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5 Industry Issues for Authors to Watch in 2016

30 December 2015

From Jane Friedman:

1. We’ll need to learn how to market books in a mobile-reading future.

A Wall Street Journal trend piece, “The Rise of Phone Reading” (Aug. 12, 2015), discusses new research from Nielsen showing a growing number of people read on their phones—leading to the conclusion that the future of digital reading will be on the phone, not tablets or e-reading devices.

A range of publishers, authors, and retailers—including Amazon and Apple—went on the record to share impressions of what the data (and anecdata) means. Some of the implications:

  1. Apple and the iBookstore benefit greatly from mobile reading growth—for example, Kindle customers are increasingly reading books through their respective iPhone apps;
  2. Publishers are thinking about phone display when designing covers;
  3. Marketing for mobile readers means focusing more on email, Facebook, and websites—or anything that’s most often accessed through phones;
  4. Emerging marketing strategies focus on places where people might download something while in transit (airports, hotels, and trains).

All this isn’t to say that print is going away. In fact, Judith Curr of Atria was quoted saying that the future of reading will be on both the phone and in print. But such trends may inform how your next marketing plan comes together, and they may also call to mind the increased sales of digital audio . . . .

. . . .

4. Sorry, but print book sales aren’t surging.

No doubt you’ve already seen the New York Times headline “E-Book Sales Slip, and Print Is Far from Dead” and encountered lots of speculation as to whether that story is accurate.

Not really. Hardcover sales are down more than 10 percent this year. As Michael Cader pointed out in Publishers Lunch, “Print sales are down more [than ebook sales] in percentage terms, and down more in aggregate dollars.” Across the board, overall sales volume hasn’t changed much: in 2015, print sales are up 2 percent, just as they were in 2014, according to Nielsen Bookscan data.

Also, Barnes & Noble (B&N) is not exactly flourishing in the way you would hope if print books are making a comeback. Since August 2015, their stock has dropped 67 percent. In 2013, the bookseller said they planned to close about one-third of their 689 stores over the next decade. Industry insiders speculate that, over time, shelf space or title selection may decrease at B&N.

But aren’t independent bookstore sales increasing—isn’t that a bright spot? Independent bookstore sales have not made up for the declines sparked by the Borders bankruptcy in 2011, despite positive media attention on their resurgence. Also, while American Booksellers Association (ABA) membership has grown, there are lots of ways to be a member of ABA: you can be a used bookstore, a book fair organizer, a mail-order catalog, etc. So take those “increases” with a huge grain of salt. Instead, focus on the shift taking place on where print books are sold, and keep your eye on Amazon’s share of the print book market.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman and thanks to Nate for the tip.

PG agrees that printed books won’t go away. However, as they’re purchased by fewer and fewer people, they’ll become more expensive, which, in turn, will mean they’re purchased by even fewer and fewer people. At some point, printed books will migrate to museums and become tourist attractions.

In the late 1880s, New York City was occupied by 1,206,299 people, and about 170,000 horses for transportation. (Yes, there was a serious manure problem and, unfortunately, sometimes horses died in the streets. In 1880, New York City removed 15,000 dead horses from the street.)

Today, according to PG’s quick-and-dirty research, it appears that New York City contains 220 privately-owned horses, all of which pull carriages for the pleasure of tourists. (PG iPhone photo below) The New York Police Department owns 60 horses. Perhaps some billionaire keeps horses in the city, but PG didn’t see anything about that.


Other than carriage horses for tourists and the NYPD, horse ownership within thirty miles of Manhattan is effectively limited to the wealthy and horses are for use primarily for recreation, not means of transportation.

In PG’s ostentatiously humble opinion, printed books will follow a similar path. In the future, undoubtedly tourists will still visit the New York Public Library to look at the printed books, but that will be for their novelty.

Books in General

24 Comments to “5 Industry Issues for Authors to Watch in 2016”

  1. A sort of off the main topic yet still topical comment.

    Last August, I was sitting at an outdoor table at a cafe in a busy part of London. I was quite surprised to have horses ridden by children walk out the archway next to our table.

    It was a riding stable! Right there next to the cafe behind the houses. I thought it was a car park LOL

    Apparently, there are still quite a few horses in London.

