So let’s get this out of the way at the front end of things: I am not an economist, nor am I a fortune teller. 🙂 However, I do like to think I have a decent understanding of the publishing industry, so I thought it might be interesting to put together some predictions for how the current pandemic and resulting economic fallout could impact publishing and books. Definitely leave a comment down below with your own thoughts and predictions–I’d love to know what others think about this!
- Many smaller presses are going to go under. Publishers who use a traditional business model are already facing such economic pressure that the coronavirus is unfortunately going to be the nail in the coffin. Things like renting a space in NYC and employing an HR department, admin assistants, a marketing department, and on-staff cover artists and copy editors will become simply too expensive.
- Smaller and larger presses alike are going to back out of many book deals with new and especially midlist authors in favor of deals that seem like a sure success. I would not be at all surprised if authors who have a publishing deal find that deal rescinded or indefinitely delayed. The midlist problem, commonly understood as publishers betting on blockbuster books and no longer offering much support or sizable advances for midlist authors, will intensify even further.
- Readers who have been loyal to paperback and hardcover books are going to give ebooks and audiobooks a try, since it’s tougher right now to get physical copies. (For those who don’t know, Amazon is prioritizing stocking their warehouses with essential items right now, which has a direct impact on if you can buy a trad-pub book online.) For many readers, a shift to ebooks or audiobooks won’t be just a temporary measure but will change reading habits permanently.
- Prices of ebooks (generally much higher for trad-pub books than indie books) are going to fall as traditional publishers try to grab readers’ dollars in whatever way they can.
- Expect to see a rise in trad-pub ebook sales, not just from readers switching from hard copies to ebooks out of necessity, but due to the lipstick/nail polish index phenomenon, where people tend to purchase items of smaller value for psychological comfort in times of economic distress. People also have more free time, so some people will spend that time reading more than they have in the past. I believe this last point applies more to readers in the traditional sphere, since whale readers appear to read more indie books through services like Kindle Unlimited. That is to say, the whale readers are already reading tons, and I doubt they will be reading even more than they already are.
- A longer-term prediction: as people working in trad-pub begin working from home or are laid off, NYC will slowly lose its status as North America’s trad-pub mecca.
- In response to trad-pub’s prices coming down, indie authors will lower their prices to remain competitive. We might see the return of the 99 cent ebook.
- “Hybrid” publishers who publish using many of the tips and tricks used by indie authors will snatch up books by authors who had a trad-pub deal and don’t want to put in the indie effort.
- Indie and hybrid book sales will temporarily dip in the next month due to readers’ current stress levels, but then experience a fairly swift rise because of readers having more free time, as well as the lipstick/nail polish index (mentioned above).
- This one’s a long shot, but print sales might go up for indie authors? I can vaguely envision a reader who is super-committed to reading only physical books not being able to get copies of trad-published works, so ordering indie books that look interesting because indies can still print and ship according to demand.
- No-brainer: we’re going to see a veritable tsunami of pandemic stories releasing, starting in about two months’ time from the indie crowd and two years’ time for trad-pub. Post-apocalyptic stories will probably also experience a rise, as well as speculative horror with a disease focus. I’m not sure if I’ll personally be wanting to read these types of stories after all this craziness, though!
- We’re also going to see a rise in stories with a feel-good/fluffy feel–cute romances, beach reads, etc. Perhaps a return of chick lit?? New Adult with a chick lit feel seems like it would be a grand slam–something like Bridget Jones’ Diary but with the MC aged down to twenty-two.
- Due to traditional publishers only wanting to bet on sure successes, there will be an even greater pressure on highly successful trad-pub authors to bring their books to market faster (authors like VE Schwab, Sarah J. Maas, etc.). Expect to see lower quality stories from trad-pub authors, since they will be under pressure to rush their process along.
- Since it will be harder to get trad-pub deals, more authors with serious writing chomps will start to indie/hybrid publish. This means that authors won’t be going through the lengthy trad-pub editing process with a need to get a go-ahead from the business/marketing team. That means we will hopefully see more innovative story lines!
