Publisher’s Weekly just announced that in 2008, for the first time ever, traditionally published book titles accounted for a lower percentage of all book titles published in the United States than on-demand or short-run titles.
And while the number of traditionally published titles fell by 3% in 2008, the number of on-demand or short-run titles rose 132%. In total, the number of books in print rose 38%.
In 2007, on-demand printing increased at an even greater rate.
Why is this happening? There are a number of reasons, and multiple things moving at once.
On the print-on-demand and self-publishing front, improvements in quality, more authors choosing the self-publishing route, the benefits of no inventory, and competitive costs for short-run printing have all contributed to the growth in this field.
On the traditional publishing front, things that can sound positive:
Kelly Gallagher, v-p of publisher services for Bowker, said the decline in traditional books reflects not only the difficult economy but the decision by publishers to become smarter and more strategic in the titles they published last year.
actually sound worse when given a good once-over. Writing on Self-PublishingReview.com, Henry Baum notes:
“Smarter and more strategic” could be read as dumber and more marketing-driven (if you were being entirely cynical). . . . the publishing industry is rapidly losing money, so “smarter” doesn’t necessarily mean smarter about choosing good titles, but those titles that will be profitable in the short term, which does not suggest great things about traditional publishing’s long term potential.
Traditional publishers are using on-demand printing, but for some of the same reasons self-published authors do. The gap between the two is narrowing.
Book publishing is changing radically, but quietly. It’s creating new options for authors, publishers, and marketers. And this change is just another sign that mass media is losing mass.
4 Thoughts on "Traditional Books Become the Minority"
Isn’t this just a sign that technology has reduced the price of self-publishing so that more wannabe authors, no matter how crap their writing, can publish their books? Just like the internet, we’re reaching a point where everyone gets to have their say, and of course, most of it is not worth reading.
I’d say it’s a lot more of this than it is authors who would normally go through traditional publishing routes choosing to self-publish.
Well, just as it became easier to express a thought or opinion online — and as two bloggers, we’ve both benefited from this, and both have an audience — I think it will be OK if more people are publishing their books. Titles will get published faster, interesting stories and ways of storytelling will be revealed, etc. And, just like old media in news and opinion, books from traditional publishers aren’t always as good as we’d like to think.
For instance, the NYTimes Bestseller list in paperback fiction has as #1 a romance novel I’m pretty sure I’d dislike. The #2 bestseller is a self-published book about a conversation with God. I’m sure I won’t read that one either.
But how these were published isn’t leading me to my decision.
with the declining quality — and maybe even degree — of editing that takes place these days in traditional publishing, what the heck. i wonder whether publishers are self-aware enough to realize that they may have made themselves redundant by letting their editing slip.
amazon allows one to download a free sample of any kindle text, so at least in that venue testing a new author is fairly low-risk in both time and $. if a book is engaging, it will be purchased, read, and probably reviewed. grisham started out by self-publishing. if a book is good, word is likely to get out — much moreso these days than in the past; another thing that our intertubes makes so very easy.
[hm. speaking of kindle, it seems to me that kent a’s own recent self-publishing effort is next on queue for me to download and read. i read the sample a few weeks back and it seems kinda fun..]