What does 2021 hold in store for the publishing industry? Every year at Written Word Media we consult experts and dive into our own data to predict the next year’s publishing trends. And, after 2020, we’re more excited than ever to focus on the future. Self-publishing is an ever-changing industry and big changes can come seemingly out of nowhere.

So, how will 2021 look? This year we’ve broken down our predictions into four themed sections. Here are our top 10 publishing trends for 2021.

Publishing

Trend #1: More traditional authors will move to the indie model

Some indies are having major financial success, and the rest of the publishing industry is taking note. Consolidation of major publishers and knowledge of the financial opportunities available elsewhere could drive this trend. 

We’ve already seen A-list authors – Dean Koontz and Patricia Cornwell – take the Amazon shilling and sign with Thomas & Mercer; I can see more of that, and, perhaps, a really big name striking out on their own.

Penguin Random House Acquiring Simon & Schuster will lead to less competition for the work of traditional authors. These authors will find that they have less negotiating power and at least some will be tempted by the indie path. The consolidation at the top could lead to more competition in the indie market. There’ll be another huge influx of both new authors and talented freelancers moving into the marketplace. This is always the side effect of those types of big publisher corporate mergers – the shedding of imprints, staff, and authors. More traditional authors are going to realize the opportunities that indie publishing can bring, specifically with regards to eBook sales.

Trend #2: More indie authors will collaborate or consolidate in collectives

Just as we see consolidation among traditional publishers, we’re also seeing indies combining resources and audiences to compete on a level above.

Collaborating indies can bring their business to the next level. From sharing production costs to combining marketing efforts, this is a great way for indies to publish quicker, expand back catalogs, and beyond.

Collaboration by indies is also now set up to be better supported by the indie publishing industry. With more pressure from competition and new tools to use, we see more indies collaborating than ever before in 2021.

The Big Players

Trend #3: Authors will benefit from competition in the eBook marketplace between Amazon, Apple, and Google

Amazon is the largest retailer for indies, but in 2020 we saw signs that two other major tech players are interested in competing for authors.

In spring 2020, Apple announced a redesign to its author portal and revealed that they had made it easier for authors without a Mac to publish with iBooks. Google Play also revamped its publishing analytics interface in fall 2020. This redesign makes it much easier for authors to analyze their sales on the platform.

These moves by Apple and Google are a clear signal that they are investing in indies. And we see this continuing in 2021. Competition among marketplaces means indies win. We’ve already seen usability improvements in 2020. Will 2021 bring even more developments? We think so.

Trend #4: More platforms fighting for Audio supremacy will benefit savvy authors

Competition in the audio space will continue in 2021, and the fight for audio supremacy could benefit authors who invest in audiobooks. “The audio wars will further heat up between Audible (Amazon), Spotify, and Apple. All are taking steps to become a central hub for audio entertainment and storytelling, and you can find myriad startups entering the playing field, trying to get a foothold in a market that’s expected to keep growing over the next decade—and will likely surpass ebook sales in a couple years. 

We’ll see audio competition expanding to the international market. Opportunities in the audiobook market will continue to expand with the expansion of subscription services like Storytel into more international markets, and Spotify (possibly) entering the scene in a more significant way.

Audiobooks will only get easier to produce as companies fight for content. “With Google Play now offering audiobooks narrated by AI voices, 2021 might also see the emergence of new, cheaper ways of producing mass-market audio, while still enabling the premium human-narrated editions to reach new listeners. It’s an exciting time for audiobooks!

With the audiobook market expanding year after year, the big players are lining up to duke it out. Audible took a public relations hit with authors in 2020. Will they or other retailers respond by offering more favorable terms to authors in 2021?

The eBook Market

Trend #5: COVID-19 will impact book sales in different ways at different times

COVID-19 has had a major impact on the eBook market. 2020 saw more people turn to books for at-home entertainment and education via digital means.

