This is an excerpt of Joe Biel’s 8th book, A People’s Guide to Publishing, in stores in December 2018 with preorders shipping in August!
In 1970, there were about 3,000 indie publishers. By 2006, there were 82,000. Today there are hundreds of thousands of specialized independents, and probably over a million if you include bedroom operations. Even with so many presses, that’s still an average annual sales of $120,000 per publishing house. In 2016, 66% of book sales were from independent publishers, so we are now selling more books than the majors! While The Big Five, major publishing houses that dominate the industry, have lost 27% of their market share since 2012, small presses continue to grow and find new opportunities at a manageable scale.
There has never been a better time to become an independent publisher.
Still, there are over 500 new books published every single hour with millions of new books being released every year, and tens of millions of books already in print. There are more books in print today than at any point in history. At the same time, conventional book outlets (collectively known as “the book trade”) like Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Amazon, independent bookstores, and libraries have neither grown, shrunk, nor added capacity in any significant way for the past 40 years. Instead, they endlessly take little bites out of each other to compete for the same customers and dollars, and the stores make publishers squabble over precious shelf space.
Fortunately, there are better options for book sales than competing for bookstore space until you’ve created some demand for your work. If you’re focused and smart about what you publish, you can be quite successful.
As an indie publisher, you must be careful and deliberate about your focus, process, and growth. You can ignore Amazon completely or build your brand around their services (though I wouldn’t recommend the latter). You can use digital printing to create one copy of each book at a time or print thousands in a (much more economical) offset print run. You can compete on a relatively even playing field and make changes quickly and easily, while the dinosaurs are trying to discover how to manage their sprawling size, fight entrenchment, and become relevant again. You can…