Did you know that the vast majority of popular novels sold through Amazon are now ebooks? That independent publishers are making huge inroads into the book market? That all of this is producing very heated and often ill-evidenced debate?
If you’re anything like I was five years ago then you had no idea. But the publishing industry is going through a period of huge disruption, and the choices that we make, as readers as well as writers, will shape its future.
The other name on the spine
Do you pay attention to which publisher’s books you’re reading? Or is the only name you notice on the spine the author’s? It might not sound important, but who publishes a book really matters.
Until recently big publishing houses dominated the market. As is the way with business, the number of companies was shrinking through a history of takeovers and closures. But recent years have seen independent authors and small publishers take off in a big way. While the big publishers still claim to be in control, recent well-evidenced analysis by Hugh Howey – here with commentary by Joe Konrath – indicates that the underdogs now represent around half of popular genre sales in the growing e-book market.
And as self-published authors regularly receive 70% of the price of their e-book, as opposed to maybe 12% when going through a big publisher, that’s big news for the writers in question.
Paper vs electrons
What’s that you say, it’s only e-book sales? Well, yes, but the same data indicates that over 85% of genre bestseller sales through Amazon (and by bestseller I mean top 2500 titles, not just the elite top 100) are now e-books.
Sure, some types of books, like textbooks and illustrated books, still sell almsot entirely in a dead tree format. And of course this doesn’t cover physical bookshops, where it’s all about pulp and print. But the books seizing the popular imagination, the Dan Browns, George Martins and bodice-ripping romances, are increasingly selling in electronic form.
Stop Knighton! It’s not that straightforward
OK, yes, the situation is far more complicated than this, and because of limits on the available data it’s also very unclear. Commentators on the issue, whether the million-selling Hugh Howey or the Mighty Mur Lafferty, make this point clear – the big publishers aren’t going away any time soon, and neither are paperbacks.
But the lack of clarity is a sign in itself. If it’s not clear what’s going on then that’s a sign of change, of disruption, of a situation that no-one fully understands because it’s not staying still long enough to map out.
What about you?
As a reader, why should you care?
Because this means that your purchases are helping to direct the future of publishing. Because the format and publisher you choose makes a huge difference to how much your favourite author receives. Because all these changes mean far more diversity of books to choose from – sure, it’s a chaotic age, but for my money that makes it a golden one.
And those of you reading this who’ve been published, whether by a company or through self-publishing, what’s your experience been like? Am I discussing interesting trends or talking rot? Has this disruption affected you? Is it good for you or bad? Leave a comment, make your voice heard.
Picture by Jose Mª Izquierdo Galiot via Flickr creative commons