Monday musings: peering through the fog

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Misty Foggy Road Mystery Fog

As I drove through an extremely foggy morning last week, I thought of all the people who try to make predictions about the future at the beginning of every year. It struck me that it’s like trying to tell which way an unfamiliar road will curve when you can only see 30 metres ahead.

If there’s one thing that 2016 taught me, it’s to keep my predictions to myself. But I have read a number of others’ forecasts for the directions and the curves the writing game will take in the next year.

These predictions may seem pretty safe, but what’s interesting is the way they fit together to have an impact on readers as well as writers.

Amazon’s dominance will grow

Amazon has been the number one retailer of books (and a whole lot of other stuff, too) for years, and this market dominance is only going to increase.

Retail sales are also suffering, and “brick and mortar” retailers are losing market share to online retailers—like Amazon, but also to others, even their own online operations. Barnes & Noble reported its 2016 holiday sales were 9.1 percent lower than in 2015. The company attributed that to lower traffic in its stores. In contrast, online sales rose 2 percent.

Other bookstore chains are struggling, and are devoting more and more floor space to things that are not books: music and movie disks, decorations, novelties, even food.

The only way for independent bookstores to survive is by specializing.

Amazon has opened some brick-and-mortar stores of its own, and while it has enabled authors to publish their own books for years, it has started a number of publishing imprints of its own, such as Thomas & Mercer (the publisher of one of BestSelling Reads’ members, Alan McDermott).

More market share will go to e-books

While paper will never go away, e-books are taking up more market share. As of 2016, the estimates in the U.S. were that print books represent 39% of book units sold, and e-books 61%.

The ease and economy of publishing e-books is one of the factors behind the staggering growth in the numbers of self-publishing authors.

More writers will self-publish

Some writers call this “increased competition,” but that term doesn’t quite capture the reality of writers. Books are not like cars or washing machines—we read them in a matter of days, usually, and move on to the next book.

Restaurant cluster in Paris

The situation is more comparable to restaurants. Restaurant owners are smart to cluster together, because more options bring more customers. Diners love to come to a street crowded with restaurants, and will come back many times to try all the choices available.

Readers are the same. After all, a traditional bookstore brings together thousands of different authors, and readers prefer bigger bookstores with more choice.

Writers will band together

Another prediction I read was that authors will work together to increase their audiences. That’s interesting, because working with other authors is how I began self-publishing fiction. I find my experience with BestSelling Reads, and another group I belong to called Independent Authors International, to be hugely rewarding—in terms finding other great writers, learning how to improve my writing, as well as finding new readers.

The big challenge for writers is not to out-compete other writers, not to sell books (although that’s a nice thing to accomplish), but to learn how to engage with audiences. That’s what a story is: a connection, an experience shared by reader and writer.

For readers

When I was young, I cannot begin to estimate the time I spent hanging around in bookstores, looking at all the titles I had to choose from. Readers today can spend hours just perusing books, trying to decide which one to open next. That’s why sites like Goodreads and Library Thing are so popular—they help readers decide which book to read next, to find good books in the e-mountains of words available.

I promised I would not make any predictions for 2017, but I will tell you about one other trend I noticed over 2016: the increasing number of services and systems for sale to help authors sell more books by learning how to tag their titles on Amazon, set up mailing lists to readers, send enquiries to book reviewers, build platforms and more. “This is the secret that bestselling authors use.”

As I said, no predictions. Just a warning: some of these services and subscriptions are very expensive, and none of them guarantees a writer will sell more books.

No predictions, but a question to the readers out there: how do you want to engage with writers? Answer in the Comments.

 

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