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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

How to Stay Abreast of New Trends by Assessing Past Ones

I know I am always talking about the backlist being an excellent resource for you to find reading suggestions for your patrons, but today I have a slight twist on my backlist love and it has to do with assessing and staying on top of trends.

We all want to be ahead of the trends. We want to know what our patrons are going to want before they know they want it so that we have had time to preorder it. But sometimes we spend so much time looking for the next big thing that we don’t take any time to look back on what we were calling “the next big thing” a year, two years, three years ago.

First of all, some of you may think, why does it matter what was big a few years ago, Becky? How is that going to help me right now?

Well, that answer is simple, looking back at what was forecasted as a trend from a position a few years in the future, allows you to have a more realistic assessment of your present and what the trends to come may be.

In other words, sometimes you have to look back and critically assess where we thought we were going before we try to move forward.

But looking back also provides new inspiration for serving patrons in the present.

I have a way for you to practice right now. Recently, I came across this article from Publisher’s Weekly in January of 2014, “The Future of Reading: 10 Trends for 2014 and Beyond.”

Here are the general trends they listed, but you will need to click through for the details:

  • The Triumph of Visual Literature
  • The Never-ending Story
  • Data-driven Narratvie
  • Google (reading) Glass(es)
  • Instant Translation
  • Bookstores as Print-on-demand Showrooms
  • Crowdfunding at Scale
  • Professional Publications Evolve
  • Monetizing the Author as Brand
  • Marketing Becomes Hacking
I have read through this article in full a few times. In my first reading I was shocked by how much the author got wrong, while in the second, I noticed everything he got right. But after a third, I was able to see not only what he got right and wrong, but also, how some of the analysis he provided in order to make these claims, is still very useful. Yes, even the wrong forecasts- sorry Google Glass- can help you look at where we are today and inspire you to help readers in new ways.

For example, the crowdfunding section talks at length about small presses using Kickstarter to fund entire lines. This trend argues that this model will continue to grow and evolve, and boy has it ever. Now crowdfunding by authors is becoming hugely popular only 3.5 years later. Many authors- outside of their publishers- offer subscriptions to them! You can pay a monthly fee [as low as $1] and get access to exclusive content and stories from your favorite authors. 

For us at the library this means our patrons are often more aware of their favorite authors’ newest projects way before we are. It also creates a closer relationship between readers and authors- which is great for us as it can create a closer relationship at the RA desk as patrons seek out more from their favorites. But I have also seen this author crowdfunding being linked to the increase in the popularity of short stories and novellas. Much of the bonus content authors release to subscribers are in these shorter formats. 

I honestly did not link these two trends until I read this article. I have noted this novella and story trend on the blog recently, but its connection to the crowdfunding trend only happened because I looked back [not forward]. This right here is why you do what I am saying. 

Another example of something that he got right is the cryptically titled, “Never-ending Story” which is really supposing that readers don’t care is their favorite story is continued in prose or another form of media. This is a topic I even brought up yesterday. I cannot stress this enough- today most people care more about the content than the format, but this past trends report really made me think about this “never-ending story” concept of WHY people like this. That is a nuanced view of my more general statement that I had not considered previously.

But what about a wrong prediction-- Instant Translations. Yes we don’t have those. BUT the interest in translated fiction has gone up quite a bit here in America. Look at the recent success of The Neapolitan Novels and the explosion of the Best Translated Book Award in popularity. [Click here to read a 2017 article in The Millions about the award and this rising trend of the mainstreaming of translated titles.] There are now more translators working to get quality foreign language books into English and more interest in American readers to try foreign titles. Back in 2014 this trend was noticed, but the answer to how this increased demand would be satisfied was wrong. Again the trend was correct, and looking at this article reminded me to think about translated books more regularly.

As we get obsessed with trends, let’s train ourselves to assess where we are right now and where we should be headed by starting a few years in the past. So as you think about your collections and how you are going to serve your patrons in the next few years, step back and look at what we were all promoting as the next big thing. Then see how those predictions have or have not been realized. And then you can start using that knowledge as a guide as you think about tomorrow.

I guarantee that whether you are the department head or a clerk, there is something to be gained by, at the very least, simply looking back at this article and thinking about how the world of reading has [or hasn’t] changed in the last 3.5 years.

Finally, this article would also be a great conversation starter as your work with patrons. Don’t know how to engage them in a conversation about what they may like to read? Use one of these past trends as a gateway to discussing their reading habits. For example, “I was just reading this article from 2014 that said soon we would have instant translations. Ha, that didn’t happen, but it did get me thinking about my favorite translated books and the award for the best of the year. Do you have any favorites?”

Or, you can start that same conversation with a display of the best translated books, or cross format storytelling [books, movies, tv shows, graphic novels, etc... all in same storytelling universe.]

See there is plenty to learn from what was supposed to be hot now according to our 2014 selves. If only we took the time to look back once in a while. 

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