As 2014 passes the halfway point the publishing industry must review the trends that were anticipated as the year began. Resource allocation and business priorities are being accessed and it is time to see what really came to pass and what may have been completely unforeseen just six months ago.
Jeremy Greenfield published his list of “bold” predictions for the digital publishing world in December of 2013. Since so much of publishing is at least influenced by the digital environment, if not completely restricted to it, his list is a good place to start. When reviewing what he anticipated in 2014 it appears that he correctly predicted about half of the trends of the publishing industry but was way off the mark for the other half.
One of Greenfield’s big misses was that “Barnes & Noble will close or sell Nook and go private.” Barnes & Noble locations can still be seen in shopping centers throughout the country in much the same way as before and its stock is still traded publicly on the New York Stock Exchange. Additionally, according to their press release on June 6, 2014, they are working with Samsung to add Nook software to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4. The devices will be available on shelves near existing NOOK eReaders at Barnes & Noble stores and online. It could easily be predicted then, with Barnes & Noble still delivering the brick and mortar experience, Greenfield’s prediction that Amazon would open its own stores in 2014 would also not come to pass. Amazon appears to be comfortable with the delivery of its products by mail and shows no sign of changing that trend.
On the other side of the scale however, Greenfield appears to have been right about both publishers endorsing subscription ebook models like Oyster and Scribd and about continued price experimentation in the ebook industry. According to a May article in Forbes, “Businesses like Oyster and Scribd … are now being supported by some of the most powerful organizations in book publishing.” There are even rumors that Amazon is interested in the subscription model as well. In line with another of Greenfield’s predictions, an article on ePub Direct by Patrick Crowley indicates that price experimentation is also still quite common and has been especially effective when publishers wish to “inject new life into an older title.” This follows with what Greenfield indicated would be a continued downward push on ebook pricing in 2014.
Greenfield also made some predictions that are still subject to some debate. He predicted that publishers would “move toward data-drive decision making” and that the five largest publishers would sell their entire catalogs of ebooks to libraries. According to Fauzia Burke of the Huffington Post, data driven marketing is increasing but it has not become the primary factor. From her perspective the best approach to book marketing is “a well-choreographed dance between data and story” and must be carefully catered to each writer. As for Greenfield’s indication that libraries would gain access to the ebook catalogs of the biggest publishers, the American Library Association notes that there are still a few hurdles ahead. While several publishers announced as early as 2013 that they would make their ebooks available to libraries, there are legal specifics and technological concerns to resolve that will affect both sides of these arrangements and may take much more effort to work out.
Further review of a publishing industry that is constantly changing due to technology will likely prove that anticipating trends for the future will mimic what has already happened in 2014. Predicting the changes in everything from mobile devices to market analytics will remain an inexact science at best and the publishing industry will continue to roll with the punches and figure things out on the fly as it evolves with the rest of the world.
By David Morris