The World’s Foremost Consultant on the Future of Publishing



Changes are coming to the publishing industry.  Big changes.

It’s not just the Kindle.  There’s the iPhone.  Blogs.  Facebook.  Twitter.  Blortcejil.  If your company doesn’t already have a business plan in place for how to deal with the coming rise of Blortcejil, you’re two years behind the curve.  If you don’t even know what Blorcejil is, then you might as well pack up your typewriter and head off to Florida, because you’re as good as retired.

Luckily, in the confusion and chaos of the current publishing rEvolution, there are some people who are profiting.  Like me.  I’ve been offering my services to various terrified publishing companies.  I’m a Post-Paper Evolution Consultant.  My credentials are impeccable: I’m 29.  I was practically raised by an original Nintendo, so I was there the first time a video game (Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest) showed a richness of characterization, lyrical language, and elegant plotting that rivaled the finest novels.  I was blogging by ’02, Facebooking by ’04, bored of Facebook by ’06, thinking it was lame how thirty-five year olds got super in to Facebook in ’08.  Like it or not, I’m the future.

Usually I offer my consulting services for a fee, because these days desperate publishing companies are doing what desperate publishing companies do: throwing huge amounts of dumb money at problems.  But I’d like to here offer, for free, a view of things to come.


1) Money. The economics of publishing are about to change, which means the enormous sums of money are going away.  So everyone who got into to poetry, short fiction, or editing for the money, I’m afraid that’s over.  No more will literary quarterlies bid each other into the sky over the latest terse, Carveresque masterpiece.  No longer will small presses offer their massive signing bonuses to every newly minted MFA.  I’m told New Directions is already considering canceling their “daily table” at Le Cirque.  Sources also tell me Melville House is leasing their helicopter.  My own publisher, Grove, has sold off both their Nantucket and Cote d’Azur properties, and is no longer offering free summer stays to their interns.

2) Readership. The media landscape is getting a lot more crowded, and there’ll be a lot more competition for eyeballs.  Remember when every single person on a plane was reading Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead?  When the subway floors were strewn with used copies of Ha Jin’s War Trash, and on Saturday night at bars it seemed like everybody was arguing over which was their favorite Alice Munro story?  Well, bad news: in the next few years, some people are going to prefer going on the internet to reading literary fiction.

3) The Kindle. Electronic readers like the Kindle are going to have a huge impact.  This will mostly benefit publishers of vampire erotica and books about Hitler.  People enjoy both these kinds of books, and now they can read them without fear of creeping out their fellow subway riders.

4) Bookstores. “Bookstores” – physical places where paper objects called “books” are sold – are going to seem antique as a spinning jenny by next winter.  I advised one client – I can’t say who, but it was a venerable independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon – on a new business model, based around renting cubbies to strangers who met on Facebook and want to hook up.

5) Amazon. Some publishers are panicking about the detrimental effects of  They’re right to panic, in fact they should be panicking harder.  But they’re panicking about the wrong thing.  Within seven to nine months, you won’t need to go on the internet to purchase books.  You’ll be able to browse, purchase, and return books merely by activating a chip which will be installed into every consumer’s eyelids.

6) Day to day. Right now, most editors work like this: they get in around nine, they check their email until ten, they move papers around for an hour, then they go for a two hour lunch, after which they play red pencil for an hour and then go home again.  But once the publishing industry has fully evolved, the new standard will be efficiency.  Editors will rise with the sun, purchase two books by nine, update their videoblogs by eleven-thirty, consume food pellets for nine minutes, and spend their afternoon and night adapting their backlist into iPhone apps and ringtones.

7) BEA. Avoid the coming BookExpo.  Given current conditions, I predict everyone’s true, primal nature will be exposed.  BEA will turn into a bloodbath that will rival the sack of Rome.  Only a few people (probably from Random House) will survive.  They will do so by clawing with their fingernails through the flesh of their enemies.

This is what’s coming.  Be prepared.


Original image special for The Rumpus by Jon Adams.

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Steve Hely is the author of the novel, How I Became A Famous Novelist. More from this author →