Business Musings: The Year in Review Part 1: Overview

Business Musings: The Year in Review Part 1: Overview

This year has been ridiculous. I have no idea why I expected it to be otherwise. I guess there’s a part of me that expected the world to return to normal, even though I’m one of the people who has said since March of 2020 that there would be no normal, at least not what we thought of as normal in 2019.

Every industry is changing. The fluctuations in the real estate market have been insane. Imagine, in the space of two years, going from a “normal” market to an all-you-can-sell-at-any-price buffet to the slowest market for sellers in almost two decades. The changes in higher education have just started. There aren’t as many students attending college right now, and those that are entering do not have the interpersonal skills that their peers had three years ago. Then there’s the financial markets, cryptocurrency in particular. That’s another wild ride.

And we’re not going to talk about punditry and elections and the changes on the political map. They’re just starting as well. (Thank you, Gen Z.)

As I said two weeks ago, we’re building a new world—not just in publishing, but in general. The pandemic broke a world that was already going through some slow-motion ruptures. I knew we were going to have to rebuild. History shows that the rebuilding will mean that we are entering a new and unrecognizable world.

I simply hadn’t expected the changes to be so quick.

Nor had I expected some of the things that happened this year.

I did not expect all of the secrets of traditional publishing to be laid bare in court. Nor did I expect writers to deny what they were learning (just got another one today, via my contact form). Some of the breakage and changes in traditional publishing will have an impact on indie publishing.

I’ll try to point out what I see as I write that blog—or that two-part subseries of blogs (which is what it looks like I need at the moment).

Then, of course, there are the changes in social media. The Atlantic even stated (at least in a headline; I haven’t read the article yet) that social media is dead. I don’t think it’s dead, but I do think it resembles the poor guy in the plague cart in Monty Python And The Holy Grail, who sits up and says, “Not dead yet.”

Or maybe it’s Mark Twain: Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated. (Okay, what he really said was, “The report of my death was an exaggeration,” but the misquote is better.)

But you get the picture. I suspect social media as a thing is losing its impact, but like the telephone, it will never really die.

Anyway, we’ll discuss the implications of that.

We’ll also discuss the new ways—yet again—of selling books. The rise of crowd-funding in 2022. (Yes, the biggest publishing Kickstarter was this year, even though March feels like 3,000 years ago.)

Trends in movies and streaming are important, as are the deals that were made or have fallen through in related industries like comics and music. And then there are the reminders, from Kate Bush to Clive Barker, as to why it’s important to control your own intellectual property, rather than sell most of it to some corporation. At the beginning of your career, anyway, although some folks are also showing us how lucrative giant copyright sales can be near the end of an active career.

Then there are the changes that are only just starting, with AI art and AI recordings and deep fakes and more. All of those will have a major impact on the entertainment of the future. It’s going to take some work for writers to figure out how they fit into this new world, and how they can use those tools without harming other artists.

I sent out a call for information on new tech a few months ago, but didn’t hear a lot of enthusiasm about anything from anyone—except a discussion of the AI products, above. And most of those comments were fearful, not enthusiastic.

Advertising has become less effective on all platforms, which is not a surprise. No one has come up with a cool new way of getting the attention of readers, which is a surprise. Usually writer/marketers are more inventive than that.

But right now, no one—and I mean no one (not streamers, not podcasters, not those I would rather market than write types) have figured out how to do effective marketing to the masses. Targeted marketing has become common, and microtargeting even more common.

We’re leaving a lot of pandemic behaviors behind. A traditionally published friend of mine who has a large following just completed an old-fashioned traditional book tour, and because he’s nice and personable, drew good sized crowds. Did he sell books? Not enough to make back all the money his publisher spent on the tour. But he might have helped a bookstore or two.

Booksellers are opening their doors to events, which were dying off before the pandemic. Now, it seems, everyone wants to get together with everyone else, so events are drawing crowds. Or at least, bookish crowds.

A lot of writers are getting movie and TV options. A lot of writers are giving their work away (free options) in the hopes of having success like Julia Quinn had with Netflix and the Bridgerton series, not realizing that Julia Quinn did not give anyone a free option.

Because of the success of Bridgerton and a wide variety of other projects, the movie/TV industry once again believes that optioning books (and comics and games and podcasts) is the way to go. This too shall pass, but it’s somewhat lucrative right now for the writers who know what they’re doing, which is to say, damn near none of them.

This voracious need for content, from moviemakers to streaming services to podcasters, will only increase, but it also means that the quest for eyeballs on the products will become more intense. We’ll look at that as well.

And then we’ll circle back to events. Right now, books are being published by megabestsellers, but not getting promotion. Movies are being made with superstars, and no one knows that the movie is out (mostly on streaming). Albums are being dropped, but unless you’re in that artist’s ecosystem (or listen to some kind of genre radio), no one knows about it.

Even Taylor Swift’s new album had a short cycle in the entertainment media.

