by Laurie McLean, Co-founder of Fuse Literary
Hello again, everyone. I love creating this look-ahead in publishing each year if only because it makes me pick my head up and take a longer view of the industry than my normal routine of concentrating on the picayune changes in publishing contracts, the art of selling books from my amazing clients, and otherwise doing the daily grind that is agenting. You’re going to see that my predictions for 2020 are very similar to my predictions for 2019. That’s because outside pressures are forcing publishers to look inward at their bottom line profitability and not take many risks. So that makes for a pretty steady picture of growth. Until the next unforeseen blockbuster hits and they all scramble for more of “that”. Anyway, enjoy these predictions. All opinions are my own.
Audiobook sales will continue to experience record growth. Audiobook sales rocketed in 2019, and look set to achieve another record year as the sector continues to attract first-time listeners (and millennials and seniors do love to listen to books). I believe this trend will continue in 2020. Also, as I predicted last year, nearly all Big Five publishers and most of the medium-sized ones have now brought audiobook production in-house and demand audio rights in their publishing contracts. This will solidify more over the coming years.
Diversity will continue to grow as well. #ownvoices books by marginalized authors continues to grow in an almost limitless fashion. Fueled by the success in sales and awards by ethnic authors we’ve not heard from in the past, I don’t see this abating any time soon. There was also a concerted effort to hire marginalized employees by the publishing industry, both in the US and abroad, further fueling this Renaissance in #ownvoices literature.
Bestsellers will continue to dominate the charts. James Patterson. Lee Child. Rick Riordan. Margaret Atwood. The Hollywood “tent pole” philosophy of book buying and marketing also ramped up from its already solid pace of the prior decades. Call this a risk-aversion philosophy by publishing execs, or a tried-and-true process in the uneasy times of tariffs and Brexit worries. Anecdotally, most of the deals we’ve made at Fuse this year have been relatively straightforward for our bestsellers and like pulling teeth for the debut authors. Midlist authors continue to be abandoned to self-publishing and ebooks. There doesn’t seem to be much of a commitment to growing authors who do not hit it big right out of the gate. But some editors do continue to support midlisters who haven’t quite popped in sales like they thought they would.
Debut authors still breakout from time to time. This is hopeful news for all you unpublished authors out there. During 2019 we continued to see a handful of debut authors make the bestseller lists. But it really is about the same as all the years before. And it’s why publishers continue to buy books from debut authors…on the off chance that book will be “the one.” This will continue for 2020 and beyond. It’s the complement to the tent pole bestseller strategy and it seems to work.
Brexit, Trump and China tariffs, oh my. One of the reasons it seems as if publishing has hunkered down over the past year is that outside pressures are causing them to be extremely cautious with their bottom line. First, the breaking away from the European Union by the United Kingdom via Brexit has caused all kinds of problems for multi-national corporations (which encompasses all the Big Five and many other publishers). VATs and the complicated specifics of distribution within foreign territories that used to be simple are causing publishing sales teams to work overtime. Then add on the tariffs against Canadian paper pushing prices upwards at an alarming rate as well as tariffs on books printed in China. Worse than these individual pressures on publishing, is the sense that there is no game plan and at any time more expenses could be piled on their products. China is threatening even more retaliation. And an ever-increasing trade war with other countries looms. No wonder publishers are constantly vigilant to their expenses and profits—more so than usual.
Self-Publishing is Settling Down. In 2008, the explosion of self-published ebooks rocked the publishing landscape. First time authors were steadily making six-figures of income a year. And more. Several became millionaires. And while the vast majority of self-published authors were only selling 100 copies or so a year, the phenomenon changed the way traditional publishing looked at their industry. Fast forward to a decade or so later and it seems that indie sales have settled into a nice groove, but certainly nothing like they were from 2008 to 2015. Some of it could be that authors simply could not keep up the frenetic pace (writing 4-5 books a year) that they published at in the early KDP years. And readers found that downloading free or 99 cent ebooks filled up their Kindles and Kobos to the point where they slowed down too. Other challenges were the “authors” who spent more time gaming the algorithms than they did writing, thus making legitimate writers suffer. And plagiarism continues to plague honest authors. But self-publishing still beats no self-publishing and it will continue to thrive.
So those are my predictions. We’ll see how Brexit, tariffs, and other geopolitical factors affect the publishing industry in the coming year. On a personal note, I wish you all inspired writing, hassle-free promotion, a savvy balance of work and play, and all the best in the coming year.