Three Possible Problems With Bowker’s Self-Pub Stats
Bowker released the stub of a new report which analyzes the ISBNs registered to self-published titles in the US in 2012. They found a marked increase in the number of ISBN’s registered – 59%, in fact.
I don’t have the report, but I do have the press release and I thought it would be a useful exercise this morning to show how it’s not that easy to separate out self-pub US titles from the rest of the global market.
BTW, if someone could get me a copy of the report I will be very grateful.
Here’s the relevant part of the press release:
A new analysis of U.S. ISBN data by ProQuest affiliate Bowker reveals that the number of self-published titles in 2012 jumped to more than 391,000, up 59 percent over 2011 and 422 percent over 2007. Ebooks continue to gain on print, comprising 40 percent of the ISBNs that were self-published in 2012, up from just 11 percent in 2007.
Now, I could point out that Bowker’s statistics miss the majority of the self-published titles because it only tracks ISBNs (most self-pub titles lack ISBNs), But I wrote that last year so rather than repeat myself I think it would be more constructive to point out new problems in the report.
Bowker’s press release is framed with the assumption that all of these ISBNs went to titles published in the US. It also assumes that all of the ISBNs went to self-published titles. Neither assumption is completely true, and I can prove it with one word:
This distributor buys ISBNs in bulk from Bowker and then provides them to its customers. It is well-known as the biggest self-pub ebook distributor in the world, but that title glosses over the real situation. Smashwords will work with everyone – including publishers. That means that you cannot automatically assume that all of the titles distributed by Smashwords are self-published.
I bet you could make a similar argument about ISBNs registered to self-published titles (perhaps the author started their own imprint) via POD services like CreateSpace and Lightening Source, but I am less familiar with those services so I will let the point lie.
Getting back to Smashwords, I will also point out that this is actually an international service, not one focused sole on the US market. They distribute to ebookstores all over the world, so the ebooks they handle don’t exactly meet a strict definition of being based in the US market (one detail which Bowker assumes in the press release).
Smashwords will also accept ebooks from anyone with an internet connection almost anywhere in the world, and that makes it a little hard to come up with a US-only figure without first culling through their files.
Did Bowker take these issues into account before issuing this report? I don’t know, and I would love to find out. If anyone has a copy of the report, please check and then leave a comment.
Or better yet, slip me a copy of the report and I will read it myself.
image by yellow book