It’s strange and only getting stranger.

I predict—yes, predict—that it’ll take at least five years for this to shake out, maybe even ten.

But what do I know? This truly is a new world, in all things. The change might only be visible in hindsight (as it was after WWII). Or we might be in a “between the wars” kinda era, such as the one that happened for the entire world between WWI and WWII. That was a relatively short 20 years, with events that had an impact on the future (The New Deal, right, Americans?) but which were not well understood at the time. And the impact on publishing of that period between the wars…well, it was strong and it became somewhat irrelevant quickly.

Which is what might happen to my predictions.

We’ll see though. I’m actually looking forward to the year ahead. I do feel like I’m getting a grasp on change, even as I’m seeing the old world die some pretty horrible deaths.

I’ll try to deal with all of that, upcoming. It will take me to January 1, if not longer, but I’m going to try to hold the comment about 2022 to 2022 wherever possible.

That might mean a few exceptionally long blogs. Bear with me on that.

And if you’re seeing trends that I haven’t vaguely mentioned above, please let me know in the comments. If I’ve already mentioned it above, then send me a link to an article or website that you think will help with the analysis.

Thanks!

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“Business Musings: Year in Review Overview Part 1,” copyright © 2022 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © Can Stock Photo / SuprVal.

14 responses to “Business Musings: The Year in Review Part 1: Overview”

  1. Kat Faitour says:

    Hi Kris,

    AI might be used more often for indie audiobook reading (maybe sold directly through Book Funnel). I also think traditional publishers might begin using AI to read the tremendous amount of IP they own in order to simulate newly written works that are similar to the authors consumed by the AI if that makes sense.

    Thanks, as always, for all your thoughtful content. Much appreciated.

    Kat

  2. Liana Kerr says:

    After playing with Midjourney for a couple of months now, I’m enthusiastic about AI image generation as a tool for writers, although I do think that it’s going to cause a lot of problems for illustrators. The algorithm has improved in a short amount of time — witness the difference between the same prompt for version 3 https://cdn.midjourney.com/d7b9ec7f-e46b-40a5-9bc1-2b7f54f65524/grid_0.png and version 4 https://cdn.midjourney.com/8968225c-8718-4a45-bfa7-06b8bc5a39b7/grid_0.png (prompt: a fantastic whimsical fairytale illustration of two adorable mice getting married, dappled lighting, in the style of warwick goble, natural colors) and although the V4 version isn’t perfect, you can see how, at the level of ‘Instagram user scrolling down the feed for ten minutes before bedtime,’ it does the job. Algorithms, and the pace of media attention that you referred to in your post, mean that there’s less reward for devoting yourself to a single piece of art, and more reward for creating good-enough content with AI and posting twice a day. Which, to me, that’s a sort of perverse incentive and not really good for humans, but just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean I don’t see where it’s going.

    The reason I feel like this represents an opportunity for writers is because AI-generated art is meaningless. One idea I took away from the book “A Grammar of Ornament” is that part of what we seek in art is a sense of the mind that created it, and that mass-produced art is less satisfying to us for that reason. I can make a lovely room in Midjourney — I’m fond of https://cdn.midjourney.com/8a534085-9d33-457e-bd8a-be4dd6d4bc81/grid_0.png — which falls apart when you look closely at the art and artifacts, because no one ever really lived there. Good writing, on the other hand, offers people a meaningful experience that I don’t think AI will be able to duplicate. (I went back and forth about tacking ‘for a long time’ onto that sentence. I’ll be interested to see how AI writing develops over the next decade.) And it’s easy to think of ways for generated art to support that: to keep a writer’s social media account active by posting generated artifacts, scenes and characters while the writer comes up with their next story, for example, or by authors creating comic books out of their work (which is already happening, such as https://twitter.com/UrsulaV/status/1568685612168892423 ). As the world gets more alienating and manipulative, I think people are going to want meaning all the more, and authors are in the best position to provide that.

    • Liana, I’m seeing a lot of AI-generated content in Kickstarter campaigns. Ironically, I just had one to pay for hand-painted covers for my two fairytales. In a world where computer art becomes more prevalent, I believe people will continue to appreciate art created by a person. Time will tell.

      • Liana Kerr says:

        Yes, I think so too. My guess is that as people start to get a sense of what AI-generated art looks like and how easy it is to make, it’ll be devalued, and art created by a person will be a mark of quality. The situation like the one earlier this year where a piece of art that was largely AI generated won an award will feel quaint (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/artificial-intelligence-art-wins-colorado-state-fair-180980703/) — anyone who’s spent time playing with Midjourney or looking at things Midjourney has produced would look at that and immediately identify it as Midjourney’s work, and value it accordingly. In terms of book covers (and associated things such as character art, swag, etc.) I think that art created by humans will be perceived as a mark of status / quality, but cheaper books, Wattpad stories, etc., are going to be accompanied by a lot of AI-generated art. (And Kickstarters, like you say, as creators try to sell people on their vision on a budget!) It points to less work for illustrators overall, but I think it’ll lead to greater demand for artistic eyes — for people who know how to compose images, add typography, identify which images are appealing and which ones aren’t and why, read and work with trends and genres, etc.

