There are some interesting and noteworthy publishing trends happening across the publishing industry. While many of these trends point to changes and evolution, others go back to the genesis of our relationship with written and spoken language. The last 10 years have been turbulent for editors, writers, and agents. Technology has driven seven key trends that are shaping the business and art of our literary industry. For publishers, these trends also offer a glimpse into the future and insight into what to expect, how to prepare for growth in a changing landscape, and why the industry can evolve and stay the same.

Independent bookstores are on the rise

After popular bookstores were assumed to have died in the 1990s with the rise of mega bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble, the data now tells a very different story. Heading into 2020, it is these large retailers that are clinging to life and smaller independent bookstores that are experiencing a renaissance.

What this trend means for publishers and publishing

While retail may not fully shape business strategy on the publishing side, this increase in corner bookstores is significant.

Chains offer an impersonal experience

Small stores differ from online shopping by offering more authentic human interaction. Publishers can take advantage of this by investing in relationships and building communities around their titles. This, targeting independent bookstores as a hub for building deeper connections, as well as brand and author loyalty.

E-books fell in popularity

In recent years, the explosive growth of e-books appears to be leveling off. This indicates that digital formats may have stagnated in popularity.

What this trend means for publishers

As with most technology trends, e-book adoption has likely followed a wave pattern: rapid growth in popularity. We may have already reached the top of the e-book wave. It could be that the convenience of e-books and digital formats has a natural limit. Some segments of readers may simply never be interested in reading on Kindles or other e-readers, reverting to paperback and hardcover copies by default. This decrease could indicate the fact that some e-book users turned to audio formats.

Audiobooks are poised to outperform e-books

In the last 4 years alone, the percentage of adults listening to titles has almost doubled and the trend appears to be on an upward trajectory.

What this trend means for publishers and publishing

While they may continue to grow, only a certain segment of book lovers are likely to embrace audiobooks as a long-term alternative to physical copies. Publishers are under financial and operational pressure to maintain multiple revenue streams and manage their titles in a variety of formats and channels.

Trends in Learning Technology

Novels and short stories lose steam

A potentially disturbing trend for the literary world is the recent decline in adults reading novels and short stories. However, publishers should not ignore changes in consumer tastes.

What this trend means for publishers and publishing

Is reading for pleasure losing popularity? It wouldn't be entirely surprising to learn that fiction and poetry titles have suffered in recent years with the emergence, prevalence, and explosion of video-on-demand content. Streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Go now occupy about 5 hours of the average American day. Fortunately, that statistic isn't all doom and gloom for prints. Much of the video content produced is based on literary works adapted to video formats. This could become a growing revenue opportunity for publishers expanding into "omnichannel" content. In this way, they position their strategy around publishing and licensing stories suitable for video streaming. The emergence of other digital formats and the increasing overlap of media could inspire some interesting changes in the coming years.

Poetry returns to previous popularity

Among American adults, just over 10% said in 2017 that they had read poetry in the past 12 months. Social media seems to be a catalyst here. Various reports indicate that there is an emerging market for writers. Poetry is a fashionable genre among these communities. This number, while still a fairly small portion of the population, marks a return for poetry reading, which fell by almost 50% between 2002 and 2012. Given that poetry is still a fairly small segment but growing in popularity, what? how will editors respond?

What this trend means for publishers and publishing

Trends like this could mark an emerging demand for short-form written content. It could also target new market opportunities from previously underserved readers. While other narrative works move towards the format of films and long-term series. We could see poetry growing in popularity as a purposefully written format that offers a unique experience of Netflix novels and shows. If this happens, publishers may notice a renewed interest in collections of works, including poetry, flash, short stories and other formats, literature that can be consumed in a single short session. Maybe while waiting for the next episode to autoplay?

Nonfiction titles outperform fiction

As novels and short stories have lost popularity, another genre has gained traction, more than making up for the decline in sales of fiction books. Over the past 5 years, revenue from non-fiction titles has exploded by almost 30%. According to sales data from Penguin Random House, revenue from adult non-fiction in 2017 was almost 35% higher than revenue generated from fiction titles. This change in preferences may be a telltale sign of changing perceptions and habits among book readers.

What this trend means for publishers and publishing

With such compelling trends here, it seems like any footprint with the ability may want to expand or move into non-fiction works. In particular, political books, self-help, and motivational titles tend to stand out on the shelves. They provide a more durable alternative to the endless stream of thought leadership blog articles and best advice tweets. Interestingly, few publishers seem willing to take full advantage of digital content marketing strategies to generate interest and sales for the book through their own channels. But this could come up as a great opportunity. In the era of free digital media, the music industry has reluctantly embraced this model and focused its efforts on the revenue generated from the shows and merchandising rather than selling or streaming the music itself.

Desktop publishing is here in a big way

Desktop publishing can pose a long-term threat to traditional publishing models, as social media enables one-to-one communication (and sales) at scale. But it can also herald opportunities for growth.

What this trend means for publishers and publishing

While there have been many self-published jobs, there is no clear data to indicate that those titles have eaten up the units sold by labels. Instead, desktop publishing may be opening up new markets and untapped audiences. This offers an opportunity for publishers. First, there seems to be a surplus of writers eager for the opportunity to produce and sell their work, online and in print. As a strategy, companies can improve operations and become more efficient and effective in reaching, applying for, and selecting jobs for the press. Second, the desktop publishing model could deflect some of the financial risks for publishers as authors test new titles and markets. In this way, the desktop publishing revolution could be a boon for publishers, allowing them to manually select works based on data-driven success metrics, compared to the traditional model involving heavy speculation and risky investments.

You might be also interested in: User Experience Research (UX)

Publishing Trends

Publishing Trends


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