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. It 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 retail book sales, though, self-publishing has a very long way to go yet.
In fact, I would go as far as to say that self-publishers will continue to lose because of the poor quality of print on demand paperback books.
While the data is a little out of date, the book market sales split reported by Publishing Perspectives for the first half of 2014 is telling.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.
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. But the number of new self-published ebooks increases at a hellish pace.
It 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.
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.
Ebooks have made considerable strides in quality in recent years. But print on demand books are still the same as in 2002: poor quality, poor formatting, poor typography, and poor paper grades.
It is the real frontier that will, for some time, yet hold back self-publishing as a challenger to the big five publishers.
Yes, 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 lot of books.
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 Amazon KDP, Lulu and others lift their game and provide paperbacks and hardcovers close to trade quality; there is little hope.
But, one can hope for change.
Or perhaps, is this a real market opportunity for Vanity Press?
Although it has a bad reputation in the market, Vanity publishers can usually produce a quality book.
As with everything, we’ll see what the future brings.