so that the books they publish never become ‘out of print’.  Ebooks will increase significantly, but physical books aren’t going away any time soon.  More authors who’ve been dropped by the midlist will self-publish and earn a moderate income from it, and eventually a few methods of recognising quality self-published newbies will settle into place.

    Amazon will continue to try and take over the world, will make some people’s lives a misery, but ultimately has little chance of controlling all the world’s purchases when any author can toss up a site, use a Paypal donate button, and direct-deliver an emailed ebook.

  12. but video content?

    This aspect is very likely to be taken advantage of in textbooks, magazines, children’s books and non-fiction (home improvement, how to draw, etc.). I think you’re overstating the bandwidth and storage issues considering the time frame and what is currently available today via something as common as a cell phone. It will be possible. Should every book be that way? No, of course not and it won’t be. The production costs will help keep that in check, just like it does with websites.

  13. I’d guess that, maybe at the tail end of that ten years, with the increase of “life gaming” everywhere, publishers (and advertisers) will likely offer bonus incentive for books purchased or, in some instances, for actually reading or linking other readers to a book.  When marketing comes into play, it will change things, possibly making it a more social experience.  Who doesn’t want bonus points for finishing the Asimov catalog, or for reading the new Neal Stephenson in less than a week?




  14. Tomas L. Martin // January 27, 2011 at 4:57 am //

    I think that the ebook revolution, such as it is, will save and revitalise the short fiction market. Now you can get magazines downloaded automatically to your device and you don’t have to worry about finding a copy and lugging it around, a lot of the hassle of buying short fiction has gone. Simultaneously, I’m seeing Kindles, Nooks and ebook apps on smartphones increasingly appearing on trains and subways, where, particularly for commuters, your journey is perhaps 30-60 minutes. I can see a move towards short fiction by this market, similar to how digital music has seen a shift from albums to individual tracks. The ebook stores are already seeing increasing numbers of novellas and short novels, and I think we’ll see a more agnostic approach to length – it will no longer only be profitable to publish novels at particular length ranges. This could see a rebirth of ‘penny dreadfuls’, as well as less splitting of long saga books into smaller, more easily printed chunks.

  15. I do not see an increase in short fiction with ebook devices.  My friends that don’t read, don’t read because they don’t like to read.  It has nothing to to do with length.  Ebooks won’t make them read anymore. 

     And, the people who already read don’t buy a lot of short fiction now, so why would they buy more with a new device?  The only way I see this happening is if short fiction is really cheap.

    People who only read on the subway or bus have never been stopped by a novels length before, so I don’t see why they would change just because a new device exists.  Currently, it’s just as easy for them to carry a book of short stories as it is to carry a novel,but they carry the novel.  An ereader makes it just as easy to carry a novel as a short story, so I don’t know why the wouldn’t carry the novel.  The length of time or ‘ease’ of carrying what they read has nothing to do with what they read, as it is all the same.  Their preference is the real deciding factor and I have yet to see a compeling argument demonstrating they will change their preference.

  16. One thing that that was only mentioned once in passing but I think will be a big force will be a subscription-based service, sort of like what Yahoo tried to do with music. We already have a good model for this in the literary world: libraries. I would bet that there is a huge number of people that would happily pay $10/mo to get access to a large ebook library once the distribution licenses and other mechanics can be worked out. This won’t happen this year but when it does, I’d bet it will be a runaway success. It’s also something that is really only possible in an ebook world.

    Which brings up something else that no one mentioned: what happens to physical libraries? I’ve seen some of them try to adapt and offer ebook lending but I think there could be some big challenges ahead if they want to continue providing all economic groups (some of whom may not afford ebook readers) access to a broad range of new books.

  17. Marketing and distribution are the key, and at this point the so called ‘conventional’ publishers have control of those two aspects. However, their need to ‘retain control’ by treating authors … even successful ones … as the great unwashed in forcing those authors to digital methods and self publishing. As things are going now the ‘big’ houses will be out of business and there will be a very much wider variety of work available to a public looking for more variety and entertainment. Yes, a lot of this work will be trash but there will be people out there who will like it.

    This also means, of course, that each writer will have a fewer number of readers. With fewer readers there will eventually, due to lower sales, be fewer writers. Then we’ll be back to having only the good (dedicated) authors available and they’ll be publishing themselves.

