Where Self Publishers Will Continue To Lose Out

Self Publishers Will Continue To Lose

Self-publishing does well in ebooks sales.

But self-publishers will continue to lose out in real book sales.

There is no doubt that self-publishing has stamped its authority and found its place in book publishing, and is winning on many fronts. However, its success has mostly come in the form of ebooks and through the power of the Internet.

When it comes to ‘dead tree‘ books sales, though, self-publishing has a very long way to go yet. In fact, I would go as far to say that self-publishing will continue to lose, and is a dead loss as far as print on demand paperback and hardcover book sales go.

While the data is a little out of date, the book market sales split reported by Publishing Perspectives for the first half of 2014 is telling.

Ebook sales made up only 23% of book sales during this period, and after meteoric increases following the introduction of the ebook in 2007, sales have now plateaued and are struggling to increase by more than single digits year on year.

This means that the ebook pie won’t get much bigger, while the number of self-published ebooks increases at a hellish pace.

This is very bad news for self-publishers because ebooks are their bread and butter sales.

On the other hand, paperbacks and hardcover books are the bread and butter sales for traditional publishing, and by controlling, manipulating and even owning shelf space in bricks and mortar books stores, the big five have a monopoly on non-ebook sales.

Print On Demand books can’t compete.

This is where self-publishing has made no ground whatsoever in recent years. Sure, self-publishers can offer a paperback version of their book on Amazon, but what about at your local bookstore?

What about at your chain of national bookstores? No way, no hope, and no possibility.

And more importantly, what about the quality of print on demand books? Compared to trade published books, they are a very poor relation.

While ebooks have made huge strides in quality in recent years, print on demand books are still the same as they were in 2002. Poor quality, poor formatting, poor typography and poor paper grades.

This is the real frontier that will for some time yet hold back self-publishing as a challenger to the big five publishers. Sure, there are independent bookshops that stock a few self-published titles, but this is the exception.

The tough truth is that bookstores and bookstore chains still sell a hell of a lot of books, and by using prime store placement, which publishers pay an arm and a leg for, this can turn almost any book into a bestseller.

But it would never, no matter how much money is spent, turn a poor quality print on demand paperback into even a modest seller.

Self-publishing has been a winner, but only on one front. Ebooks. The real challenge now is for self-publishing to aim higher, and challenge real book sales.

The best avenue of attack is of course still through print on demand books because of the economy it offers, but until the likes of Createspace, Lulu and others lift their game and offer paperbacks and hardcovers that are close to trade quality, there is little hope.

But, one can hope.

Or perhaps, is this a real market opportunity for Vanity Press? Although having a bad reputation in the market, they can produce a quality book. As with everything, we’ll see what the future brings.

Derek Haines

Derek Haines is an Australian author, living in Switzerland.

8 thoughts on “Where Self Publishers Will Continue To Lose Out

  • All of my books are currently only available in ebook format. I would, however like to produce a print version of at least one of my works. I know from family and friends that there exist people out there who’s preference remains print rather than ebook. I will still pursue the print option. However your article gives me pause for thought given that my original preference was for utilising Createspace. Kevin

    Reply
    • I still use Createspace, Kevin. Not because they produce great books, but because it is one of the few available options. About the only benefit for me is that they make for great give aways to friends and family. If I relied on sales though, I’d starve,

      Reply
  • I, like Kevin, have stayed in ebook formats only for my first two sci-fi novels in The Spanners Series but wish I could provide a high-quality but low-cost print version to those who eschew ebooks or prefer print books (that includes ME!). So far, not.

    I appreciate your article, Derek, explaining further the reasons it’s not worth my money to get my ebooks into print, yet.

    Best to you all!

    Sally

    Reply
    • Hopefully, Sally, someone will fill the gap in the market for decent quality paperbacks for Indies. Fingers crossed.

      Reply
  • I agree completely. All of my books are in print, traditional and self-published, and by far, my best sales are ebook in both cases. I have my self-published book in a local bookstore. Local/regional bookstores are often willing to carry the books of local authors (at least in Oregon). The challenge is the commission rates are really high, so my print books are break even at best.

    Reply
  • Great post Derek, good to see someone talking so openly about self-publishing. I’ve used CreateSpace for two books; I was really impressed with the print quality of the first one but I think it had more to do with a professional cover image and sheer luck on the fonts I chose. The second (an illustrated book for children) didn’t come close to the quality of the first – CreateSpace doesn’t seem particularly well geared up for this genre of book from a layout or image management perspective.

    With regards to stores stocking books, I have found (I’m based in the UK) that small independent shops will occasionally stock local authors as long as they’re happy with the quality of the content and the finish. I have managed to sell a small number in this way, but I too would starve if I attempted to live off royalties!

    Thanks for telling it like it is.

    Reply
    • Starving seems to go hand in hand with being a writer, Toni. :) But in all seriousness, Createspace could and should lift their game. Nothing much has changed with them in nearly 10 years. POD was great back then because it was new, but the quality is still hit and miss, as you say. It is nowhere near trade quality, even at the best of times.

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  • I had a short print run of 100 copies done at a printers to sell at book-signings and fayres, and find I can sell these easier with a face-to-face approach and cheaper than I can sell a paperback on Amazon. I think getting out there is a big part of getting your name known. Having said that, the quality of the copies I’ve seen from Createspace of my book were surprisingly good. Just don’t make much per copy.

    Reply

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