How will the publishing industry change over the next ten years?

By   Hannah Bickerton 11 min read

whitefox: helping brands, thought leaders and writers create beautiful bespoke books

We’ve spent a fair bit of time over the last few months looking back over the past ten years of whitefox. But we also thought our anniversary was a good opportunity to peer into publishing’s crystal ball and see what the immediate future might look like. To help us, we’ve asked a range of writers, agents, publishers and industry experts to share some of their predictions too. We hope you find it as fascinating as we do.

Sustainability efforts will increase

‘The last ten years have seen the early signs of disruption to book supply chains through Brexit, protectionist trade policies and the impact of the pandemic on shipping. Now in the next ten, shortages of raw materials, labour and production capacity, and sharply rising energy costs, foreshadow some of the issues for a globalised publishing industry against the challenge of meeting Net Zero. Books are still going to be made and distributed – it would be foolish to bet against the world’s oldest and most stable media format, and digital distribution offers authors alternatives to complex production. But in charting a course in an increasingly volatile and complex world, it points to the value of working with expert navigators.’
~ George Walkley | Director of Outside Context Ltd

‘As resources become scarcer and carbon neutrality begins (thank God) to take effect, books will become more special with even more care taken with their design, production and beauty.’
~ Andrew Franklin | Co-Founder of Profile Books

‘Sustainability will become a bigger and bigger issue for publishers, printers and retailers alike, partly driven by passionate colleagues within the industry, partly by consumer demands, and ultimately by government carbon taxes. As an industry we have a huge responsibility to improve our sustainability and I believe unsustainable book “finishes” will become shunned, thereby having implications for all books but especially “special editions” which currently utilise multiple additional unsustainable finishes. Formats for illustrated books will become even more standardised across the industry to make more efficient use of paper and reduce wastage in the printing process (non-standard formats are likely to become very expensive too). Shipping books long distances will be incompatible with climate/sustainability targets, thereby presenting a challenge to printing colour books in China for EU/US markets and incentivising more local printing in all markets. But creative people are also their most innovative when barriers are put in their way and they need to find ways to work around them. I predict that these challenges will unleash a new wave of creativity and innovation across all areas of the industry: book designers will find more and more innovative ways to make books look beautiful without unsustainable finishes; and new, more sustainable inks and materials will be developed and widely used.’
~ Ian Hudson | Executive Director & Managing Director Consumer Publishing at Bloomsbury Publishing

‘The traditional publishing industry will continue to think it doesn’t need to innovate because of the endless supply of willing authors still entranced by being “traditionally” published. But I see the confluence of a few key issues over the next few years: the increasing cost of raw materials, production, transportation and distribution; publishing staff will no longer accept the living wage as a good enough trade-off for working with books, as the cost of living escalates; further innovation from Amazon and new players, especially when much of that is skewed in favour of self-published authors. I can imagine even more disgruntled mid-list authors choosing to test alternative publishing routes.’
~ Sam Missingham | Founder of The Empowered Author

The drive for more diversity, representation and equal opportunities will succeed

‘[I want to] see more Black, brown and minorities in director and CEO roles, with budgets that allow them to radically exact the change we always talk about online. Nothing major.’
~ Soraya Bouazzaoui | Literary Agent’s Assistant at The Bell Lomax Moreton Agency

‘[Publishers] will find new ways of nurturing diverse talent – enriching creativity, quality and the performance of their businesses.’
~ James Pattinson | Strategy Director & Consultant and whitefox author

‘I hope to see much more diversity within publishing teams, as well as in what they publish, with more of a sense of all of the wide and varied audiences there are. I’d love to see publishing be more open and accessible, but also more honest about where they need to change, learn and grow to invite in talent that is different and actually retain them. And also less pigeonholing of both author and staff and more chances given to new voices and “risks” than there are.’
~ Serena Arthur | Editorial Assistant at Wildfire Books (Headline)

‘I’d like the term “women’s fiction” to be retired and referred to as general fiction!’
~ Alice Saunders | Director and Agent at The Soho Agency

‘There must be a huge increase in diversity in authorship, publishing, and book selling. The world of books will be more varied, more exciting and reach wider and deeper than it does now.’
~ Andrew Franklin | Co-Founder of Profile Books

More emphasis will be placed on discoverability and engaging with wider platforms

‘I think the challenges of the next ten years are going to be a continuation of the challenges the industry has already been facing. It’s a fight for attention – how do you find readers for books, especially for debuts? How do you publish a book so that it’s a collective experience, in the way that films and shows are able to do more easily? How do you have discoverability for books being sold online? I’m always curious to know how people find out about books, and even more curious to know the elements that make a book find a wide readership. I’m very optimistic about the future, but I recognise that there will be many challenges for authors and also for the industry.’
~ Catherine Cho | Literary Agent at Paper Literary

‘Over the next ten years we’re going to have to accept that we know even less than we think we do. We’re generalists in a world that’s becoming increasingly atomised and that means we’ve got to become comfortable and honest about our own limitations, and adept at devolving expertise to those who have it – authors, communities and partners with intimate knowledge of their audiences and how to speak to them.’
~ Rowland White | Publisher at Michael Joseph (Penguin Random House)

‘I believe leading publishers will increasingly be creating ideas that work over a number of integrated channels, opening up new audiences for content and deeper engagement.’
~ James Pattinson | Strategy Director & Consultant and whitefox author

