Wait, there were HOW many self-published books in 2012?!

This is books scramble. Many books on white background.When people say there’s stiff competition in the indie publishing world, they usually just mean it as a really ineffectual way to temper a new author’s disappointment at not bursting onto the best-seller lists by day two.  But it turns out they’re right.  I mean, they’re really right.  The sheer massive number of self-published books produced in 2012 alone will stagger you.

391,000. And that’s just indie!  Bowker, the ISBN warehouse, took a look at its data and found a 59% increase in DIY book hawking from 2011 – and a 422% increase from 2007.  And those are only the books with purchased ISBNs.  Some publishers don’t require one for the distribution of e-books.

The most popular category?  Fiction.  More than 80% of 2012 titles came from just eight big companies, including Smashwords and CreateSpace.  I’m guessing Amazon KDP is up there, too, but the full report won’t be released until next week.

And don’t forget, this is in addition to hundreds of thousands of traditionally published volumes.  The most recent estimates are from 2010, but UNESCO figured there were about 328,000 new works added to the shelves every year.  Self-publishing produced more books in 2012 than the entire established industry did in 2010!  Now that’s a number for you.

What does all this mean for the little people?  Well, it means we’re getting smaller and smaller as we speak.  With the overwhelming number of options for readers, it’s only going to get harder to stand out from the crowd.  Most of us already make less than $500 a year, if we’re lucky, and it’s not unrealistic to think that number will shrink as the chaff piles over the wheat.

I’m not sure how I feel about it.  The very premise of self-publishing is equality, letting the consumer choose what is worthy of recognition instead of letting an agent decide.  It’s a good thing that writers are embracing that.  But it can also be tough on the ego when you get drowned out by your fellow hopefuls, and it’s difficult to navigate a market that’s expanding faster than anyone could have imagined.

What do you think? Should we be depressed about this?  Or should we embrace the explosion as a sign that self-publishing is becoming a legitimate option for bringing a work to market?

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16 thoughts on “Wait, there were HOW many self-published books in 2012?!

  1. Although a lot of new authors are entering the market, how many of them will still be plugging away 5 or 10 years from now? I suspect a lot will release one novel, sell a few copies, then quit. It’s a free-for-all, and not everyone releasing a book is at a standard readers expect.

    I believe that as long as you stick at it, striving to improve with each successive book, your audience will grow. All you can really do is keep pushing forward, regardless of what everyone else is doing. The mountain is infinite, but the higher you climb, the more people will see you.

    • That’s a good point, Tom. It will be interesting to see if the growth is sustainable or if people get fed up with their marginal success.

    • Uhh…yeah? That’s one way to do it.

      Commentsdonotexpresstheviewsofjenniferbresnickoraffiliateorganizationscommentatyourownriskdontletthisguymurderyouplease

  2. For everyone who is disappointed this year, there are still thousands more who think they can do it. The more they see these numbers, they’ll either thing they can do it or be scared away. I’m pretty sure this will be a norm. A terrifying norm. But it isn’t going to stop me. Only I can stop me. Unfortunately. Good information.

  3. Reblogged this on Elayne Griffith and commented:
    It does feel like a crushing mountain sometimes…but what can you do? Just keep writing and marketing, writing and marketing, writing and drinking…I mean marketing 😉

  4. I knew it was coming; that’s why I kept telling everyone to do it now because eventually it’s not going to be as easy as it is now. The authors who got themselves on the bestseller lists during all this, count yourselves lucky, because now that everyone in their mama is going self-published, it’s not going to be the same as it was but I didn’t think it was going to happen this quickly.

  5. I’m hoping Tom’s on the right track–some will stick with it and some won’t. What’s success anyway? If it’s having someone read your work that’s easy. Put it up free on Amazon and someone will read it. And someone will buy it, almost certainly. If you’re looking to make millions, try a lotto ticket.

  6. A more pertinent question is “Why do so many today consider themselves to be writers worthy of publication?” US demographics hold the answer and it’s not technology. We live today in a society characterized by narcissism. Two groups in the US are well known for their narcissism: Baby Boomers and the Me-Generation. Both groups want to leave a large footprint in the ‘sands of time’. Both groups now have time and or money, so they document their real or imagined life tracks—they publish. I wouldn’t call “Writing” what most from these two groups publish. The glut of published books today is caused by the confluence of excess time by these self-proclaimed narcissistic authors and a paucity of readers with time on their hands.

    • I’m not sure narcissism has increased at all, Joe. Everyone has always wanted to be a writer. It’s just that now the masses have a tool to make publishing happen without any filters from the traditional industry. Is it a good thing? Probably not. But I wouldn’t say it’s some extraordinary turning point in the history of vanity.

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  10. This is no different than what painters and musicians have been dealing with for decades (or centuries). The holdup on the flood of authors has been the oligarchy of the publishing world. Anyone could technically write a book and wave it around at people, but you can’t prop your book up at a street corner and impress anyone like a painter or musician can. It’s an art that has finally joined many other arts in being an economic burden for 99% and a source of income for 1%. There will be diamonds in the rough that will go on unnoticed for decades or forever. There will also be terrible authors whose work gets blown up not through talent but through topic, 50 Shades of Gray for example which was apparently written by an illiterate. But in general the cream will rise to the top, which in most cases won’t be a very high top, spread out across the nation.

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