I feel I have to start by saying I hope humankind makes the right choices over the coming decade and that we will still live healthfully on earth, writing, publishing and so on. But let’s don’t go dystopian for this thought exercise. What do I imagine for self-publishing in 2031, all else being relatively status quo? There are quite a few possible changes.
Physical books might be of a different material than paper from wood; they might be synthetic. More people will have grown up in the digital ages so that e-books may well have become the main platform. There might be book-like options, though, that simulate a book experience more closely than Kindle-type tech. Audio books are gaining momentum. There may be astounding new developments that combine audio with graphics: graphic novels that are read to you and also depicted by hologram. (Maybe that already exists!) With so much video game advancement, there might be book-game hybrids of many sorts.
But I have to admit, I like the idea of people still building images in their own imaginations when they read. I think it keeps imagination and creativity more lively. I’ll give an example. I read Lord of the Rings for the first time in my early teens. I had a very definite idea of Strider/Aragorn: his voice, his manner, certainly his face. Not only did I build those factors in fine detail, but added to the physical was the sense of him as descended from Tuatha de Danann, the Bright Ones. For years I carried the essence of this character. Then Peter Jackson came along and cast Viggo Mortensen in the role. I can’t find my Strider anymore! He’s gone, replaced by a mere mortal, and an incorrect one at that. Boo hoo.
Aside from the technologies and vehicles for the printed word, I hope that a common ground might develop, a land between corporate- and self-publishers, a meeting of minds, a gaining of respect. There may well be a loosening of the stiffness around picking up books that were originally indie-published. Or conversely, self-publishing may become more common than the large book industry. I can imagine better means of getting books vetted and known for their quality standards. Even now, sites like Goodreads (though now corporate-owned) help to put promotion in the hands of the people.