I don’t know how this one slipped by me, but last week Publishers Weekly reported that another key milestone for self-publishing was reached:
The number of new and revised titles produced by traditional production methods fell 3% in 2008, to 275,232, but the number of on-demand and short run titles soared 132%, to 285,394. The on-demand and short run segment is the method typically used by self-publishers as well as online publishers.–which are representative of most self-published titles.
With the decline in the number of traditional books released last year and the jump in on-demand, the number of on-demand titles topped those of traditional books for the first time.”
This is no surprise. All of us in the business knew that this day would come, sooner rather than later. Quickly, here’s why:
- Online publishing brings in the masses. Self-publishing sites, especially those like Lulu and Blurb and all of which utilize on-demand printing, don’t require a real person to interact with your book. Without people in the mix, these sites can publish, sell, and print tens of thousands of new titles a day in a fully automated fashion. Traditional publishing houses, on the other hand, rely on a business model where publishing “experts” are involved. They just can’t scale to this level. As a result, more titles will naturally get published through the online self-publishing channels.
- Print on Demand (POD) is more efficient, and often more cost-effective. POD doesn’t just work for self-publishing, but that’s where it grew its wings. Self-publishing would never have caught on without a cost model that enabled a single book to be printed at the time of purchase and shipped to the buyer. Whereas Lightning Source built a solid business around on-demand printing, Lulu took it one step further and tied automated publishing together with ecommerce and printing. A truly revolutionary new industry was born that would challenge the traditional publishing model! (And not just because I was there…)
- Publishing demand was higher than the traditional markets could support. No surprise there. It’s great to be the gate-keeper, whether you’re a music label, a movie studio, or a book publisher. Before companies like Lulu, the traditional publishers could control the reach of your book. For authors, the traditional publishing route was the only way to achieve modest success, or better yet, hit the “big time.” Only traditional publishers could get your book printed and into the distribution channels and into books stores, and their business model required that they only accept the “cream of the crop” authors (to provide a proper return on their investment), which meant that 99.9% of the authors that wanted to get published got rejected. Now, however, online publishing companies like Lulu and Createspace perform a comparable service for all authors. Although it’s a different industry, it’s not unlike what eBay did for online selling. And, just how eBay didn’t compete with Sotheby’s auctions (back then anyway), online publishing sites aren’t competing with the traditional book publishers–they’re growing the market. And a much larger market at that.
- Authors want control. We’ve all heard the horror stories, whether they’re the norm or not. Authors have historically been at the mercy of their publishers, and often feel that they give up too much–dare I say it–blood?–when they sign on the dotted line. They lose control of their content. They lose rights for future distribution. They feel that there’s shady accounting going on somewhere when royalties don’t start rolling in as they had hoped. This perception, along with the ability of self-publishing sites to let authors take full ownership of their entire book life cycle, has provided a compelling alternative for authors that want to control their publishing destiny.
As I’ve said before, and as this news highlights, there’s never been a better time to be an author. Yes, there’s more competition now because anyone can get published, and yes, self-publishing means that you have to do a lot of the work yourself, but that’s what you get with a level playing field and easier distribution. Your book will sell because it’s good, and because it will get good reviews, and because the news will spread–and because you worked hard to make that happen.
Things will never go back to the way they were. And, if you’re an aspiring or newly published author, wouldn’t you rather have it that way?
Let me know what you think, and until next time–keep publishing!
Publish and Sell Enterprises