Somehow i missed Michel Mace’s January blog post about his 2011 predictions. Mace, whom I think is one of the, if not the, smartmest people on the internet, divides predictions into Fish in the barrel, Shots in the dark, Wish fulfillment and Self-service. I suggest you read the whole article. Here is what he has to say about publishing:

Someday, ebooks will enable established authors to sell their writing directly to the public, bypassing the publishers and bookstores and taking 70-80% of the revenue for themselves, rather than giving 85% of it to middlemen.  I have no doubt whatsoever that this will happen.  The trick is figuring out when.  People have been predicting it for more than a decade, but so far the publishers are still in charge.

As you know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, I’ve tried to do some economic analysis on when we’ll reach the tipping point where publishers become redundant (link).  I won’t repeat the whole analysis here, but the summary is that when about 20% of the book-buying public has ebook readers or tablets, it’ll make economic sense for an established author to drop print entirely and go straight to electronic distribution (because they can make so much more per copy sold electronically).  We’re likely to see slow progress for ebooks until that point, and then an accelerating stampede after.

We’re not close to the 20% tablet penetration figure yet, and we won’t hit it in 2011.  But 20% is just an average across all authors; some may find that the market has shifted for them earlier than others.

So I was fascinated when I ran across this LA Times article on authors who have already decided to start ditching their publishers (link).  These aren’t vanity writers going electronic because they can’t get into print; they’re established authors who are pulling their backlist books out of print because they can make more money selling them electronically.  One of the authors, Joe Konrath, detailed the economics of his decision here.

Check out the Times article and Konrath’s scenario on the potential death spiral for bookstores (link).  The rumbling sound you’ll hear is the Four Horsemen riding after the book publishing industry.  Will they arrive in 2011?  Not for all publishers, and not all at once.  My guess is that we’ll continue to hear more hype than action in 2011, with the big switch starting in 2012 or 2013.  But the situation is fragile, and today’s migration could turn into a stampede sooner than I expect.

What it means. As I’ve said before, publishers need to find a way to deliver real value to authors and readers in an electronic world.  Maybe it’s editing services, maybe it’s marketing, maybe it’s something I can’t think of.  But it’s different from what most of them do today.  And no, helping an author navigate the variety of ebook stores is not the answer.  An agent can do that.


  1. Some interesting points in there.

    Michael suggests the iPad is pretty much perfect, and that most if not all tablets will eventually fade away unless they come up with something brand new and desirable. I think just creating a similar well-made tablet that doesn’t force you through a portal like iTunes would be enough to allow any good tablet to stand out. And iPad is far from perfect as-is; a tablet with just a few improvement tweaks could find itself reaching iPad heights… and probably will.

    Anyway, that’s my prediction.

  2. Pretty safe ‘prediction’s in his eBook section.

    The Mobile Data Market Stops Growing: I think he is way off the mark here. We still have a surge in video calling from the iPhone, iPad and Droids to come never mind the further increase in personal and business tasks coming with the next iPad and it’s increased integration into medium and big business.

    Facebook Becomes Passé: Michael is eating some kind of mushrooms if he really thinks this. Tumblr is a nice app but it’s not going to make a big dent and Facebook is safe for quite a while yet. It makes no sense to extrapolate from Google to Facebook. Users can change search engines and even email with little effort. Changing out of Facebook requires a consensus among all of their friends. Nope, ain’t going to happen UNLESS social networks allow interconnectivity, and that is quite unlikely.

    Book Publishing Dies: Oh please. Paper books have a good 10 years in them yet and the percentage of eBooks is unlikely to rise above 13% or so by the end of 2011. They are most certainly not going to ‘die’ in the coming 10 months. His other predictions for self publishing already started happening in 2010, so it’s not much of a prediction.

    The Year of the Tablet Backlash: Another misleading headline but his general point is right imho. The competition have piled on with unfocussed, un coordinated products. It’s the OS that matters and the iOS is so far ahead. Droid is catching up with it’s tablet OS but I think it will be 2012 before the iOS has real competition. The iOS is being adopted into medium and large business at an amazing rate. Homes are starting to get more than one iPad. Apple will continue to sell every one they can possibly make.

  3. Thanks for the link, Paul!

    Steven, I agree with you that the iPad isn’t perfect. Sorry I was unclear about that. But I think the current Android tablets are even more imperfect. A lot more.

    Howard, we can check in a year to see how I did on the predictions. Keep in mind that I was trying to predict major market changes that *could* happen, not things that I was sure would happen. But I do feel very strongly about the ebook prediction, even more so than I did when I wrote that post. If iPad and Kindle hit their sales forecasts this year, more than 20% of the book-buying public in the US will have tablets. That could change the economics of publishing faster than most people are expecting.

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