Making predictions about what will happen in the future is a dangerous game, and if I were smarter, I probably wouldn’t even attempt it. But as I prepared the new Red Sneaker book, What Writers Need to Know, I revisited my predictions for 2019—and they weren’t half bad. I did see some trends coming, missed a few, but overall, nothing I said was completely embarrassing. So here’s my attempt to prognosticate again for the coming year and the decade beyond.
1) Audiobooks Will Surge
I’ll start my list with this low-risk prediction. If you listen to the Red Sneaker Writers podcast, you’ve heard me crunch the numbers. Audiobooks have skyrocketed in sales each of the last five years, but in the past year, the growth was off the charts. The ability to download books in seconds to devices you’re carrying anyway, combined with the popularity of wireless earplugs, have caused many to read with their ears. Current projections indicate that audiobook sales could eclipse ebook and prints sales as early as 2023. Self-published authors are not taking advantage of this as often as they should, but recent developments in AI may change that. The growth may also be impacted by…
2) Voice-Tech Will Influence the Book World
My mother is 91 and she loves her Amazon Edge. Most times she wants to know something, Alexa is the first one she asks (when I’m not around). If my mom can figure out voice tech, everyone can. Alexa, Siri, Google Home, and the like may replace search engines as the primary way people find answers. And that means they will go there for book recommendations. Just as Amazon recommends books based upon your past viewing and buying habits, voice assistants will suggest books based on buying patterns, internet searches, podcast choices, reading habits, etc. That means future book marketing must involve the equivalent of Amazon Ads for AI—some way to influence what the voice assistant recommends.
3) EBook Sales Will Surge
The internet is full of contradictory information about electronic sales vs. print, but it’s clear that eBooks sell well, especially to compulsive readers of popular fiction. Tech, convenience, cost, environmental concerns all factor into this trend. Ebooks will surge in the coming years, especially with younger audiences and in time, all consumer sales will shift significantly in favor of digital books. And that will happen even faster if…
4) EBooks Will Evolve
In the early days of eBooks, there were a few attempts to integrate tech into tales—illustrations that responded to touch, textbooks that revealed answers on command. When I first proposed The Game Master, the idea was that in the digital version, all the puzzles BB Thomas solves and the games he plays in the novel would be interactive. Ultimately, publishers thought I was too far ahead of my time and that it would be too expensive—but soon that will no longer be true. Ebooks will evolve and include digital glossaries, voice assistants, audio playback, and dynamic page-viewing. In time, these features could appear in print books as well—if there’s market for it.
5) Publishing Will Grow Overseas
Have you noticed how many services are adding foreign pub features? There’s a reason. Books sales are growing in many foreign countries faster than in the US. Amazon will now let you buy ads targeting certain other countries. Findaway Voices, Kobo, and many others have announced initiatives designed to increase their distribution overseas.
6) Social Media Will Continue to Dominate Book Marketing
Social media is time-consuming and sometimes frustrating, but it is the most effective means of generating word-of-mouth for your books. Influencers are being paid thousands of dollars to recommend products because many people, especially young people, are paying attention. Why should books be any different? Instagram put Rupi Kaur at the top of the bestseller list. Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club made Where the Crawdads Sing the top-selling book of 2019. influencer marketing could become an effective way of promoting your books.
7) An Ebook Subscription Service Will Rise
Many subscription services exist and given how easily they can transmit recommendations and books to phones, eventually one of them will do it right and become the dominant player, in effect, the Book-of-the-Month Club for digital books. The problem so far has been that the Big Five wouldn’t license their books, but that will likely change—because if it doesn’t, the Big Five will see their market share erode even more than it already has. Maybe Scribd will rise to the top, maybe Spotify, but if I had to make a bet, I’d place my money on…
8) Apple Will Become a Big Player in Books
So far, Apple has let Amazon have the book world largely to itself. After the 2010 price-fixing case, Apple’s interest in books soured. But I don’t see that lasting forever when there’s money to be made. Apple reformed iTunes last year to create a separate Books app. Apple needs people to keep buying its phones, and if large numbers are reading or listening to books on their phones, Apple will want to sell the content. Apple could even add design changes to its phones to enhance readability, which would give people an even greater reason to buy phones and books from them.
What does all this mean for you, the Red Sneaker Writer? First, it means you should write, because there’s a big audience of readers out there. Put your heart and soul into your book and make it as good as you possible can. Then, whether you pursue traditional publishing or self-publishing, you will have to make smart choices. Audiobook. Advertising. Foreign distribution. Social media. Subscription service. You must stay on top of this ever-changing world we live in. Write from the heart—but keep your eyes open to what’s happening in the world around you.
William Bernhardt is the author of 46 books, including the New York Times-bestselling Ben Kincaid series (including Justice Returns in 2017), thrillers, a young adult series, historical fiction, two books of poetry, and the Red Sneaker series of books on writing.