Publishing Predictions for 2023
By Laurie McLean, Co-Founder/Agent Partner at Fuse Literary
Well, to say a lot happened in publishing last year is a severe understatement.
Among the legal news, the biggest merger in publishing history—Penguin Random House’s proposed acquisition of Simon and Schuster, aka the antitrust trial—got nixed by the courts. And PRH ended any speculation that a merger would happen after that, basically taking it off the table. S&S’s parent company reinforced that they are still looking for a buyer. HarperCollins and Hachette are being thrown around as potential suitors, but S&S may also end up with a private equity firm who sells off parts of the business to turn a profit (man, I hope this doesn’t happen!).
Publishers successfully challenged Maryland’s Digital Contest Law that sought to force publishers to license ebooks and audiobooks on “reasonable terms” for library lending. And two longshot lawsuits against Amazon and the Big Five for price fixing were thrown out (mostly) by a judge.
And book banning went into overdrive, no pun intended, in 2022. I don’t understand it. If you don’t like a book, don’t read it. But don’t tell me what I can or cannot read. If you don’t like what your kid’s teacher is assigning, talk to the teacher. But to statewide ban a book because its ideas scare you or it has a picture of a naked comic animal (yes, Maus, was banned because of that), the problem might be you instead of the book. Ahem.
But there was good news as well. Sales for print books, digital books and audiobooks continued on pace with the great sales of the prior two years. With an especially long week before Christmas, sales skyrocketed to end the year on an up note. In the final sales week of the year, NPD BookScan recorded print sales of approximately 16.3 million units, which was well ahead of previous years. However hardcover sales declined more than 10% to just below 2020 figures, and print books in total were down 6.5% from the prior year, so that might affect the total revenue for publishers. (Note that these figures only go up until October 2022, so we might still end the year even or down a bit from the previous year’s sales. I’m not worried, however.)
Book Tok continues to be a strong promotional force. Colleen Hoover’s backlist sales, for example, resulted in her having 4 of the top 20 bestselling books last year due in large part to recommendations on TikTok.
So, bottom line, 2022 was pretty much an even year for publishing. As an agent I sold as many books as I did in 2021, so that was stress-reducing for me. Other agents I’ve spoken to report the same.
Now on to my predictions for 2023:
Book sales will stay even or just a bit less than prior years. I don’t see a lot of changes happening in 2023 as compared to 2024.
Audiobooks will continue to sell well. People like them. They both read and listen to books. I see tremendous upside still in this market.
Supply chain issues will level out as new solutions are found, so that will cease to be as much of a problem for publishing as it has been since 2020. If this happens, publishing will not be so nervous about slipping publication dates and the inability to resupply if a title sells surprisingly well.
Paper prices are still rising, so publishers might finally start looking at digital books (ebooks) as a profit center rather than another format. I mean, c’mon. Why can’t we have several versions of a book in digital form: an author’s cut with extra material at a premium price, a quick-read simple version for less money, a kid’s version of the adult book. It’s all possible for very little effort or money if the parties are willing. Seems like a no brainer to me.
Self-publishing authors, take heart! Readers are finding your books. And since you own all the rights and subrights, you can experiment by changing covers, fixing copyediting mistakes, adding a sequel or prequel to your series, etc., etc. Build your fan base through meaningful conversations with your readers and they will reward you by buying everything you write.
Live writers conferences and other gatherings are taking place again this year. I have to admit, as the co-director of the San Francisco Writers Conference happening in February, I’m happy to hear this. And I’m excited to see everyone face to face (or mask to mask). I’ve missed you and the energy found at live events instead of Zooms. I think this will rekindle (no pun intended) the creative juices for many writers and we’ll see some great books getting published later this decade.
That’s about all I have for this year’s predictions. With global conflicts, and those at home, dominating the landscape and politics once again taking center stage, I think nonfiction will begin a slow steady rise again, while subgenres such as epic fantasy, contemporary romance and domestic thrillers may start a small slump. Graphic novels will continue to grow, but kid lit nonfiction is starting to stagnate. Diversity continues to dominate in all genres and category as new voices create fertile ground for readers.
NOTE: I am writing this with the generator on for the fifth day without power in the Santa Cruz mountains south of San Francisco due to the one-two punch of the Bomb Cyclone and Atmospheric River. As they say, Mother Nature bats last and boy she’s reminding us who’s ultimately in charge. I am actually hopeful that 2023 is going to be a lot better than our pandemic years, but I’m also scared to hope as things we have very little control over (the war in Ukraine, the next presidential cycle, the growing anger and hatred in our country) may continue. Stay warm. Stay safe. Stay creative. Maybe I’ll see you at a writers conference in 2023.