ARTICLE COURTESY OF OUR FRIENDS AT WRITTEN WORD MEDIA
Last year we made 10 predictions on what 2018 would bring to the publishing industry. We enjoyed hearing your predictions and discussing ours in the comments and on social media. We believe it’s important to think about what the future holds when planning for the upcoming year. This year we’ve conducted reader polls, reached out to industry leaders and distilled our own thoughts on where things are going in 2019. And now, without further ado, here are our top ten publishing industry trends for 2019:
1) Amazon Marketing Service (AMS) Ads Go Mainstream
AMS ads will become an essential part of the author’s toolkit in 2019. More and more authors are reporting rising costs on Facebook ads. This, coupled with Amazon’s ambitions to grow its advertising business will make paying to get visibility on Amazon a pillar of every author’s marketing strategy. “There’s no question that Amazon ads are going to become even more important in 2019,” according to Mark Dawson, Mark Dawson’s Self Publishing Formula. “I would go as far as to say that they are indispensable if you want to maximize the chances of making your books visible, especially as – it seems likely – organic visibility is reduced in favor of paid placements.” Requiring authors to pay to play in the Amazon marketplace makes business sense for Amazon, and, as long as they maintain their dominant position as “the place to buy eBooks,” there’s currently not much that can be done to stop them.
What this means for you: If you’re not already familiar with AMS ads, it’s time to get downright friendly with them. Read articles on how AMS ads work, reach out to other authors and see what is going well (or not) for them, and test your own ads. There has been some blowback due to low conversion rates from AMS ads, but, according to Mark Dawson, “there is inventory to be sold on the Amazon advertising platform at a reasonable cost per click. I’m seeing a lot of authors spending huge amounts of money, but that often means they are carpet bombing the wrong targets…” Like any new technique, AMS ads take a while to get the hang of, and results will differ from author to author. Even if you’re not ready to jump in head-first to AMS ads, being knowledgeable about them will allow you to be ready when the time is right for you and your titles.
2) Book Quality Becomes Critical to Success
In an increasingly competitive marketplace, independent authors who invest the time and resources to create quality books will be rewarded by readers. This fall, Written Word Media conducted a survey of readers subscribed to our sites, FreeBooksy, Bargain Booksy, NewInBooks, Red Feather Romance, and Reading Stacks. A consistent issue raised by readers was the prevalence of typos and grammatical errors in independently published books. Low book quality can lead to poor reviews or readers giving up on a book or an author altogether. As Debbie Young says in her piece Why Book Marketing Doesn’t Trump Writing Craft, “Even if you have endless financial resources to invest heavily in great covers, professionally-written persuasive blurbs and extensive advertising, readers who do not enjoy what’s inside this enticing gift wrap will not come back for more.”
What this means for you: This publishing industry trend is pretty easy to wrap your head around. Start by doing an audit of any existing books you have. Check your reviews and see if anyone points out an editing mistake that you haven’t already fixed. If you can, respond to readers after you’ve fixed an error. This lets them know you want to give them the best material possible, and that you appreciate their feedback. It’s important to realize that not making an early investment in the quality of your book will actually cost you more in the long-run. It may feel painful to outlay dollars for high-quality book covers and a professional edit, but it will cost you significantly more in wasted advertising dollars and abandoned readers in the months and years that follow.
3) The Number of Indie Authors Making a Living Solely From Writing Grows
More independent authors will see real income from book sales and will be able to quit their “day jobs.” Last April, Amazon CEO Jeff Besos revealed that over a thousand independent authors surpassed $100,000 in Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) royalties in 2017. As self-publishing ebooks, physical books and audiobooks continues to get easier, with the help of distributors like Draft2Digital and Findaway Voices, the success of independent authors will continue to grow. Companies will continue to recognize the growth of independent authors, and more tools and platforms will be born to aid authors. Authors themselves will also continue to learn the skills needed to make it without a traditional publisher. The entire independent ecosystem will be strengthened, and successful authors will see the rewards of increased royalties and freedom.
What this means for you: 2019 is a year packed with potential. Perhaps more than ever, it has been possible to make a living solely off of writing. If this is your goal, consider going all in this year. Research how other authors have built successful writing businesses, make a plan and go for it!
4) The Wide Versus Exclusive Debate Intensifies
Yep, this debate is only going to get more intense. In 2019, the differences between wide and exclusive releases will increase, as well as the debate around the two options. We heard plenty of different opinions on where this publishing industry trend is going, so here are some thoughts from both sides. “As indie publishing continues to grow, more authors will maximize their royalties by distributing wide and reaching new audiences, rather than focusing only on Amazon,” said Kinga Jentetics of Publish Drive. “These new audiences may include the 1.8 billion Android users with Google Play Books, or even emerging markets such as Chinese stores.”
