Book Industry Trends

by Steve Laube

Publishing is partly an exercise in guessing what might be the next surprise bestseller. Some of it is an educated guess based on certain trends we see in the industry and in society at large. Any exercise in naming these trends bears the risk of expressing the obvious or being out of date the moment they are stated. So bear with me as I tinker with some of the things that are either influencing trends or are trends within themselves.

The Blockbuster Mentality

If it was your money you would likely “bet” on those book ideas that you know are going to sell a ton of copies. And only those who already have a track record are assured of a ready-made buying audience. In addition, for the non-fiction writer in particular, there is a demand for the author of have a visible or quantifiable platform from which they can launch their book ideas. Much ink has been spilled on defining platform and how to build one, and for good reason.

Economically a single blockbuster can make or break a publishing company’s bottom line for the year. Think of the impact Twilight, Harry Potter, 90 Minutes in Heaven, Purpose Driven Life, The Shack, Crazy Love, Left Behind, Radical and others have had on their prospective publisher’s profit.  Little Brown , Scholastic, Revell, Zondervan, FaithWords, David C. Cook, Tyndale, and Waterbrook/Multnomah respectively have each had a book whose sales created a windfall of revenue. No one could have predicted any of those bestseller. But each has created a second book (or more), even a franchise. Every publisher wants one for their own.

The Power of the Brick and Mortar Retailer is Changing

The demise of Borders and the shrinking of shelf space at Walmart has had a huge impact on publisher’s acquisitions. In the past these two accounts, along with Barnes & Noble, and Books-a-Million, could make or break the success of a single title. In the CBA it has been Lifeway, Family, the Parable Group, Mardel’s, etc. that have controlled much of the buying power of the brick and mortar stores. Today it is that much harder to get the exposure necessary to launch new or midlist authors.

E-books have changed the game. Publishers can try new ways to launch authors without relying on the traditional sales channels. (It has also opened the door for the Indie author to succeed without the support of traditional publishers.)

Risk Management Instead of Risk Taking

We are finding that economic pressure has caused a number of publishers to be more cautious than ever before when acquiring a new author (not necessarily a debut author but someone new to their company). It is part of the first trend mentioned above. Some of my publisher friends would argue that this has always been the case and they are right to an extent. Fiscal responsibility has always been a part of the publishing equation. And yet we agents can see an overall shift since the economic challenges of the last four years. A lot of people in publishing lost their jobs due to downsizing and those that remain are understandably careful in their choices.

This affects us too. We must constantly make decisions about representing books or authors based on whether or not we think we can sell them. While one might argue that the lack of sale is without risk to the agent I would argue that “time is money” and time spent on a failed project is time lost forever.

A Pox on Your Trends!

I can hear the groans you’ve made while reading this. In fact I have about four or five other bullet points that sound increasingly morbid and depressing. As I look at them all together I actually smiled, believe it or not. I could have written many of the same type of things years ago and been just as accurate. I have a presentation on trends I’ve done at conferences for nearly 15 years and the basic material has remained the same. Illustrations have changed, but the more things change it seems the more they stay the same.

If publishing were easy anyone could do it and be successful. That is why it is called “work.” I take these “trends” and have to say, “Okay, glad to know that. So let’s get busy.” Instead of reading doom and gloom and the sky-is-falling I suggest we see the incredible opportunities we have before us.

It is a Great Time to be a Writer

Our agency has been incredibly busy this year closing on multiple new contracts every week since the first of January (three more just last week). It has been astounding to see how many books are being written by our clients. This is both exciting and encouraging. It is truly a great time to be a writer. There are so many places for your ideas and your words to find an audience. While it is hard, I can’t name a time when it was ever easy. Therefore take the challenge and do the work and enjoy the richness of changing our world word by word.


7 Responses to Book Industry Trends

  1. Avatar
    Lisa October 15, 2012 at 5:26 am #

    Thank you for reality and encouragement in equal measure!

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    Meghan Carver October 15, 2012 at 7:07 am #

    Great news about your agency closing on so many new contracts! I appreciate your information as well as ending this post on an encouraging note. Chin up and all that, right?

  3. Avatar
    Susan Basham October 15, 2012 at 7:22 am #

    Thanks for the post. Sometimes I think “Why didn’t I start this sooner? Then I remember that three kids and three dogs and my job…..I know some do it and write but for me, it was next to impossible. I am loving this season of writing in my life and it is an honor to be a client of The Steve Laube Agency. I have Habbakuk 2:3 on my bulletin board!!!

  4. Avatar
    tcavey October 15, 2012 at 7:36 am #

    Thank you. I take hope in your words.
    I’m doing the work and trusting in God!

  5. Avatar
    Lindsay Harrel October 15, 2012 at 7:48 am #

    Thanks for keeping us informed, Steve! I appreciate your realistic look at the industry.

  6. Avatar
    Jeanne October 15, 2012 at 9:10 am #

    Thanks for the reminder not to get so caught up in the trends. Trends are just that–they have beginning and an ending. This is an encouraging post for this newer writer. Thanks!

  7. Avatar
    Carrie Turansky October 16, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

    Thanks for this update on trends. Very informative. So glad you included that last encouraging paragraph!

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