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.