So, another year has come and gone. Hard to believe. And it's nice to see that, despite the constant threats/warnings/gleeful prognostications of the "death" of traditional publishing, a lot of us are still here. In fact, a recent news report indicated that, contrary to expectations and predictions, some people are willing to pay the same amount for an ebook as they would pay for a print book (the Steve Jobs biography was the example given).
Because 2011 was the year of prognostications (including several for the impending end of the world), I thought it might be fun to close the year on Mysterious Matters with my predictions for 2012. If I'm wrong, I'll be in good company!
1. You'll see more zombies. Conventional wisdom says we're "over" the vampire craze. I don't quite think we are, but I do think we're on the cusp of a new craze: zombies. I think we're going to see quite a bit beyond Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in 2012. Apparently, zombie gatherings (in which people gather dressed as zombies, though not necessarily to eat brains) have been shattering records over the last few months. Maybe with an election year coming, people are becoming tired of the relatively well-behaved and sophisticated vampires of recent years and have decided they want the pure id, the unapologetic brain-eating, of zombies. Not the kind of book I'd sign up - I'd have no idea how to edit it - but I bet some younger editors could take them to the top of the charts.
2. eReading will grow. No surprise there; I don't think anyone denies it any longer. Like many in our industry, I believe we'll continue to see demand for print books, along with growing demand for eBooks. I see this trend as an opportunity for publishers and writers - a way to get a younger generation, obsessed with its technology, to read more. And, of course, it's a lot more profitable to sell an ebook than a printed book (not to mention the warehousing and shipping costs). The other side of this coin, of course, is the truly breathtaking amount of garbage being generated and "published" and "distributed" through the various self-publishing venues. Some get upset about this, and I see why; but the cream generally rises to the top.
3. DorothyL will remain maddening. At the office, we go through phases. Sometimes we love reading this "mystery literature e-conference," and sometimes we want to pull our hair out. Recent months have seen some really fascinating threads, including participants' stories about their suspicious neighbors (many a novel waiting to be written) and a great discussion of the reactions to Dexter (both the book and the TV show). But then there are those bloviating windbags who post every day, whether they have something to say or not; and the level of self-promotion has become epic. DorothyL reminds me of anold saying about advertising: "I know half my advertising dollars are wasted, but I don't know which half." Subscribers to DorothyL know that each day, the list will be 50% interesting and 50% garbage. If I were a young Internet entrepreneur, I'd develop an app that would strip all the following out of DL: self-promotion, people drumming up readers for their own blogs, posts by a certain few. I feel certain that 90% of the readership would download and use that app.
4. A lot of deluded people will get ripped off. Among the neverending debates about self-publishing (or, as we used to call it in a less politically correct age, vanity publishing), we rarely hear about the number of aspiring writers who are getting ripped off. On the one hand, we hear from the "traditionally published" (or, as I would call them, "the published") about the drawbacks and benefits of having a professional editor and publicist to work with. On the other end of the spectrum, we hear the self-published proclaiming that their stuff is as good as anyone else's, and why shouldn't they have the glory and the millions of dollars that come with a successful book? What we don't hear about is the amount of money a writer has to put out of pocket to do everything a "traditional" publisher does for free. Of course, plenty of people have no qualms about spitting out a Word document and uploading it to Kindle, but those who want to do it right pay for a good copy editor. Then there's the cost of book design, cover design (they usually stink), typesetting, printing, the various machinations to get an ISBN. Then there are those who will convert your work to various ePub formats for sale on various eReaders (for a fee), and publicists who like you to believe that they can get media attention for a self-published author. I really have come to believe that this system is no better than the one that promises young people they can turn them into "professional models" (after, of course, they pay for expensive photos, sign agreements paying agents to represent them, and so forth). Then, of course, there are those pay-for-review places that make the self-published pay for reviews, or listings on some sort of Website, in addition to the traditional book thieves (a woman with the initials S.R. comes to mind) who request review copies and then make a bundle selling them. On Mysterious Matters, I try not to engage too much with the self-publishing debate, but I do feel it's time to say the following: To be successful in any creative endeavor, someone other than yourself has to believe in your work. Comments regarding the three or four people who've made it "huge" via self-publishing (among hundreds of thousands) may now commence.
5. The economy will improve. I'm seeing signs of this improvement everywhere - and, most importantly for me and the company I work for - better book sales, in both traditional and eBook format. Not quite at the level we were at before the recession began, but an improvement. And I do think we have both Apple and Amazon to thank for some of this. Both companies are unabashed and unashamed by their intense marketing-oriented approach to their businesses; and it's working. (Last thing I heard, Apple has more cash than the U.S. government.) This is an area where we traditional publishers fail; I think even the youngest of us feel somewhat crass when attempting to shove books down people's throats, but Amazon and Apple have no such qualms. Of course, the iPad and Amazon are about a lot more than books, but books are going along for the ride, and that's a good thing.
6. Price will be a signal regarding quality. I have pontificated about this before: Price is a signal. You have no illusion that you're getting quality merchandise when you pay $1 for something. I think a lot of readers have come to realize that cheap books just aren't worth as much as books that are priced a little higher. A lot of misinformed people who are self-pricing their books at .99 and 2.99 aren't quite realizing what signal that sends in an era in which Americans (even those of lower socioeconomic classes) are more than happy to spend $100 a month for iPhone service. Though I no longer work for one of the "Big Boys," I sit on the sidelines and cheer as they refuse to have their products (books) reduced to the lowest common denominator in terms of price. They understand the value of their products, and they want to make sure the public understands that, too. Nobody's interests are served when the products of major publishing houses (and independent presses, too, of course) are perceived as the equivalent of Chinese mass-manufactured crap.
And on that note, a Happy New Year to all.