A Half-Million Self-Published Books

Last week was a week for new book publishing and selling statistics. On Monday, I reported on the Nielson book selling figures that came out for the first half of 2014. Today, I am writing about the new analysis of self-publishing in the United States conducted by Bowker.

raining books

Bowker has released a new Report on Self-Publishing in the United States. In the report, Bowker analyzes the number of self-published titles from 2008 through 2013. Here are some of the findings in Bowker’s report:

  • The number of self-published titles in 2013 increased to 458,564, up 16.5% from 2012.
  • There were 302,622 titles that were self-published as print books in 2013, a 28.8% increase over 2012.
  • On the other hand, the number of self-published ebook titles decreased 1.6% in 2013 to just 155,942.

Interestingly, while Bowker is calling these titles “self-published”, the company is including small publishers in this report. According to the report, small publishers as a whole registered 46,654 ISBNs in 2013, placing them fourth among companies that registered ISBNs.

The top three self-publishing companies registering ISBNs in 2013 with Bowker were (in order): CreateSpace, Smashwords, and Lulu. CreateSpace registered 186,926 ISBNs—all for print books. On the other hand, Smashwords registered 85,500—all for ebooks.

These figures reveal that, for 2013, the growth in self-publishing came not from ebooks, but from print books. These figures compliment the Nielson book sales stats that show that 67% of all books sold in the first six months of 2014 were print books. Many self-publishers understand that it is still by and large a print book world.

Half a million books! That figure is staggering. Self-published authors and small presses produced half a million books in 2013! Remember, Bowker is only counting the books that were registered with ISBNs. I believe that there are many more books that were self-published via the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform that never acquired an ISBN (Amazon does not require an ISBN to publish an ebook via their KDP system). Afterall, a new ebook is added to Amazon just about every five minutes.

Self-publishing has definitely come into its own. If you are considering self-publishing, I encourage you to go for it. Many authors have found it fulfilling and worthwhile to maintain control of the entire process from manuscript to book to marketing.

The other thing these numbers reveal is that competition for books keeps getting stiffer. The more books that are published, the more options people have. Why should they choose your book? Now is the time to hone your pitch. Make sure your message is unique and lets your readers know why they should choose your book over all the other books out there.

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Learning from the Numbers

The newest figures from book sales (new, not used books) for the first half of 2014 (January to June) were released last week. I find this book sales data interesting and relevant for authors and publishers as you plan your publishing endeavors.

First, Nielson released book sales data for the first six months of 2014. This data is showing that ebook sales are not growing. In fact, it appears that ebook sales have become fairly stagnant between 2013 and 2014. For the first six months of this year, Nielson data shows that:

Book Sales

  • 42% of book purchases were paperback print books
  • 25% of book purchases were hardcover print books
  • 23% of book purchases were ebooks

Basically, these numbers show that hardcover books are still outselling ebooks and paperback books are still outselling ebooks. In fact, print books are outselling ebooks three to one.

If you noticed that these numbers do not add up to 100%, you are astute. I don’t have an answer for why. I am just repeating the information that Publishers Weekly reported. They did not account for the missing 10 percent. Maybe someone at Nielson didn’t do their math right.

This data continues to back up my assertion that your best practice in publishing a book right now is to produce both a print version and a digital version. Making your book available in both formats ensures that you garner the highest number of sales possible.

Second, the Nielson data reported where these books are being purchased. Not surprisingly, online stores (e-tailers) sold 39% of all books. Bookstores chains came in second place, selling 21% of books, while independent bookstores only made 3% of the total book sales. Mass merchandisers made up 8% of book sales, as did book clubs and fairs.

What this data shows is that the top two places for selling books is online bookstores and brick-and-mortar bookstores. In your book marketing efforts, don’t bypass the brick-and-mortar bookstores. Yes, they are difficult to get into, but if you do an author event or booksigning in a couple local stores, this can help you get additional exposure and your foot in the door with bookstores.

Third, this recent Nielson Books and Consumer report showed how consumers learned about the books they decided to purchase. Interestingly, more consumers reported learning about the books they purchased through in-store displays than through word-of-mouth. The report revealed that 12% of book buyers said they learned about the titles they purchased through in-store displays while only 10% of consumers said that they heard about the books they purchased from friends and relatives. Another 8% reported that they discovered the titles they purchased by browsing the website of online retailers.

In real estate, the selling mantra is location, location, location. For selling books, your motto should be discovery, discovery, discovery. We don’t buy products we don’t know exist. Consumers must discover your books. Whether your readers are finding you online, in a bookstore, or through word-of-mouth, they must know about your book to buy it. After all, marketing is the most important part of selling books.

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Are You Making This Mistake?

I read a lot of books. As with most things, what I think of the books I read follows the typical bell curve. A few are awful, a few are great, but the majority is mediocre. That is not to say that these mediocre books don’t have a message for someone, most do.

magnifying-glass

I recently finished a book written by a gentleman who was a pastor for 25 years and was published by a small publisher. The book had a good cover, nice interior design, and was written in such a way that it really kept my attention. I would say it probably fell on the higher end of the mediocre section of the bell curve.

However, I will not recommend this book to others. Nor will I reveal the name of the book, the author, or the publisher on this blog. I do not wish to malign anyone. I merely want to use this book as an example.

As I said earlier, the author of this book was a pastor for 25 years. Yet, in the book, he uses a story from the Old Testament to illustrate a point. However, he does not get the story right. He mixes up two separate stories that happen at two separate times, years apart in Israel.

Here is my point: the author, a pastor, got the story wrong, but the editor did not catch the error either. When a Christian author does not rightly handle the word of God, I cannot in good conscience recommend that author to anyone.

If you are publishing a Christian book, take the time and due diligence to check all Biblical references and stories that are being used in the book. Integrity with the scriptures should be the highest priority for Christian authors and publishers. Don’t ruin the message of your book by printing Biblical errors that could have easily been corrected if you had taken the time to check the story or reference.

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Is This Part of Your Publishing Team?

I have been reading a number of articles recently that tell independently published authors that they cannot be an island. These articles assert that a team is needed to be successful in publishing a book. Recommended team members include: cover designer, editor, proofreader, and beta readers.

Teamwork

I strongly agree with this recommendation a team is needed to produce and sell a book. However, I would add to the lineup of team members recommended by most articles. Few include a professional association in their list of recommended team members. I think a professional association should be on the list.

Professional associations for publishers and authors offer additional help and support in the publishing journey. Here are three things adding a professional association can do for your publishing journey:

  1. Membership in a professional association provides you cutting edge information. Staying up-to-date with requirements and trends in producing and marketing books bringing you more success in your endeavors.
  2. Membership in a professional association can save you money. Most associations provide their members cost-saving benefits geared at helping their members be more successful.
  3. Membership in an association helps you to appear professional, allowing you to garner respect from others in the industry, especially reviewers, book sellers, etc.

Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) aids our member publishers and authors with these types of assistance. CSPA is constantly striving to add more benefits that help our members be successful, especially in marketing and selling their books.

CSPA has recently added three new benefits for our members:

  1. More eBlast choices for announcing books.
  2. Discounts with Lightning Source and IngramSpark.
  3. Access to an online foreign rights facilitation service for Christian books.

If you have not yet added a professional association to your publishing team, I urge you to do so. If you publish Christian books, CSPA is offering a membership special. Join now, and $115 will purchase your membership in CSPA through December 2015. You can apply online on CSPA’s website.

If you are uncertain about whether membership in a professional organization is worth the membership fee, I encourage you to read the testimonials from members of Christian Small Publishers Association. You can find these testimonials on our website.

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