We expect that the surge in eBook sales will continue in the first half of 2021. However, the second half of the year could mark a downturn for eBook sales if vaccination efforts in the US and Europe are successful. As people are able to leave their houses and once again embark on travel, people will have less time (or inclination) to read and could buy fewer books. This could mean a temporary lull in eBook sales during the “post-Covid re-emergence” phase of our lives. As with many of the habits adopted during the Covid pandemic, a shift from physical to digital eBooks is likely to stick, so that by 2022, eBook sales are likely to have normalized into new post-Covid sales patterns. 

Trend #6: The overall eBook market will continue to grow

COVID-19 has accelerated so much in our world, and we suspect eBook consumption is no exception.

One thing that I think is critical for authors to understand, particularly those who believe that the market is saturated with eBooks, is that we’re still at the very beginning of a long-term transformation of digital consumption of books. The reality is that most people who read have STILL not read an eBook. Overall industry stats show that upwards of 70% of people who read, still read print and haven’t yet adopted a digital reading diet.

With libraries and bookstores harder to access, we assume that more readers turned to digital in 2020. And once they discover the ease of access and savings, we see them sticking with it in 2021. More readers are joining the digital eBook market, and we see this accelerating as the word spreads even more.

Trend #7: Authors will see more success with international sales

There is optimistism about the growth of the eBook market in Europe. One thing the pandemic has greatly developed is the eBook market in European countries that were so far viewed as extremely traditional in their book-buying habits. Whatever the evolution of the pandemic, I can only see this trend further developing, especially in the first months of the year, when all the Christmas present Kindle devices need to be loaded up with books.

While some of these international sales could decrease in accordance with Trend #5, there are now new digital readers who might not go back to print. Authors willing to invest in translation could get a great foothold in this rising European eBook market. I’d still recommend going for the German market first, but I feel the French, Italian and Spanish ones will be catching up quickly.

Marketing

Trend #8: It will be a volatile year for paid advertising

Covid has accelerated the shift to digital among all industries, not just books. That means more retailers and brands will spend more marketing dollars in digital channels in 2021. Increased spend and competition will drive up the costs of digital advertising for authors. 

As if that wasn’t enough, fundamental shifts in the landscape – Apple and Facebook’s iOS 14 dispute and Google’s antitrust litigation – will make for an ever-shifting environment. Authors should be prepared to see higher ad costs in 2021 but also stay abreast of these events. Where there is change, there may be opportunity.

Trend #9: Email delivery and engagement will become a focus for authors

Authors will become even more dependent on their email lists due to the rocky ad landscape. But the advent of new email services for users and continued gating by Gmail will make it harder to reach those users who have subscribed to author’s lists. Add to that growing email volume due to the generalized shift to digital due to Covid, and the competition here is fierce.

The bright side? Yes, it’s harder than ever to get someone’s attention with an email, but when you have a reader’s email address, you own a direct line to them. It’s less likely that a software update or an increase in ad costs will prevent you from letting them know about your latest release. Other marketing channels will suffer in 2021, so email is poised to be more important than ever.

Trend #10: Authors who write into series, and with big backlists, will win larger pieces of the pie

Writing a series results in more sales, and authors know it. In 2020 we introduced our series promo to great results. In 2021, we expect to see more authors focus on writing series, and those who do will see the financial rewards.

Our 2020 author survey showed that having more published books is a major driver of author income. So with the eBook market growing quickly, authors with a larger backlist are best poised to take advantage right away. If that backlist is made of series, even better. Those authors can expect even more read-through and more purchases of an entire series “up-front.”

More authors will focus on growing their catalog to reap marketing and earnings efficiencies. There is a formula for success and high earnings as an indie author. Authors who follow this formula are winning and we expect more to follow suit.

In 2021 we will continue to see how the pandemic impacts the self-publishing industry. We’ve learned a lot in 2020, but 2021 will, hopefully, see another major change if the spread of the virus is reduced. What trends do you see coming in 2021? Do you agree or disagree with any of our predictions? Let us know in the comments!


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