Skip to main content

How Soon Will the Majority of Books Be Self-Published? – That’s the Wrong Question

Andrew-Lownie-224x300[1]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.

Similar Articles


Angela Booth October 22, 2014 um 3:19 am

You can see indies getting together to publish under the same imprint. Bob Mayer’s Cool Gus comes to mind.

And mystery novelist Julie Smith started her own publishing company,

I’m sure there are other authors publishing together, and others which have started their own publishing companies.

Joe Konrath was co-publishing with a couple of people, wasn’t he? I may be wrong.

I can’t see consolidation happening quickly; otherwise it would have happened by now. Most creative folk just aren’t that interested in building businesses, because it cuts into their working time.

You’d think that agents would be all-in with creating cop-ops and publishing companies. Maybe they are, without publicizing it. They might not want it known that they’re competing with the publishers to which they’re trying to sell books.

I was in a bookshop yesterday, for the first time in months; I’d rather download from Amazon. No heavy books to carry, or to store. I used to visit one or two bookshops at least once a week. And buy several books each time.

A couple of other people were browsing — I expected to see more people in the shop. It was depressing. (And they were checking their phones, working out whether they could buy the books they wanted more cheaply online, no doubt.)

I bought a copy of Gone Girl, because I felt bad for the shop. If I like it, I’ll give it away and buy the ebook.

Maybe the shop is busy, and they were having a lull when I was there. I hope so — I still like bookshops.

Re Andrew Lownie’s prediction that five years from now 75% of books will be self-published; he may be right. No one knows how profitable it will be for the majority of self-publishers, however.

Nate Hoffelder October 22, 2014 um 10:01 am

Thanks for the data, Angela. I hadn’t been paying as much attention to this as I could have. Actually, i didn’t know were to look.

David Gaughran October 22, 2014 um 11:04 am

Consolidation could look like this:

I think we might see more and more brand-name indies becoming, effectively, book packagers with various spins on "co-writing" to increase their output. It’s already starting to happen to a certain extent.

Steven Zacharius October 22, 2014 um 6:29 pm

What’s the purpose of these predictions, to rile people up one way or the other? Time will tell. But this doesn’t sound too me.

Some musings on self-publishing | Books in the digital millennium November 3, 2014 um 2:32 am

[…] people seem to think self-publishing will replace traditional publishing in the not too distant future. I think […]

Write a Comment