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Commentary & Analysis

The Rise of the Self-Publisher

By Frank J.

By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: March 2, 2005

By Frank J. Romano It used to be that the ten largest book publishers accounted for 88 percent of all books sold. That is no longer true. March 3, 2005 -- If you want to see the effect of technology on print production, just look at annual book statistics. The number of new book titles jumped from about 50,000 titles in 1985 to just under 100,000 in 1990, to 150,000 titles in 2002, to 175,000 titles in 2003, and then to about 200,000 titles in 2004. At the same time, the number of publishers jumped to more than 78,000 from well under half that in 1985. The main reason for this sharp increase is on-demand book printing; although some of the rise can be attributed to shorter runs of offset book printers. It used to be that the ten largest book publishers accounted for 88 percent of all books sold. That is no longer true. Today, the dominant category of book publisher is the self-publisher. 10,877 new publishers registered for International Standard Book Numbers in 2003, an increase of 226 (2.1 percent) from 2002. That is how we can track these trends. If you want to sell a book, you usually get an ISBN from Bowker. With on-demand printing, no book will ever be out of print. No one may want it, but it is available. Fifty-one percent of all new titles published in 2003 by the three largest print-on-demand publishers were fiction, poetry, or drama. These categories accounted for 57 percent of all titles published since 1998 by the same POD houses. About 1.7 billion books were purchased in the U.S. in 2003 (the last year for this data). In the old days, this would have meant that almost 4 billion books were printed, with most of them discarded or sold as remainders. You can track the trends by looking at the introduction of the Kodak Ektaprint in the late 1980s and the Xerox DocuTech in 1990 and its development over the last 15 years. Both had the ability to bind online, the Ektaprint by re-imaging page originals and the DocuTech through scanning and electronic collation. There are now many other digital printing systems, sheet- and web-fed. There are categories of books--those in print (the front list and the back list) and out-of-print books. The front list is current titles (released in one calendar year) and the back list is older titles that are still available. With on-demand printing, no book will ever be out of print. No one may want it, but it is available. The number of titles printed in quantities under 100 is now at about 30 percent and growing. The future of book publishing is really the on-demand book. The first application for digital book printing was in preview or pre-print copies, which were sent in advance to reviewers and bookstores. In many cases, the book that you order may be printed just for you--most of the online book sellers use Ingram Lightning Source or other on-demand book printers to print books in very short runs. We estimate that the number of titles printed in quantities under 100 is now at about 30 percent and growing. Most of the growth in book printing in the last decade can be attributed to this development, and it will possibly hit 50 percent by 2010. There are long-run anomalies, like Bill's and Hillary's books or the Potter books or anything Oprah mentions. But the future of book publishing is really the on-demand book. There are many reasons for on-demand production, such as savings in transportation, warehousing, and waste, but the best one is the development of the independent, individual self publisher.

 

 

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