Self-Publishing in the United States 2008-13 | Report Analysis

Bowker is the leading provider of bibliographic information and management solutions for the publishing industry in the USA. Earlier this month Bowker released a detailed six-page report on self-publishing. The data presented in the report is based on counts of ISBNs registered in Bowker’s Books in Print database and published or distributed in the United States. The report, titled Self-Publishing in the United States 2008-2013, features analysis of self-publishing service providers, micro-publishers and direct output from authors publishing with their own block of registered ISBNs. Bowker has been correlating the data in yearly reports since 2006, though the first annual report was only released to the media in 2011. The full report can be downloaded in PDF here.

In Bowker’s overview summary this year, it states the following:


When Bowker® first reported on self-publishing, the Overview started with this sentence: ‘This report documents the explosive growth of self-publishing and self-publishing services in the United States between the years 2006 and 2011.’ This latest report covering the years from 2008 – 2013 tells a slightly different story. While self-publishing is alive and well and still showing very healthy growth rates, gone are the days of 60% growth year over year. As the charts in this report show, self-publishing has matured and slowed down to a steadier, less frantic pace.~ Bowker Report – Overview

It’s a familiar industry line we have heard when e-book growth is spoken of lately, but Bowker are careful not to attach misleading words like ‘decline’ and ‘plateau’ so many others in the industry have attributed to the slowdown in e-book growth. The report includes both e-book and print figures, and like last year’s TIPM article on the figures, I’m only going to focus on the combined e-book and print figures rather than look at an individual format in isolation.

Before I do that, some notable points. No report on self-publishing today—even when it is issued by Bowker—can be based on an exact science, so complex is this area of self-publishing. For example, Bowker’s data is correlated from the ISBN output of self-publishing service providers, distributors (acting as publishing platforms and retailers), small and micro publishers (with less than ten titles, and sometimes only a single author), and all that data comes from Bowker’s massive Books in Print database. The figures in the Bowker report are ISBN title counts and bear no relationship to actual sales. The nature of self-publishing, powered by the explosion of new service providers big and small, e-book distributors, more titles than ever available through print-on-demand (POD), and an increasing amount of self-published authors operating with their own imprints, makes it near impossible to minutely track every book sale unless everyone is following the same rules along the yellow brick road of publishing. It should also be noted that some of Bowker’s listed figures (Smashwords and Lulu) came directly from the service providers. The Bowker figures do not include titles published without a registered ISBN (for example, books on Amazon Kindle or published by a local self-published author utilising direct sales).

The report contains four distinct sections over its six pages; combined print and e-books, print books alone, e-books alone, and a final section (3 charts) for Author Solutions (ASI) with its many branded imprints.
Some providers only produce and distribute e-books, a few just print, and many produce in both formats. What I have done is extract the combined print and e-book output data for the last two complete years of 2012 and 2013. Similar to my analysis of last year’s report, on the below chart, I listed the providers in the order of ISBN output for 2013, with 2012 positions included.


I’ve also indicated the service providers/publishers no longer in business. I’ve added the positions in because Bowker did not include this with this year’s report. Again, like the last year, the report contains several anomalies I can’t really explain. While Bowker state that it has added new providers to this year’s report, there remains some significant omissions: Publish Green, Wingspan and Simon & Schuster’s self-publishing imprint, Archway Publishing. The ISBN figures are also a little skewed because quite a number of service providers allow authors to use the provider’s registered ISBNs or their own registered ISBN block and imprint name.

The very last chart entry is listed as ‘Small Publishers’ (positioned last in 59th), though of course, in reality, this would represent the fourth largest output source and approximately 10% of all ISBN titles. I’ve left it at the bottom deliberately because this collective group consists of all publishers (more likely individual authors with imprints) who have published less than ten titles. This figure surprised me slightly. Although it is up almost 8% on the 2012 figure for small publishers, I would have expected a higher figure in light of the growing number of savvy authors going DIY and purchasing publishing services from freelance professionals in the industry. As an example, here is the percentage ‘Small Publishers’ were of the overall ISBN figure over the past few years.

Small Publishers % of Overall ISBN Titles

  • 2008 — 18%
  • 2009 — 16%
  • 2010 — 16%
  • 2011 — 15%
  • 2012 — 11%
  • 2013 — 10%

That’s a steady but significant decline. The only reason I can attribute to this decline is that micro-publishers (that were print centric) are not surviving and making the transition to e-books. That’s borne out when you examine the comparison of e-book format alone. The percentages are even lower year-on-year. Perhaps more likely, self-published authors who purchase their own ISBNs are not following the process fully through by filling out the online forms to have their titles listed in Books in Print — (BowkerLink). Indeed, the database of  bibliographic information itself might lead some self-published authors to believe that it is what it says on the tin — Books in *Print* — and are not registering a listing because they don’t know it includes e-books. Bowker might want to look at revised the name of the database.

There has been little change in the top positions between 2012 and 2013, but a few significant providers/publishers worth noting.

TIPM has reviewed and followed the development of DIY self-publishing platform Blurb for many years. It’s greatly expanded ISBN inclusion and distribution options and that is reflected in the fact that it was ranked 14th on output in 2012 and in 2013 has risen to 9th ahead of companies like PublishAmerica and Bookbaby! For some curious reason Author Solutions’ e-book platform Booktango was not included in the 2012 data, but appears in 17th position in 2013. Outside of CreateSpace (print only) in 1st, Smashwords (e-book only) in 2nd, and Lulu in 3rd, there is a whole gaggle of Author Solutions supported imprints—its own imprints and those it runs for traditional publishers—dominating the largest output. In 2013, Author Solutions imprints accounted for almost 10% of all ISBNs in Bowker’s Books in Print database.

One self-publishing service provider does stands out when you examine the chart between 2012 and 2013. In 2012 was ranked 36th, and by 2013 it has risen to 18th with an increase of 103% across one year. The company offers distribution, design, formatting and proofreading services, as well as a POD option. It is a company TIPM will be reviewing very soon.

Penguin’s Partridge India and Crossbooks (note: the Lifeways imprint is no longer associated with Author Solutions) are new to Bowker’s self-publishing report in the past year of completed figures (2013). I’m still baffled why many other providers/publishers are not included in these yearly reports and exactly what criteria Bowker is using to formulate this list beyond data extracted from Books in Print. It seems highly selective and Bowker really need to come up with a way of breaking down the ‘Small Publishers’ category. That in itself will give more a reflection of what is going on in the self-publishing world than purely examining data on self-publishing service providers.

Of the 59 listed providers/publishers, TIPM has fully reviewed approximately half of them. That said, almost half of the companies produce less than 100 titles per year!

It is always difficult to get a full picture of self-publishing from any report not including Amazon Kindle data. Amazon’s POD print option for self-published authors (CreateSpace) is number one on this list, and that tells it’s own story.

Until next year’s report….

Mick Rooney – Publishing Consultant

If you found this review or article helpful, but you’re still looking for a suitable self-publishing provider to fit your needs as an author, then I’m sure I can help. As a publishing consultant and editor of this magazine, I’ve reviewed and examined in detail more than 150 providers throughout the world like the one above. As a self-published and traditionally published author of nine books, I understand your needs on the path to publication and beyond. So, before you spend hundreds or thousands, and a great deal of your time, why not book one of my personally tailored and affordable consultation sessions today?
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