The growth in self-publishing over the last five years is well recognised but an analysis, released yesterday by Bowker, has put a startling figure on that rise, indicating that the number of self-published books produced in the USA has grown 287% since 2006.
The gross figures give a sense of the scale, with 235,625 self-published print and eBook titles released in 2011, including 148,424 print books and 87,201 eBooks. But dig deeper in Bowker’s Press Release and you’ll find some even more interesting stories.
Self-Publishing overtaking Traditional Publishing
“Self-published print books represented about 43 percent of that year’s total traditional print output and contributed to the first significant expansion in print production since 2007.”
Just read that again: almost half of print titles produced in the USA in 2011 were self-published and the number of traditional print titles (that is, from commercial publishers) has been decline since 2007 with total production only increasing due to the growth of the self-publishing sector. If the recent trend of growing self-publication and declining traditional print production continues, then in only a few years time there will be more new print books released by self-publishers than commercial publishers.
Unfortunately the press release does not give an overall figure of eBook production (and I’m too cheap to pay for the full report) so I cannot calculate similar figures for eBooks or an exact numbers for the entire trade (print + eBooks). I should also point out that these numbers refer to the number of titles that have been released not to the actual sales of those books, which means that the revenue from traditional publishing still far exceeds self publishing. Regardless of the exact numbers, the trend is clear and this is already having large implications for the publishers, many of whom are moving to set up their own self-publishing divisions to take advantage of the growing market of authors looking for a fast track to publication.
It also has big implications for self-published authors themselves who are finding themselves in an increasingly crowded marketplace. While the digital revolution may have made the tools of book publication, distribution and online marketing much more accessible, self-published authors still find it very difficult to get their books into the most dominant sales channel: brick-and-mortar bookshops. This is not the barrier it once was due to the growth of online retail, social media, eBooks and print-on-demand technologies. However, the sheer volume of self-published books has created a new problem for authors: discoverability. How does an author get their book noticed when they are just one of thousands being released on Amazon every day? The problem becomes even more difficult when you consider the next major finding from the report.
The self-publishing monopoly
“While self-publishing is a DIY undertaking, Bowker’s analysis shows its infrastructure is made up of a handful of large firms.”
This quote nicely sums up the booming assisted self-publishing industry that has blossomed in the last few years. As the report indicates, companies such as CreateSpace (owned by Amazon), SmashWords, Author Solutions (owned by mega-publisher Pearson) and Lulu are responsible for the vast majority of self-published books produced each year. The service that these companies provide is, for the most part, excellent; they make the tools of publishing accessible to everyone and generally provide good customer service and assistance. They also deliver what they promise: a published book as well as the means to market and sell the book to a global market.
The finer details of the services and cost structures offered by these companies differ and there is healthy competition between them for your book so authors can feel like they are getting the best service to fit their needs. However, once the book is edited, designed and ready to publish the systems by which these companies distribute each book are remarkably similar, relying on the same network of eBook aggregators and POD printers to make these books available to online retailers and wholesalers. The upshot is that, from the perspective of Amazon’s popularity algorithms, your CreateSpace book will look exactly the same as every other CreateSpace book, unless you manage to drive more customers online to buy your book than everyone else.
So what’s the upshot for the author with dreams of being the next big self-publishing success story? Well, self publishing has never been an easy gig and authors have always had to work extremely hard to promote your book and drive sales. Self-publishing companies can be great tools to help you turn your manuscript into a print or eBook and make it available online but the two biggest factors on the success of a book are the quality of its content and the strength of the promotion behind it – and these are both entirely in your hands.