Ricardo Fayet, of Reedsy, sees things differently, “Despite 2018 being considered by many authors an awful year on the Kindle Store (between the scammers, the trademark wars, and the recent disappearance of Also Boughts), I remain quite optimistic about the Store for 2019. It’s important to remember that Amazon is a relatively young search engine (as opposed to, you know, Google). As such, it has a lot of room for algorithm improvement, especially through AI and machine learning. While Amazon’s dismissal of individual queries is infuriating, I do believe that their ranking and fraud detection algorithms will get better. Considering the amount of changes and testing going on right now on the Kindle Store, 2019 might be the year of a major Amazon update — which is definitely needed.”
What this means for you: Like so many things, it comes down to what’s best for your unique goals and situation. If your goal is to achieve long-term success and freedom as a writer, having a plan to be widely distributed at the cost of short-term profit will be the more appealing prospect for you. Authors who are already enjoying success within the Amazon ecosystem will likely continue to remain exclusive with Amazon. As Mark Coker points out in his annual address, the decision to become exclusive or not could have far-reaching implications for your career as well as the careers of other indie authors. So it’s worth taking the time to be clear on what is important to you and what your specific short-term and long-term goals are.
5) Audio Continues to be a Bright Spot for Traditional Publishers
Traditional publishers will continue to see audiobook sales rise in 2019. 2017 saw significant growth in the audiobook industry, and 2018 continued the trend. Early 2018 saw strong audiobook sales improvements, and it doesn’t appear to have slowed. This is not surprising as our survey of readers found that “not having enough time to read” was a primary point of frustration expressed by readers. Listening to an audiobook solves this challenge as it expands the time available to read for many readers. Several major publishers saw lifts in audiobook sales in the third quarter of 2018, with Harper Collins seeing an impressive 55% rise in sales over the same quarter in 2017. With audio becoming more and more popular, traditional publishers will continue to invest in it.
What this means for you: Readers will continue to flock to audio. Traditional publishers are paving the way to make audio more and more accessible to readers. You can benefit from this trend by creating a plan to invest in audio for your titles.
6) Indie Authors Find Success With Audio
2019 will be a year in which independent authors en masse find success with audiobooks. “Opportunities with audiobooks continue to expand for indie authors and 2019 will see the ability to reach Storytel (through Findaway Voices), as well as developments with Apple Books audio and Kobo audio, on top of the expanded reach through Audible,” said Joanna Penn, The Creative Penn. Producing an audiobook isn’t cheap or easy, but more services are emerging to lower the barrier to entry. Until very recently Amazon had a lock on the market through both Audible and Apple Books but we anticipate their grip will loosen in 2019. Just two weeks ago, Findaway Voices announced that authors can now distribute their audiobooks directly to Apple Books at a 45% royalty rate. Changes like this signal good things to come for authors as companies jockey for business. This publishing industry trend is strengthened as authors also have newfound price control on several audiobook platforms. “More price control means we can get creative in promoting books: first-in-series free or deeply discounted; titles bundled at discounted prices; authors collaborating for free giveaways; more audio-specific marketing and advertising,” said Kelly Lytle of Findaway Voices. Other distributors and retailers are also focusing on audio. Christine Munroe at Kobo Writing Life notes that “KWL direct audio uploading will be our first major platform update of 2019. We’re exceptionally excited to add to the growing number of options authors have for reaching audiobook fans around the world.”
What this means for you: The audiobook landscape is about to get very exciting. As noted above, publishing an audiobook does require an investment of time and energy, but it also provides a path to diversifying your revenue streams. For authors who have decided to go exclusively with Amazon with their ebooks, publishing those same titles non-exclusively can provide a nice hedge for your business.
7) Successful Authors Will Market Their Books Early and Often
In 2019, authors that market their books often and early in the lifecycle will see success. This means authors will lean harder than ever on marketing techniques to achieve success. Indies are starting to market their books before release, or even before they start writing, according to Steven Spatz of Bookbaby. “During our last Self Publishing Survey, we asked top-selling authors to share some of their secrets to success,” Spatz said. “One of the most important findings: Over 80% of these successful authors started marketing their books before they began writing. Their mindset of “Promote then Publish” is spreading through the self-publishing community.” Marketing, in general, will become even more important as authors experience more competition for visibility. More resources and tools are available to authors than ever before, so naturally more writers will be able to make the transition to marketing their books.
