The Future of Publishing: 10 Predictions Plus 2

Lately some prominent book industry figures have been making predictions and forecasting trends about the future of publishing. To quote the great seer Nostradamus: I knew that was going to happen. With the start of a new year and (by some reckoning) a new decade, few can resist the urge to augur.

As it happens, I have a predilection for prediction myself. I had hoped to be out in front of the pack with some pithy prophecies of my own, but the holidays got in the way. Preoccupied as I was with my raucous Boxing Day festivities and my annual Feast of the Epiphany rager, I only just got around to it. Turns out the only thing I'm better at than prognostication is procrastination.

My 10 primary predictions tend to be upbeat and positive--I've always felt that if you don't have anything nice to soothsay, you shouldn't soothsay anything at all. However, I have tacked on two additional items of a somewhat darker nature, as you'll see.

Allow me to share my predictions with you now, before events overtake them and they become incontrovertible historical facts:

1. Vampire novels will wane in popularity, supplanted by books about some other group of social outsiders whose tragic appeal captures the reading public's imagination. My prediction: Rodeo clowns.

2. Certain bestselling authors alive today will attain a kind of immortality after they pass on, through the posthumous publication of completed manuscripts that are "discovered" with astonishing regularity by their heirs and executors.

3. Booksellers will continue to create "New Year, New You" promotions every January featuring books about losing weight, exercising, getting organized, and eating right. And every year the same overweight out-of-shape disorganized omnivores will fall for it.

4. The easy availability of books on an ever expanding array of portable readers and handheld devices will make reading more convenient in more diverse locations than at any time in history. In spite of this fact, people will still do most of their reading in the bathroom.

5. Drivers attempting to read e-books on handheld devices will cause a rash of traffic accidents. (Drivers who tend to nod off before the end of a chapter will pose a particular threat.) Things will come to a head when one driver reading Drive by Daniel Pink crashes into another reading Crash by J.G. Ballard, accidentally hitting a third reading Accident by Danielle Steel. Legislation will be passed making it a crime to read e-books while operating a motor vehicle. Interestingly, reading a paperback of On the Road while on the road will still be perfectly legal.

6. As a cost-cutting measure, publishers will reconsider the efficacy of the traditional wraparound book jacket. An innovative designer will create a radically streamlined and much cheaper alternative: the book dickie.

7. Authors will inevitably complain to their editors that they don't like their dickie art.

8. Consolidation will continue across all areas of the industry. Watch for John Grisham to acquire Scott Turow to form the single largest producer of legal thrillers in the world. The merger of these authors will produce efficiencies: Rather than have two books competing in the marketplace, they will collaborate on a single legal thriller, but with two gavels on the cover. Mr. Turow can expect to profit from Mr. Grisham's prolific output, while Mr. Grisham will benefit from Mr. Turow's flair for punctuation.

9. Consumers who bought books based on Twitter feeds will see these volumes on their shelves and wonder what in God's name they were thinking.

10. Oprah will make one last book club selection before retiring. As with all her previous selections, it won't be I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell.

As a bonus I offer these last two items--not general predictions, but very specific visions of the future:

11. In a neat twist on the One City One Book concept, the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul will adopt a book about twins, which both communities agree to read. During a rigorous selection process, a wide variety of works will be considered, including Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors, Thomas Tryon's The Other, Wally Lamb's I Know This Much is True, and Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry. The announcement of the final selection, The Bobbsey Twins at the Seashore, will touch off several nights of rioting.

12. Some time in the next decade, someone will download both The Bible and The Satanic Bible to their e-reader, triggering the Final Conflict and ushering in Armageddon and the End of Days. Expect a slight dip in book sales during the thousand-year reign of the Antichrist.