    Anyone want to get into the marketing and distribution business?


  18. Peter Wilkinson // January 28, 2011 at 2:42 pm //

    Cheryl Morgan is being deliberately provocative and I’m sure that things won’t be quite as bad as she predicts. But some of what she writes is horribly plausible…

    As Nick Mamatas also remarks, the chain stores are in trouble – not all quite toast, I think, but certainly fewer chains and fewer stores per chain. In Britain, there’s just one large specialist bookstore chain (specialist in the sense of primarily selling books) left – Waterstones – and I’d give it no more than a 70% chance of still being around next Christmas. I would rate the survival chances of some of the smaller specialist chains – Blackwells or Foyles, for example – quite a bit higher than that, but I don’t expect them to expand much if at all, even if Waterstones goes.

    Which, outside big cities and university towns, will leave most print book buyers with a choice of Tesco (stocking perhaps the 20 top celebrity bestsellers), W H Smith (stocking perhaps 300 titles in its larger stores), perhaps a small independent (again with 300 titles, but a rather more interesting selection than W H Smith) and Amazon (which is likely to drop print books as soon as it’s close to being a monopoly supplier – it actually is a monopoly supplier of Kindles and print books are competition). Or Nick Mamatas’s shopping-mall POD kiosk (probably in the local W H Smith).

    Under those circumstances, print books may keep a 60/40 market share where there’s a specialist chain store nearby – but more like 20/80 otherwise. And if that is the case, I don’t see any of the major publishers surviving – except as one or more smaller imprints or as ebook suppliers to, and effective subsidiaries of, Amazon (or both).

    At which point the question of erosion of net neutrality comes up. If matters are as bad as Cheryl Morgan predicts, then we might indeed have her dystopia. I suspect they will be worse than now, but not quite that bad – for instance, that one will only get 2021-level internet service within the conglomerate walled gardens but will still be able to get 2008-level service elsewhere. So long as you don’t try to paste video clips (or equivalent), there will still be alternatives to Facebook (and indeed to Amazon) – and there will still be enough people there to keep the conversation going.

    A final point, on ebook piracy. From the consumer’s point of view, ebook piracy is certainly the equivalent of walking into a store, picking up a print book and walking out without paying for it. However, far too much of the time, it is also the closest available equivalent of alternatives that are legal with print books – looking at the book for a couple of minutes before deciding not to buy it, or borrowing a print book from a friend or from a library. Or of finding an interesting book when abroad on holiday or business and buying a copy to take home with you. It is certainly possible for ebook publishers to provide legal equivalents to these if they want – but in each case it represents an extra cost to the publisher rather than a natural feature of the product.

  19. Mike Homyack // January 28, 2011 at 4:16 pm //

    My bet is that it’s the paperback market that will migrate, almost exclusively, to the ebook form factor.  Why?  For the same reason that there’s a paperback market today – paperbacks have been the cheapest available option for acquiring a book until the past year or two, and even now they are quite competitive with the ebook once you factor in the up-front cost of the reader.  As soon as the prices for ebook readers and ebooks fall low enough, though, I expect that there will be a mass exodus (we are quite close to that point already).

    As for trade paperbacks and hardbacks… those buyers are unlikely to migrate away from their currently preferred format simply because they already have cheaper options available but they’re not taking advantage of them.  The people buying those books are fans of physical books, collectors, gift-buyers, etc.  They have different reasons for choosing those bigger, pricier options and I don’t see those reasons being superseded by the ebook (which, lets face it, is no damn fun to open as a gift or to show off in a home library).

  20. I wonder if the book (major electronic publication) of the future will work on a “The Stage, As You Like It” concept.  Let me explain, let’s say the book is a novel then it would contain not only the complete final text of the novel but possibly other variations (plot, character, ending changes) of the novel (as the author saw fit to include).  The book could also include research notes, links to portions or other novels, various pictures, audio and video links and even games, puzzels, social networking tools that could all be part of the novel.

    Here’s the main point: You will be able to read the book just as you did before this brave new world or you will be able to set  “The Stage, As You Like It”.  The content will be “very rich/deep” but you as the reader will have more choices.

    Personally, I think the author should have the final say so in all content that would be included in the entire book.  No ads or links, etc. without the the author’s permission.

    The Stage, As You Like It, photography by r.g. phillips

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