What this means for you: It’s time to place marketing much earlier in your writing process. Think of ways to build anticipation and awareness, and make sure to engage and build your community of readers. Consider what your preorder strategy is. “Authors who do preorders earn more sales, and those that don’t are squandering their potential! This is an essential best practice that 80% of indie authors haven’t yet implemented,” according to Mark Coker at Smashwords. Don’t get discouraged when things don’t work, marketing is all about learning from failures. So, look for small insights or variations of a technique to try if the first shot doesn’t work.
8) Subscription Services Will Continue to Grow
Subscriptions will continue to grow within the publishing industry in 2019. Companies across many industries have found subscriptions to be very profitable and a great way to retain customers. Publishing is no different. “Keep an eye on the digital subscription services,” said Jane Friedman of HotSheet. “Whether brought to you by Amazon (Kindle Unlimited), Scribd, or Storytel, subscription-based consumption models for ebooks and digital audio have been enjoying significant growth—not to mention debate. Even traditional publishers admit that these services increase reader reach and revenue… the same is true for indie authors, assuming the quality is there.”
What this means for you: With these services gaining more subscribers, the value of distributing your books to them will increase. With the exception of Kindle Unlimited, most of these services do not require you to be exclusive to their platform, providing authors with yet another way to diversify their revenues.
9) Niche Audiences are Well Served
Readers with specific interests will continue to be catered to as the eBook marketplace becomes even more crowded. Competition for readers is increasing as more and more books are published. Online distributors don’t have the inventory restrictions of physical bookstores, so, once a book is published, it is here to stay. It won’t get bumped off the shelf in favor of the next hot series. Authors will be increasingly incentivized to stick to their established genre as getting new readers becomes more difficult. Authors will also rely more on niche reader communities to share books with likeminded readers. Becoming a name in a specific niche will be one of the best drivers of sales. “If establishing your ‘Author Platform’ is like building a house, your online presence is the furniture, floor coverings and artwork that make your house a home,” said Steven Spatz of Bookbaby. “Start early to develop related content that enhances and spotlights your book in the form of blog posts, videos, audio and even interaction with readers.”
What this means for you: Find your community of readers and give them all you can. Finding readers for your books in broad genres will be very competitive, so try to distill your writing down to a more specific sub-genre. Targeting readers in your sub-genre can be more successful as there will be less competition, and you know these people like the subject matter you write about. Granted, finding a niche audience is easier said than done, but, if you commit to research and ask your readers for help, there’s room for growth.
10) New Technology and Services Will Be Hyped
You can argue that this will be a publishing industry trend for years to come. Most years a new technology emerges that captures the hearts and minds of early adopters everywhere. 2019 will be no different, according to Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader. “Tech will continue to be hyped as solutions to non-existent problems,” he said. “For example, blockchain will continue to be touted as the future, and authors will continue to market and sell their books just fine without it.” Hoffelder predicts “at least one new blockchain eBook startup will launch in 2019, and it will shut down in 2020 after it fails to attract market share and runs out of money.”
What this means for you: Hoffelder has some sage advice here, “Take the time to vet the claims made by new services so that you don’t fall for a scheme.” He’s right. Before dropping money on something new, vet the service with Writer Beware or see if there’s a way you can test it for free first. Nothing can derail a strategy quicker than relying on a faulty tool or platform.
Publishing Trends Summary
2019 is sure to be another exciting year. Here’s a quick summary of our predicted publishing industry trends for 2019: Amazon Marketing Services (AWS) Ads will follow in Facebook’s steps and becomes an essential tool for independent authors. Book quality will be a key factor in success as readers have more options to choose from, so authors will invest more heavily in editing and cover design. As the market grows, more independent authors than ever will quit their day jobs and make all of their income from writing. The everlasting wide versus exclusive distribution debate will intensify even more as platforms battle for authors. Traditional publishers will see impressive gains in audiobook sales and will continue to invest in audio infrastructure. As traditional publishers pave the way and make audio more accessible to readers, some independent authors will start to see success with audiobooks. Successful authors will use more aggressive marketing techniques such as starting campaigns before a book is even written and running more campaigns after release. Subscription reading and listening services will continue to grow in 2019 as companies continue to push this lucrative model. Niche reader audiences will be better served than ever as authors find their fans and cater to them. And lastly, new technology and services in the publishing industry will continue to see ever-increasing hype in 2019.
That’s it! The top 10 publishing industry trends every author needs to know in 2019. What do you think we’ll see this year?