  2. Do they still ride along the Row in Hyde Park?

  3. At the height of horse use in New York, the sanitation department was reportedly picking up one to two million pounds of horse manure per day from the streets. Add to that reportedly forty thousand gallons (sounds low) of horse urine in the streets every day. Ah, the good old days!

  4. I was in New York two days ago, and can report seeing police on some very handsome horses. With the huge crowds in Times Square these days, horse manure (even the small inevitable amount) must be a challenging problem.

    In fact, the NYTimes still seems to have an adequate supply to spread around.

  5. 85% of the millions of readers on Wattpad already read on their phones.

    It’s not that hard if you can see the tiny letters (older eyes here).

  6. She says “Apple and the iBookstore benefit greatly from mobile reading growth—for example, Kindle customers are increasingly reading books through their respective iPhone apps”

    Uh…If Kindle customers are reading their Kindle books on the Kindle iPhone app, exactly how does Apple and the iBookstore benefit? From all those downloads of the FREE Kindle app?

    I wonder if the rest of the advice in her newsletter is equally well-founded?

    • Apple benefits by serving customers of iPhones and iPads. I and hubby have iPhones. I have the Kindle App (though I tend to carry my smaller Kindle Fire with me for reading, having middle-aged eyes and all.)

      If Apple didn’t have Kindle for the iPhone, my next phone would be Android.

  7. People keep forgetting about libraries, which are full of useful paper books and will continue to offer such books for many, many years to come; at least until it’s feasible to digitize everything that has been written. And people also conflate fiction with non-fiction. I can see paper novels becoming rare, but not paper books about science or how-to books or history books…
    I can also imagine some other tangible format arising, to stand beside paper books. Digital things depend on electricity, remember.

    • And people also conflate fiction with non-fiction. I can see paper novels becoming rare, but not paper books about science or
      how-to books or history books…

      Why? I read history and science in ebook form, and am none the worse off for it. For how-to, I don’t generally look for books at all, but websites and forums and YouTube videos, none of which ever existed in paper form to begin with.

      Digital things depend on electricity, remember.

      And physical books depend on the existence of a vast, energy-hungry infrastructure to harvest the raw materials, manufacture the books, and then distribute them. There are many ways of producing electricity; it isn’t going away. The infrastructure required for mass printing is much more vulnerable.

      • I tend to buy “research” material in physical form. There are a few authors whose books I want in hard or paperback (I’m limited in bookshelf space. My current “The Dresden Files” collection takes up roughly 1/5th of the space), and I’m likely to re-read them many times.

        The books I want to read, but am unlikely to re-read more than once, if ever? Ebook.

    • @ Anna
      “Digital things depend on electricity, remember.”

      Eggzakly! What’s gonna happen when all the electrons are gone? 🙁

      • “Eggzakly! What’s gonna happen when all the electrons are gone?”

        I’ll rub your head with a balloon (you have hair — right?) instant electrons!

        And if our entire world has backslide so badly that they can’t find even electrons, reading for pleasure has most likely been lost as well.

      • Unless folks like to read outside or by candlelight, regular books depend on electricity, too. I read inside with lamps on. Not with a candle, torch, or only during sunlit hours.

  8. Is there anyone who has an uninterrupted supply of electricity and internet? At times we have neither because human error/weather/earthquakes and occasionally birds are blamed. I’m getting a solar charger battery for phones and ebook readers/tabs and laptops
    Because those pesky electrons frequently don’t flow.

    • A solar charger sounds like a good idea, actually.

      I live in Hurricane Alley and have lost electricity for nearly two days. Even with Category 3 hurricanes, I never lost it for more (though parts of my house and my roof went elsewhere). I had enough to read with my personal print library, but I did not do any reading. Worrying about food spoiling, talking to neighbors, assessing damage, calling relatives to make sure they were fine, getting rid of debris, contacting insurers, etc, kind of kept me busy. 😀 I have 7 ereaders and we have 2 iPhones. I am guessing that if I fully charge them before “lights out”, I’ll have a several weeks of reading time before they konk out.

      If we do have a natural disaster that wipes out our electricity for extended periods, I’m thinking reading is not gonna be high on my list of priorities, but I do have a print book library of thousands that, IF they survive flood, fire, winds, storm surge, etc, I can read under the sun. 😀

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