Where Self-Publishers Will Continue To Lose Out

Where Self-Publishers 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. 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.


Book quality

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While the data is a little out of date, the book market sales split reported by Publishing Perspectives for the first half of 2014 is telling.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

Derek Haines

A Cambridge CELTA English teacher and author with a passion for writing and all forms of publishing. My days are spent teaching English and writing, as well as testing and taming new technology.

Avatar for Derek Haines

12 thoughts on “Where Self-Publishers Will Continue To Lose Out

  • Avatar for Corbin Brodie
    October 1, 2020 at 2:02 am

    Interesting article and interesting thoughts. I was pleased with the print-on-demand version of my book on Amazon, but no doubt about it, sales of hard copies have been negligible compared to e-book/kindle unlimited readership. And yet, I’m pretty happy with that. I published mainly to put it out there, not to develop a career in writing. So it’s been merely a nice extra having a little earner on top of my day job – in fact I’ve been surprised at how steady that little extra each month has been.

  • Avatar for Julie Christine Round
    August 5, 2020 at 5:17 pm

    I am discovering the weaknesses of Print on Demand. I sold more real books when I was my own publisher. Amazon keep changing the price and the availability of my book. I’m just hoping the e book sales make up for the dire results in paperback sales. I’m going to go back to using my own imprint. I still have some unused ISBN numbers.

  • Avatar for Kevin
    July 12, 2018 at 5:42 pm

    I happen to believe in taking the ‘long view’ and utilizing as many distribution outlets as possible for e-books. With modern technology at our disposal, it’s really a no-brainer!

    I concur that indie-authors and publishers don’t have a prayer with respect to getting print books stocked at traditional brick-and-mortar bookstores. But, In my opinion, I don’t think they’re necessary. How long do you think your book will be stocked if it doesn’t fly off the shelves? Not long. And let’s not even discuss the deep discounts they require and their less-than-equitable return policies!

    Conversely, I find most independent bookstores are more than willing to support indie authors. Fortunately, I’ve developed a solid working relationship with many in my area, as well as a local book manufacturer. So, I’m never at a loss for print books and I can get them at a reasonable price.

    And as for exclusivity? (Amazon) It’ll never happen! (though I do use KDP . . . not KDP Select) for e-books and POD, as well as various on-line distributors, including Ingram. So far, so good!

    Best of luck to all the trail-blazing Indie-Authors . . . Onward & Upward!

  • Avatar for M.D.Hunt
    March 1, 2018 at 9:55 pm

    Great article. I am happy with create space for my paperbacks and ingramspark with the hardback, so far.
    As for book stores, I have contacted a few local book store in Seattle and have been turned away by a few before they have even seen the book, (Even With good reviews from buyers and Kirkus ) which discouraged me to go to others. The ebook version is going well and I will most likely use POD again in the future, but it is frustrating.

  • Avatar for Brindy Wilcox
    February 21, 2017 at 10:30 pm

    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.

  • Avatar for Toni
    May 13, 2015 at 7:15 pm

    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.

    • Avatar for Derek Haines
      May 15, 2015 at 5:14 pm

      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.

  • Avatar for D. Wallace Peach
    April 4, 2015 at 7:58 pm

    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.

  • Avatar for Sally Ember, Ed.D.
    April 4, 2015 at 3:32 pm

    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!


    • Avatar for Derek Haines
      April 4, 2015 at 8:42 pm

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

  • Avatar for Kevin
    April 4, 2015 at 9:26 am

    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

    • Avatar for Derek Haines
      April 4, 2015 at 8:40 pm

      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,


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