Sunday, October 12, 2008

Predicting the future

Kimber asked for my opinion about publishing in a recession, referring to the previous one. Will publishers produce fewer titles? Will the trend be to "lighter" stories? Are there some genres that will do better than others?

These are, unfortunately, the sort of questions that remind me I am not a business person and I don't approach writing from a business/marketing perspective. However, since Kimber asked and I have been thinking about the current economic crisis, here are my predictions:

Will fewer titles be published? I wouldn't be surprised, although electronic publishing may see an increase in readers and need more content. Many people already own computers, so they can save $ downloading books instead of buying paperback copies. Also, people will likely be staying home more, and buying ebooks saves a trip to the store (and money for gas).

I think hardcover sales will suffer much more than mass market paperback, because mmp's are cheaper.

I think those of us who write genre fiction will do better than writers of literary fiction, and not just because our books are produced in a cheaper format. In times of stress, people want escapist entertainment -- notice that Beverley Hills Chihuahua did better than Body of Lies this weekend. However, dark paranormals are escapist, too.

Whatever is popular, publishers will have to be even more mindful of the bottom line, meaning less "wiggle room" for authors in terms of story and character (publishers will stick even more with the "tried and true") and authors will have even less time to build an audience. However, a previously unpublished author whose work they can buy at rock bottom prices may benefit.

I have no idea what sub-genres did better during the last recession. I simply wasn't paying attention. That said, this round of belt-tightening may be the last nail in the coffin for medievals and other struggling time periods, although westerns seem to be on the rebound.

I wouldn't be surprised to discover that stories that emphasize family and community working together through hard times become popular.

Authors will be expected to do even more self-promotion, because the publishers will be looking to save money in that area, too. If Author A can't because they don't have the time or resources, but Author B can, and their sales are similar? Author A could be out of luck for another contract.

Used bookstores should see an increase in business. That means some older titles might be back in circulation, increasing an author's audience. Unfortunately, neither the authors nor publishers make a cent from used books.

OTOH, people might decide to buy a new book in part because they can resell it.

I've been wondering if we'll be seeing fewer people writing because they need a job with a regular paycheck and benefits. Published authors who face shrinking sales and advances may decide to go back to a day job, too. Unpublished writers, therefore, may find they have less competition.

I would expect this past week's book sales to be way down. Having been in a similar situation, I feel for those authors.

But here's one last point to consider: ever since I began writing twenty years ago, the conventional wisdom has decreed that publishing is going down the toilet. The midlist has always been dying. Fewer people are reading. (Actually, I think this one's been around since the invention of the radio.)

Yet books are still being published and somebody's reading them. Despite the fact that the eighties were apparently the glory years of romance and it's all been downhill ever since, the genre is still alive and well.


Crystal-Rain Love said...

I don't know where these statements that people are buying less books is coming from. I've been hearing it, but then we hear the counter-statement of how many romance books have sold this year and last. Maybe literary fiction is going down, but romance, thrillers and mysteries stand firm, I think.

Margaret Moore said...

I read a few years ago about the huge decline in science fiction and fantasy sales, from 100,000 books a month to 10,000, because their audience was primarily young males who all turned to computer and video games instead.

I don't think I've ever seen sales numbers for something like THE WOLF AND THE DOVE when it first came out in the mid-seventies (I think) compared to a top-selling romance this year. That might explain where this sort of opinion comes from. In other words, romance sales are healthy compared to many other books *now*, but how do sales now compare to the Golden Years (which we all, apparently, have missed)?

That said, I'm really glad I'm writing romance, although not just because it's holding its own these days.

Kimber Chin said...

Thanks Margaret!

Jeepers, I hope medievals stay, along with all the funkier time periods (just read a great WWII romance). I do love my Regencies but I like to mix them up with other historicals.

Plus if I can't get my MM medieval hit, I think I'll wilt.

I totally hear you about some authors going back to their day jobs. I was considering taking time off in December to write but now, I'm thinking I'd best take another business contract. Gotta make hay while the sun shines as my farming granddad used to say.