This month, Foreword Reviews Magazine is celebrating twenty five years of discovering the best indie press books for a trade readership of booksellers and librarians. It’s been a slow, steady drive to profitability, and post-pandemic supply chain issues continue to challenge us. But the joy of our profession makes the struggle a labor of love that drives us each day to reach our next milestone birthday.
Thankfully, many things remain constant
to make our jobs easy: reading is not going out of style; print books have not
disappeared (as predicted), readers still love a good story. Plus, they now
have options to get their fix in print, as an ebook, or as an audio edition
depending on their preferences.
According to Bowker, a leading provider of information in the publishing industry, the number of self-published titles has grown significantly. In 2019, self-published authors produced over 1.68 million print and e-books in the United States, up from just over 200,000 titles in 2011. This represents over 700% growth in just eight years. It’s important to remember that independent publishing is a global phenomenon, and the numbers above only reflect the self-published titles produced in the United States. The total number of independently published books worldwide in 2022 is difficult to estimate, but it's likely to be in the millions.
We’ve experienced some significant
industry changes in the last twenty five years. Here’s a quick list of those
top of mind:
- The rise of self-publishing platforms. In the past few decades, the independent publishing industry has been revolutionized by the emergence of self-publishing platforms like Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing and IngramSpark. These platforms have made it easier than ever for independent authors to publish and distribute their books, without the need for a traditional publisher. This “democratization” has made publishing more accessible to a wider range of authors, regardless of their background or connections.
- Changes in book distribution. With the growth of e-books and online retailers like Amazon, the distribution channels for independent books have expanded significantly. Independent authors can now sell their books to readers all over the world, without the need for physical bookstores. The introduction of print-on-demand (POD) technology has also made it possible for independent authors to print their books as and when they are ordered, eliminating the need for large print runs and upfront costs.
- The role of social media and changes in book marketing. With the rise of social media and online marketing, independent authors now have a range of tools at their disposal to market their books. Social media has become an important tool for independent authors to promote their books and connect with readers. Authors can use social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to build their brand, connect with fans, and share news and updates about their work.
- Increased competition. While the democratization of publishing has made it easier for authors to publish their books, it has also led to increased competition. With so many books being published every day, it can be challenging for independent authors to get their books noticed. Authors need to find new and creative ways to stand out from the crowd and attract readers.
- Changes in reader behavior. The popularity of e-books has skyrocketed since 1998, with many readers preferring the convenience of reading books on their electronic devices. This has made it easier for independent authors to self-publish their books in digital formats, bypassing traditional publishers. The rise of e-books and online retailers has also changed the way readers discover and purchase books. Many readers now rely on online reviews and recommendations to guide their purchasing decisions, which has created new opportunities and challenges for independent authors.
- The growth of audiobooks. The audiobook market has grown significantly
since 1998, with many readers preferring to listen to books rather than
read them. This has made it easier for independent authors to reach a
wider audience by producing their books in audio format. According to the
Audio Publishers Association (APA), the audiobook industry has experienced
significant growth over the past few years. They note that In 2020, the
audiobook industry in the United States generated over $1.3 billion in
revenue, up from $940 million in 2015. This represents a growth rate of
over 37% in just five years. The number of audiobook titles produced has
also increased significantly, with over 71,000 titles produced in 2020
All of this, IMHO, is good news for writers who are still opting to be their own publishers. The tools are freely available with the right research, and the industry is so good about sharing knowledge at in person and online conferences, membership organizations, and online mentorship. The most important suggestion I can make is to come to the table prepared in a professional manner: edit, package, and design your cover according to industry standards and brush up on your marketing skills if you are not familiar with the terms “social media.”
Victoria Champagne Sutherland