In 2011, of the $14 billion trade publishing industry, roughly $100 million of it was self-published books, according to data presented at Digital Book World 2012. Less than 1%. A drop in the bucket.
In 2013, the numbers should look quite different.
In the first four months of the year, we’ve had four weeks where a self-published title was a No. 1 ebook best-seller. Last week, both the Nos. 1 and 2 spots were self-published ebooks. This week’s best-seller list brings fresh challenges to the dominance of traditional publishers.
While David Baldacci’s The Hit (Hachette) retook the No. 1 spot from self-published author H.M. Ward, five of the top ten best-selling ebooks this week were self-published. For those of you who weren’t math majors, that’s half. Six of the top-25 best-selling ebooks were self-published: 24%.
When the top-two ebooks were self-published last week, publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin said, “This is another benchmark moment. The number of small- and self-published books achieving real commercial success will continue to rise; the gatekeeping role of established publishers will continue — gradually and then, sooner or later, suddenly — to fade to relative irrelevance.”
Perhaps the question is, are we in the “gradual” phase or the “sudden” phase in this transition? And what does this mean for publishers?
Some of the larger publishers are making moves to get involved in the self-publishing revenue streams:
– Offering their own self-publishing services (Simon & Schuster, Penguin, F+W Media [my employer], to name three).
– Buying books by self-published authors that have already shown strong sales in an attempt to boost them to even higher sales (See Hugh Howey’sWool, Jennifer L. Armentrout’s Wait for You).
– Offering new business models for authors (Random House’s new suite of imprints, including the controversial Hydra, show that publishers are still figuring this out).
But when it comes to capturing these new revenue streams, it might be like trying to use a mop bucket to catch a breaking wave.
The top-five ebook best-sellers from this week might tell the story better than I can:
1. The Hit by David Baldacci (Hachette)
2. Damaged by H.M. Ward (Self-published)
3. The Bet by Rachel Van Dyken (Self-published)
4. Whiskey Beach by Nora Roberts (Penguin)
5. Twisted Perfection by Abbi Glines (Self-published)
One other wrinkle in this precipitous rise of self-publishing is pricing. The average price of an ebook best-seller is lower now than it has ever been: $6.58. Part of the reason is that the six self-published titles on the list are each being sold for $0.99 or $3.99. If those six titles were taken off the list, the average would be about $8. Read more.
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