So those are my predictions–what do you think? I’m beyond curious to know what impact you guys think the coronavirus will have on the publishing industry and stories in general, so leave a comment below!
3 thoughts on “Predictions for how COVID-19 will impact the book industry”
I have no idea what I think. Covid 19 has taught me that I know nothing about what’s going to happen in the future, and the query process has taught me that I know nothing about the industry.
Except that I’m thinking I may indie publish. Except that: I know nothing.
Your post is encouraging and discouraging at the same time. With the predicted stampede into hybrid/indie and predicted possible fall of book prices, do you think the indie publishing process itself will also get cheaper, or more expensive?
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Yesss, join usss…
But in all seriousness, I get that it can be hard to take the plunge into indie publishing. There’s a learning curve and many decisions to make in terms of what kind of publishing you want to do. I really recommend Joanna Penn and her podcast The Creative Penn for getting basic information; her business/publishing philosophy and mine fall pretty much in line, and she advocates a long-term approach to publishing.
I don’t want to presume too much about where you are with this, but personally it was hard for me to decide to indie publish because it also felt like turning my back on a lifelong dream of being a “real” author, who would have “real” books in “real” bookstores. The way that I publish, you’re not going to be able to walk into B&N and buy a physical copy of my books off the shelf (though you can order them through B&N). There’s also been a stigma for a long time about self-publishing, because, let’s face it, the quality of many indie books is not great. I’ll be honest here: what changed my mind on this was reading a trad-pub book that was so godawful that I couldn’t believe it had gotten a deal, let alone was garnering praise from industry professionals and a Netflix deal. At that moment, I started seeing people in the industry as fallible, rather than as people who were qualified to serve as my gatekeepers. The power you keep for yourself as an indie author in terms of royalty rates and rights is also incomparable; news on the trad side of thing seemed perpetually doom and gloom, whereas the indie side was exciting and entrepreneurial.
In terms of the cost of publishing, I see it staying exactly the same. Indie publishing can be dirt cheap, even free, since print-on-demand means you don’t have to purchase copies to collect dust in warehouses. You’ll have to secure a cover, but even that cost can be negligible (pay someone on Fiverr, etc.). Depending on if you want to make your own imprint, you might have to buy an ISBN for your book. Advertising is the main thing that will fluctuate (cost seems to be going down right now for indies these last few weeks, since trad-pub is cutting advertising budgets, making it easier for indies to get good rates), but you don’t need to advertise to bring a book to market.
Lol, this comment got crazy long!!!
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No, that’s fine. Now here comes my long comment.
I would say I got over the indie publishing stigma idea some years ago. It was because, as you say, there are plenty of traditionally published books out there that are such poor quality. (And many others that are fine, but certainly no better than mine.)
The one writer’s conference that I was able to attend because it was within driving distance of me, also happened to be about indie publishing, so I got to meet plenty of wonderful, entrepreneurial indie authors and collected advertising and contact materials from all sorts of services that will help indie authors … for a fee … with various aspects of publishing.
I am not very energetic or very entrepreneurial naturally (more dreamy and artistic), and I didn’t trust my own business acumen. So I decided I would “try” the traditional route “first,” because, my gosh, it would be so much easier to have professionals providing editing, cover design, contacts with bookstores, etc.
I don’t regret that route, because I’ve learned a lot about the industry. Among other things, that it’s a “subjective” industry, and that there are a million reasons a book might be rejected by agents and/or publishers, many of which have nothing to do with quality.
Now it looks like the stars are aligning. Coronavirus is changing all industries including publishing. I have finished querying book #1 and am within spitting distance of same with book #2. My blog, while small, is growing. I feel like, from years of querying, researching and blogging, I’ve gained some measure of knowledge and professionalism. Some agents that seem like they would be a good fit for my books want to know what my platform and marketing plan is, which I thought I didn’t have, but if I’m going to be doing it for someone else, why not do it for myself?
And a bunch of other smaller things that just seem to be saying “it’s time.”
But I do plan to spend some money to hire a good cover designer and a copy editor, so I guess scraping that together is the next step.