‘As the world becomes ever more fast-changing and unpredictable, the ability to be agile and pivot rapidly will become ever more important for both authors and publishers. Making your content available through every channel will be critical in order to reach the target customer in whichever way they access fresh thinking and ideas. Flexible and fast-paced publishing models, allied with coherent social platform and presence, will enable the content creators of tomorrow to bring their ideas to their customer in ways that fit all the new ways Gen Z and beyond are accessing and consuming content. Today for the first time I heard an author planning how to launch a book in the metaverse – what used to feel like the distant future is already here, we just have to get on board the scramjet.’
~ Dr Gary Crotaz, PhD | Career Coach & whitefox author of The IDEA Mindset

‘I think we’re likely to see greater understanding of the fact that digital platforms are inhabited by creatives with real depth to their work; the sort of work that can lead to books that genuinely enhance readers’ lives (and deliver long-term commercial success along the way). I think there’s still a tendency in some quarters to view the digital landscape as an environment in which related publishing success is fleeting or happens largely by chance, or that the worth of the content is somehow less than that which comes from “traditional” media, although thankfully that’s changing.’
~ Adam Strange | Head of Publishing at Gleam Futures

Book sales will rise in all formats

‘People are going to read as much or more in the next ten years. More than ever we will need our imaginations fired, a chance to escape the horrors of the world, and better ways to understand it. So we can be confident that book sales in all their formats – physical, ebook, audio and others yet to be invented – will increase.’
~ Andrew Franklin | Co-Founder of Profile Books

‘I’m optimistic about where dramatic audio can go, both in terms of becoming a trial balloon for film/TV adaptation and also for reinvigorating forgotten tales in new ways. I’m less optimistic about the idea of copyright, the bedrock of our business model, due to the abundances of the digital age and the arguments made during this crazy period we are living through.’
~ Kevin Conroy Scott | Co-Founder of Tibor Jones & Associates

‘My guess is that in the same way that over the past ten years we have seen the pendulum swing from “digital publishing” – ebooks killing the print edition – to post-digital publishing, the pendulum will keep swinging to emphasise tactile, beautiful, and even anti-digital publishing, things that can only be enjoyed in real life. I’d also expect publishers to produce (and price) differentiated products for different channels and for those channels to tighten up. I do wonder if (big) publishers will start to work more like talent agencies (think CAA) and look to secure more comprehensive rights, including emerging revenue streams like podcasts, Substacks and social. Or – perhaps for talent agencies to go more in the direction of handling publishing as just one more channel!’
~ Peter Collingridge | EMEA Head, D10x, CitiVentures

‘The future’s looking good as book sales continue to rise and values have increased too, especially when there are big breakout authors like Richard Osman and Charlie Mackesy.’
~ Sheila Crowley | Literary Agent at Curtis Brown

‘My prediction is as much a hope as a forecast, but I think we’ll see a return to the buccaneering spirit of the 80s, when new publishers were founded every five minutes. I think that there’s a sense that the big companies are now so big that competing with them is too hard. But this forgets the fact that the ever-increasing dominance of Amazon, and the related power shift from sales to publicity, has levelled the playing field between big publishers and small ones; if you publish a good book, and make sure it gets attention, it will sell, even if you don’t have many copies in the shops. And you won’t have to worry whether this increasing dominance by Amazon has negative effects, too – let the CEOs of those big companies worry about that.’
~ Mark Richards | Co-Founder of Swift Press

The big change I am hoping for is that we charge more for books, ebooks and audiobooks. Prices have hardly risen in the last twenty years and for smaller publishers higher prices are a matter of survival – and larger publishers should be leading the way. I am not quite sure why we would allow retailer reactions to hold us back from raising prices – it’s not like Waterstones order copies with a mind to supporting print runs anymore – so we cannot allow their anxiety to slow a collective step forwards: to charge properly for the hours of pleasure a book brings.’
~ Hannah MacDonald | Founder of September Publishing

The stigma surrounding self-publishing will be broken

‘Increasingly we’re seeing that some great authors, who have written good books, are becoming frustrated with the traditional publishing routes and so are deciding to self-publish. The tools available to authors these days, direct access to readers via social media and new distribution channels, are growing. I think that these will only improve and self-publishing will become an even more credible route, with the stigma attached to it diminishing.’
~ Justine Solomons | Director of Byte The Book

We are starting to see a steady flow of self-published authors hitting the bestseller lists and receiving critical acclaim. I anticipate more of this as authors upskill to become entrepreneurial bosses of their own small publishing houses. Plus, I think the technical elements behind self publishing will get easier and easier and many of the gatekeepers will open to self-published authors as standard.
~ Sam Missingham | Founder of The Empowered Author

My sense of the next ten years is that we’ll see an even greater challenge to the traditional publishing model as new and, perhaps more significantly, established authors get wise to the opportunities that platforms like Lulu, KDP and Substack offer. These platforms – offering a far greater share of the profits, monthly payments, a flexible way of publishing to a schedule of their own choosing, as well as allowing the author to retain the rights to their work and complete creative control – combined with the legions of experienced freelance editors, designers and marketers available to hire, create an environment in which authors could easily be tempted to self-publish.’
~ Martin Toseland | author, ghostwriter & development editor

‘Over the past decade, self-publishing has gradually lost its stigma, going from last roll of the dice for the desperate to a respectable and viable industry, steadily eating away at the business models of traditional publishers, in much the same way as streaming upended music publishing, and social media pulled the rug out from under print media. Over the next ten years, this trend of publishing-as-a-service and micro-publishing houses, alongside established funding routes such as crowdfunding, looks set to accelerate, opening up access to book publishing, and enabling perhaps hundreds of thousands of authors to build their own fan base and earn a living much as creators do in other fields.’
~ James Silver | journalist, editor, screenwriter and author of Tech Nation’s Upscale

Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.