Guest post: How we’ll read and write our way to the future

51aPpsswguL._UX250_Author of award-winning short stories and internationally acclaimed novels Rosanne Dingli says clues to the future lie in the past.

I’m often asked for an opinion on the future of books, writing, and publishing. Good questions come from those who have been writing for some time, who have seen changes that have profoundly and permanently shaken the industry.

Publishing has transformed since 2009, and even if some fundamental things have stayed the same, the paradigm shifts and swings experienced can never be reversed.

Clues to the future lie in the past. The book world has always been subject to upheaval and disruption, especially with language and vocabulary. Political topics caused splits in families and communities, but also had a hand in altering and varying what appeared in print, so habituation and expectations of the reading public evolved.

The evolution can be attributed to four causes: affordability of books and universal education, establishment of book production and selling processes, increased rapidity in communication, and enormous innovations in printing and computer technologies.

  • Mass production of books, widespread literacy, and more leisure in people’s lives led in the post-WWII years to burgeoning entertainment, including a sharp rise in publication of fiction.
  • Publishing houses experienced their glory years, and the production/distributing cycle was established, enduring to this day.
  • The mass media of communications shrank the globe; news travelled rapidly, as did current affairs, celebrity gossip, and popular psychology.
  • Offset printing dramatically changed the speed and quantities of print runs.

Nothing, however, exerted as much power and turbulence as the advent of the home computer. Owning the means to record and process words has revolutionized writing. And the internet made magic happen. By 2006, people were writing more than ever before. It was not long before self-publishing became available through companies such as Amazon, Smashwords, Ingram Spark, and others.

Having the means to produce a manuscript and have it published cheaply or at no cost created a tsunami of material by writers who understood the tools. Still, just because one has the means and tools does not always mean the product is excellent. Many people own sewing machines, but not all are good enough tailors to make and sell clothing for a living.

It’s possible to predict that gross over-supply of self-published material will eventually plateau and subside, simply because it’s not possible for all who try to succeed. It is inevitable – even by the law of averages – that many will fail. Fail to finish a manuscript. Fail to publish it adequately well. Fail to attract enough sales. Fail to reach potential or reader expectations. Even if one follows advice of those who have done well, ticks all boxes, acts professionally, and “does not give up” there is absolutely no guarantee every book will succeed. Even very famous household-name authors have a few titles that bomb.

Many books by thousands of amateur and professional authors who have done their utmost to write, produce, and promote have sunk to the bottom of the pile at Amazon, never to rise or be seen again. In the next five years or so, many writers will give up. The difficulty to do well at this game – however one chooses to publish – will be widely recognized.

Careful observers of the book world noted in the past six or seven years that publishing has split into two (or more) streams. Traditional publishing and bookshop distribution and selling is one. Online production and selling, of both ebooks and paperbacks, is another. There is a bit of overlap, but it’s an intersection used mainly by readers, who might swap streams from time to time. Very few authors can say they belong squarely and lucratively to both sides. An independent author who ventures into a bookshop after spending a lot of time online quickly observes how different the two streams are. If the products were not so similar, one would be forgiven for thinking they were two completely separate industries. And in many ways they are. One can predict that in the next few years, this divide will become wider and harder to traverse.

The future will introduce more publishers, aggregators, and distributors such as Amazon and Smashwords. Trying for a corner of the market can be very tempting. Small publishers, too, will proliferate, but not for long. The big publishing conglomerates will hold their solid position. But only if they adapt, and adopt efficient resources to compete with the slickest, fastest, and most innovative of the independents; and if they keep their prices down, which has always been difficult.

It won’t be enough to publish electronic, paper, or audio editions. One will need to provide incentives such as background music, animations, and other additional material for ebooks, interactivity, well-illustrated paperbacks, fold-outs, and a number of ingenious inventions to keep books at the forefront of competing entertainment on various media.

Although edification and education are the other two reasons the world wants books, entertainment is the foremost reason they stay popular, and will continue to do so well into the future. Going back to those four points above; if we adjust innovation and progress according to the times, we can expect more of the same, with a few surprises and twists in the tail.

Visit Rosanne’s Amazon author page.


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