  3. ML Humphrey says:

    I think another thing that could have a huge impact in the next one to three years is more government intervention. Between the case that blocked the big merger and the recent action against that big piracy site (which I’m not naming because the fans of that site are a little scary) I think the government is showing signs that they’re willing to step into some of these issues more. What does that look like if they decide to go after KU and its manipulation of the Amazon rankings and cornering of so much of the ebook market through exclusivity, for example? Or if they go after the fact that Amazon has both publishing imprints and KDP? What would Amazon just let go of versus how would the landscape shift if KU is no longer exclusive or there’s a separate ranking for KU books versus ebook versus print?

  4. “Advertising has become less effective on all platforms, which is not a surprise. No one has come up with a cool new way of getting the attention of readers, which is a surprise. Usually writer/marketers are more inventive than that.

    But right now, no one—and I mean no one (not streamers, not podcasters, not those I would rather market than write types) have figured out how to do effective marketing to the masses.”

    Very true. What will be the next ‘big thing’ or will there be several smaller ones? Who knows, but it’s scary and exciting at the same time!

  5. Ed Teja says:

    It almost seems that marketing as we know it has run it’s course. Shouting when everyone else is shouting doesn’t get the attention you want. Pricing strategies don’t work when everyone knows that sooner or later they can get it cheaper or for free, or if they can’t, someone else will offer their version free or cheap.

    In a world of carnival barkers and when Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes has shrunken to fifteen seconds, the pressure is to do something different. But, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, it has us scrambling to do something different, like everyone else.

  6. Something I’ve seen the last year or two, is a cross-over between analog games and genre fiction. Basically, it’s a resurgence of the choose your own adventure, but with an actual, working game in the background.

    Publishers like Awaken Realms have been doing this for some years (I’d peg This War of Mine the Boardgame as the start of the new wave, although there are other games that can claim to be the starting point, like Gloomhaven) but the last year has seen some project, like ISS Vanguard, that employ established writers to create stories that span hundreds of thousands of words.

    While this is still a very small market (analog games are valued at some ten billion dollars, worldwide, but that’s counting ancient franchises like Monopoly) it’s a rapidly growing one, with a year on year growth of over twenty percent the last few years.

    And today, even small, abstract games add professionally sourced flavor texts to their rules. My prediction is that there will be more and more opportunities for writers to migrate into games writing of all kinds.

    • Thanks, Filip, but I’m not sure what’s different about this compared to the past. Writers have always written game fiction. Catalyst Games, for example, has some brilliant writers writing the games and the anthologies connected to them. So…I think I’m missing your point. Try me again?

      • I’m thinking that the scale and penetration has increased.

        Yes, there have been text-heavy games, such as Catalyst’s FASA catalogue or the Games Workshop games, but those have been high setting, role playing game-adjacent games.

        No one would have thought to include setting text as a central part of game rules in the 90s or 00s unless they were very thematic. Today, you have games that are very abstract, like Wingspan, that are give a lot of theme, through art and text. It’s rare to find a new game that isn’t themed, and the quality of the thematic veneer is going up.

        For that, you need people who can write, and especially people who are skilled in short form fiction.

        So my thinking is that with the increase in board game publication, coupled with the increase in quality, will lead to more opportunities for writers to diversify into games writing.

        • Okay…Nothing you’re saying here is different from the 90s and 00s except the type of game & the tech. Writers have always had a lot of opportunity in gaming, and I think that will continue. Gaming is a growing industry, though, and when industries grow as rapidly as gaming has in the past 15 years, opportunities do increase. A lot.So I see your point on that. (Over 15 years ago, I wrote a lot of stories for online non-text heavy games that helped in the creation of setting)

  7. Betsy Miller says:

    Hi, I don’t know if this is a trend, but it is a library program I came across for the first time this year as a reader/library patron that I really like, the Zip Books program: https://library.ca.gov/grants/zip-books/#:~:text=About%20the%20Program,directly%20to%20the%20patron's%20home.
    I was checking out books in a series, and one was missing. My local library makes it very easy to make purchase suggestions, so I did. The library referred me to this program, where they authorized me to order the book on Amazon through their Zip Books account. The book was delivered to my home, and when I was done, I brought it into the library and gave it to a librarian. As I chatted with the librarian, she said they’re happy with how this program works.
    I think this is a triple-win scenario–it saves the library staff time, patrons get the book faster, and the purchase shows on Amazon, which may help the author with visibility (not 100% sure how that side of it works).
    Anyway, if you want more details, you can email me and I will forward you the messages from the library to me about how to order the book, and their instructions once the book was ordered explaining how to return it so it would get added to the library collection.

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