Self-published ebooks are a growing part of the trade book market, but have you considered where that growth might lead? Earlier today Publishing Perspectives posted a startling prediction from one panelist at the Women’s Writing Festival:
But it was Andrew Lownie how made the boldest predictions, stating that in five to ten years from now, 75% of the books would be self-published, 20% would be publishing assisted by agents, and only 5% traditionally published.
This has inspired PP to ask how soon the majority of books be self-published, and while that is a good question it is not the question which we should be asking.
While the growth of the volume of self-published titles is important, I think the more important question is market share. How much money will self-pub ebooks represent, and when will that happen?
(Volume is important as well; the growing number of free and cheap titles could well depress the sales of paid titles as readers fill their time with free ebooks. My mother, for example, stopped paying for ebooks last year but still gets a couple new titles each week. ... Oh, no, Orwell was right!)
But speaking about market share, how soon do you think it will be before self-pub ebooks account for the majority of the trade book market?
I can't give you a date for that, but if self-pub books reached 75% of the market I would not expect that situation to remain for very long.
The question we should be asking is what would happen next.
Self-pub books were effectively zero percent of the market in 2007, so if they hit 75% by 2017 (grabbing a year at random) they would have expanded tremendously. But do you know what usually follows a period of expansion?
As any economist will tell you: consolidation.
If 75% of the market is fragmented among indies then there would be a lot of pressure for authors to get bigger so they can negotiate a better deal. And if you can't sell more ebooks you can always gather a group of authors into a larger economic unit which would bargain collectively for all of the authors.
You can call this group a distributor, a co-op, or a publisher, but no matter what you call it I expect that there will be this type of consolidation as the self-pub market matures.
I can't tell you what that economic unit will look like or how much power it will have over authors; in fact I think we'll see a spectrum of companies ranging from distributors to co-ops to publishers.
But I do think we will see more of them, and they will represent a larger share of the market.