Indie authors, as well as outside pundits like Data Guy, have been saying for years now that self-published authors are a threat to the livelihood of the legacy publishing industry.
The Bookseller has a story this morning on a new report from Enders Analysis which basically repeats some of the facts uncovered by the Author Earnings Report over the past few years.
To date, self-publishing has become a fairly large presence in the e-book sector, but the impact on the publishing industry as a whole has been more limited. Self-publishing represents a significant but separate books market, with low prices, focused on series within genre categories. Readers are more sensitive to price than reputation and read in high volumes. In March, we analysed the 100 top-selling e-books on Amazon US, and found that 40 were self-published. These had an average sales price of $2.41, compared to $6.23 for all other books (and $9.10 for e-books from the “Big Five” publishers). Sixty-five per cent of the self-published titles we examined were romance or erotica, with a further 22% falling under sci-fi or fantasy, usually with a strong romance theme as well.
The piece then goes on to confirm what we already knew about rpices in the Kindle Store, that Big Five titles cost the most and self-published titles the least:
The report then goes on to say that self-pub would be a serious threat to legacy publishers if it could break out of the ebook market and conquer print, and that’s mostly true. Print is still the majority of the trade market and it’s dominated by legacy publishers.
But the report’s conclusion is also wrong. Authors are finding that they can make more money even trapped in the ebook market than they could if they signed with a legacy publisher.
And almost as importantly, there’s also the perception that authors can make more on their own. That buzz, whether it’s true or not, is keeping authors from signing with publishers.
And that’s the real threat, the one which Enders Analysis doesn’t see coming. It doesn’t matter if there’s more money in print if legacy publishers can’t recruit the authors to write the books to sell in the print market.
And from what Data Guy told me at DBW 2016, legacy publishers aren’t signing authors like they used. He said that the Big Five are still getting on the best-seller lists, but they’re not adding new names to that list nearly as fast as the indie part of the market.
And that oversight has lead Enders Analysis to suggest the wrong counter-attack.
This being said, the risk outlined is real, and publishers cannot be complacent. They are already trying to address what self-publishing platforms do better than them. Data and control is a key offering to authors, and as such there are many authors who may at some point be looking to publish traditionally, but who are also accustomed to the sort of dashboard offered by KDP. Amazon’s access to the reading device and its identity profiles for buyers gives it unmatchable advantages here. But publishers’ data offering is improving, with six-monthly royalty statements looking more and more dated, and on-demand dashboards for authors increasingly being offered.
And so while even The Bookseller has declared, and I quote, “Self-publishing [is the] ‘largest threat’ to industry”, that august publication still doesn’t understand how the legacy publishers are being threatened and how to fight back.
Rather than focus on the money, The Bookseller emphasized the following keypoints:
The Enders report highlights the role terrestrial booksellers play in the curation and discoverability of books, and warns publishers of the consequences of them losing control over these key distribution channels.
“In our view, trade publishers have not been focused enough on the core book retailers,” the report argues, stating that “dedicated booksellers remain critical for maintaining the current shape of the books value chain”. It argues (see right) that self- publishing could still disintermediate agents, publishers and retailers, but not while the supply chain remains diversified. But it warns “publishers cannot rely on the advantages they already have”.
To be fair to The Bookseller, it’s not like they could go to their paying customers and tell publishers that they need to pay authors more.
But wouldn’t it be cool of Philip Jones had actually taken that position?
Sanity and rationality might have broken out in the publishing industry, and who knows what chaos might have followed.