The Unofficial 2021 Publishing Market Outlook

Last month, we talked about what happened in the publishing industry in 2020. Today, we’re going to set our sights on the future. I will be giving you my opinion and expert opinion on what will happen in 2021. We’ll call it The Unofficial 2021 Publishing Market Outlook.

I am by no means an expert, but I want to learn more about the industry that I write so actively about. It’s something that all of us writers are thrust into when we put that pen to paper with the goal of publication in mind.

And we need to know what will happen in the market because it shapes everything we do after we stop writing and editing. It has a significant effect on our marketing and where and how we publish.

Let’s get into my opinion on what will happen next year, and then we’ll see what the experts say.

The Unofficial 2021 Publishing Market Outlook – Danielle’s Take

We’ll start with what I think will happen this year, in no particular order:

  • Podcasts and audiobooks will continue to rise throughout 2021, but I believe it’ll start to level off towards the end of the year. Why? Because there will be so many audiobooks and podcasts out there that it might cause some disassociation and paralysis.
  • The Penguin Random House acquisition will happen and ripple through the literary magazine space. That ripple will cause a reduction and then maybe an increase in new publications and independent presses. Anyone laid off will want something to do.
  • Further publisher consolidation. If Penguin Random House can do it, others will follow. Also, the mergers will make Amazon more competitive instead of controlling the market share.
  • Marketing will get harder. Everyone is trying to sell their books online. With more uncertainty with the publisher consolidation and the increase in digital options, authors will adopt an online format. The tech giants will continue to move towards a pay-to-play model, making organic reach harder.
  • An email list will become essential to audience building. They already are, but I think more authors will adopt the practice.
  • Amazon might face some troubles. We may see more authors backing away from the retail giant due to Amazon’s unfair business practices and #AudibleGate.
  • Stories will get darker. 2020 was all about comfort reads. 2021 will be about the aftermath of the pandemic and how we deal with things like grief, death, and pain. I’ve noticed that more people are looking at submitting horror stories or on themes dealing with grief and death in literary magazines.

Artificial Intelligence and Creative Writing

There is also a lot of talk about AI technology advances for writing things like books, poems, and articles, but I don’t think this is something to fear. In my opinion, AI will never be able to mimic the beauty of a human soul.

It might create a fantastic story, but it can’t infuse it with the personality that comes from a human. It won’t be able to replicate the feelings that an actual writer can infuse a text with. However, I do think that AI technology can help us with the writing process and idea acquisition.

The Unofficial 2021 Publishing Market Outlook – The Experts Weigh In

According to a ResearchandMarkets report, the global book publishers market is expected to decline from $92.8 billion in 2019 to $85.9 billion in 2020 due to COVID-19. However, they do believe that the market will rebound and reach $91.4 billion in 2023.

So if anyone was worried that COVID-19 ruined the publishing industry, you can relax now. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon (knock on wood). All this means is that 2020 was a pain to get through, but we learned a lot, tried some new things, and are the better for it.

It also means that we’ve got some new things to watch out for in the upcoming year. Here’s what the experts at Written Word Media think will happen:

Competition between Amazon, Google, and Apple will give authors more ebook options.

Both Apple and Google announced new programs that target authors, and this is excellent news. One because it gives us authors more options, and two, there will be improvements made to each company’s platform to increase usability.

Audio will continue to grow.

To quote directly from the article:

“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 of years.”

Jane Friedman, The Hot Sheet.
audio is part of the unoffical 2021 publishing market outlook

When they asked Joanna Penn, the author behind The Creative Penn, what she thought would happen in the audio space, she said this about international markets:

“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.”

Joanna Penn

And this about audiobook production:

“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!”

Joanna Penn

eBooks will continue to grow in their 2021 publishing market outlook.

Depending on when life gets back to normal, the demand for ebooks will keep rising. Why? Because people will stick to the convenience and cost-effective savings that this type of book format provides.

But that doesn’t mean that it’ll be all rainbows and sunshine. Experts expect a dip in sales within the second half of 2021, depending on how vaccination roll-outs progress.

They believe that as people are allowed to roam about public spaces again, they will move away from reading as a means to spend their time. However, they figure that ebook sales will find a new normal as we return to pre-COVID-19 life.

Paid advertising will suck, and authors will turn to newsletters.

Everyone switched to digital when COVID-19 hit, which means more marketing competition online. And Google, Facebook, etc., know this and have raised their cost per click (marketing costs) accordingly.


“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 an opportunity.”

Written Word Media

With all that big tech company stuff going on, writers are more likely to turn to emails as a marketing tool. Again, everyone else is doing this as well.

But you will still have a direct line to anyone who signs up for your newsletter. This means that you won’t have to rely on Google or Facebook to market your book and newsletters only cost you time to produce.

Authors with more books will do better.

If you’ve ever needed a good kick in the butt to write, then consider this point is it. Written Word Media had this to say about backlists and series:

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.”

Written Word Media

So go write a trilogy or a bunch of short stories.

And there you have it! The things to watch and plan for in 2021.

A lot is going on this year, and much of that is subject to change as more developments unfold with COVID-19 vaccination efforts. As much as we try to plan for the future, it is also crucial for us to be flexible and look for new ways of getting our books into readers’ hands.

What might be true today may not be true tomorrow, and that’s okay. I know that we have the tools to succeed no matter what type of environment.

And from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank every one of you for reading this blog, signing up for its newsletter, and supporting and following my journey to published authorhood. It means a lot to me, and I am so excited to see what this year brings us.

What do you think will happen in the publishing industry in 2021? What types of books do you think will be popular? Do you agree with my assessment or the experts?

Stay safe, everyone.

Until next time.



Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on email
Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams is a writer and editor for a local marketing agency. She has formerly worked as a writer for the Investing News Network and as an editor for Whetstone, a bi-annually published literary magazine. Aside from writing, Danielle has an unabiding love for all marine life and the outdoors. She loves taking long hikes with her husband and cooking delicious meals in the kitchen.


4 Responses

  1. Whoo! That’s a lot to take in. And it bodes ominous for just the person at home who just wants to create something and publish it. It seems like you need membership. If you’re a member of an organization that publishes, then you can get your work out there.

Leave a Reply

Get New Articles & Publishing Opportunities Straight to Your Inbox

Enter your information below to get notified about new articles and publishing opportunities each Sunday.

%d bloggers like this: