While researching my thesis project for my M.S. in publishing at NYU, I came across several interesting trends that I think will affect publishing. In fact, I’ve already seen some of these at work in the three months since I wrote the report, and I plan on using this information for my own startup, Write or Read.
Self-publishing is a growing market. Websites such as Kindle Direct Publishing, iBooks, and PubIt have made it easy for writers to upload and start selling their own e-books. Additionally, community-based websites, where writers give each other feedback, have hundreds of thousands of users and are moving to expand into distribution. These sites include WattPad, BookRix, and Book Country.
The most recent Bowker statistics reported that the non-traditional sector, largely on-demand titles and self-published books had “explosive growth,” increasing 169% from 1,033,065 titles in 2009 to 2,776,260 in 2010. And now with extensive media coverage on successful self-published authors such as Amanda Hocking, who has earned over $2 million for her self-published titles, more people are experimenting with self-publishing.
Below is a graph by Smashwords projecting the rise of self-published books:
A new study conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project revealed that 21 percent of American adults have read an e-book and 30 percent of Americans who read e-content spend more time reading. Additionally, “there are four times more people reading e-books on a typical day” compared to two years ago, “those who own e-book readers and tablets are avid readers of books in all formats” including print, “42 percent of readers of e-books in the past 12 months said they consume their books on a computer,” 41 percent use e-readers such as original Kindles or Nooks, 29 percent read on their smartphones, and 23 percent read books on tablets. The Pew study found that most readers enjoy e-books because the content they want is almost always available, they can have instant access, and they can read e-books while traveling or commuting.
E-book readers tend to be between the ages of 18 and 49, are in college or have a college degree, and have household incomes of at least $50,000.
Below is eMarketer’s projection of U.S. digital media usage in 2012.
Writers want as many outlets for their work as possible. They also need to build their platforms in order to increase sales of their books.
In personal interviews and in comments on Nathan Bransford’s blog posts about self-publishing, writers expressed their preferences in having gatekeepers. One common complaint about self-publishing was that there is no system in place that filters high-quality works from less polished books.
Readers spend most of their time online via computers and laptops.
However, eMarketer predicts that this year there will be a rise in smartphone, e-reader, and tablet users.
Many readers who read self-published books are either writers and/or book reviewers. According to discussions in forums on Amazon, Yahoo, PubIt, and Nathan Bransford’s blog, people tend to read self-published books only if someone has recommended it. Readers also like that self-published books are cheaper than traditionally published books, they think there should be a gate-keeping system for self-published books, and they believe traditional publishers miss out on a lot of great stories because they “play it too safe.” Additionally, many authors feel that only people in the book publishing industry see self-publishing as a stigma. They believe readers don’t care who published what, as long as the quality of the book is high, in both content and format.
“I like having more reading options,” Wendy R. said. “Traditional publishing is stuck in a rut and keeps churning out the same old favorites, which sell, without really looking for something new that will spark readers’ imagination.”
Literary Agencies, Publishers and Self-Publishing
Literary agencies are moving into digital publishing. At the beginning of April Waterside Literary announced it would partner with Vook to create an e-book program that would offer authors a 75 percent royalty. William Gladstone, the founder of Waterside Literary, said he thinks “e-books will become the primary and not the secondary source of income for authors in the future.” Waterside joins other agencies looking to help authors with e-publishing, such as Trident Media Group, Argo Navis Author Services, The Knight Agency, and Beyond the Page Publishing.
Publishers are also considering innovative ways to use digital publishing. Many companies are looking to cut costs while increasing sales. One example is HarperCollins, who partnered last year with On Demand Books to make its entire backlist available for Espresso Book Machines. The Espresso machines around the world allow books to be printed on-demand, which saves publishers money and “enables instant distribution of books that are not currently stocked in store.”