The Frankfurt book fair released an annual report of international book market trends, The Business of Books 2015. It contains publishing industry statistics and observations from the past few years. Here are my key takeaways and thoughts on what this all means for indie authors.
Choosing sales channels
Not surprisingly, ebooks and online sales are becoming more popular, while print books and brick-and-mortar stores are declining. What the data shows:
Online vs. Brick and mortar
In the USA, more books are now being sold online than in-store. This is huge. It is sad for bookstores, but there is a bright side for indie authors. If a brick-and-mortar store won’t carry your book because you weren’t published by the Big Five, don’t sweat it. You can still kick ass selling your book exclusively online.
Print vs. eBook
Last year, as many ebooks were sold as print books. Though it’s hard to predict where this trend will lead, the fact is that print book sales have declined. This 50/50 stat indicates we should put equal focus on print and electronic copies of our books. Both are important.
Choosing a genre
General literary fiction is giving way to many sub-genres. I interpret this as a reflection of readers’ highly specific interests: things like ‘female teenage protagonist plus a love triangle in a post-apocalyptic world’, or ‘middle grade novels based on a video game’. Or ‘female protagonist plus mermaids in a First Nations setting with LGBT elements’. (Cough.) For authors, this means we should find a niche audience. This is where the superfans are. If you write to please everyone, your book will float around in an expanding void.
A statistic worth pointing out: children’s and YA books have continued to grow significantly.
Alternate forms of media (like video games and music) are big competitors to the book industry. To me this just means the bar is high for keeping readers’ attention. Books need to be well paced and gripping enough that the reader won’t have the chance to get bored and turn back to YouTube.
In terms of nonfiction, this area has been dominated by celebrity authors. This means if you are writing nonfiction, it’s essential to get in front of the media and establish credibility in your field.
Choosing countries for distribution
The 6 largest markets are the USA, China, Germany, Japan, the UK, and France. They account for 60% of the total revenue in the industry. Obviously, this tells us we should make sure our books are available in all 6 of those markets—but it also tells us that a whole 40% of book sales happen everywhere else. The book market is very much international, so make sure your book is available everywhere.
China is currently seeing the biggest growth in the book industry. Europe is doing well in digital sales. Germany’s leading sales channel is Amazon. Some countries are reading more than a few years ago, some are reading less, but everyone is reading. Everyone is embracing online sales. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to be global.
Thankfully, POD services like CreateSpace and IngramSpark make international distribution easy, and so do ebook channels like KDP and Smashwords.
Choosing a publishing path
In the last year, publishing companies have been consolidating all over the place. Pricing issues and other politics have been going on. It’s all a bit overwhelming, but in the end, the data shows that the Big Five are still dominating the industry in terms of sales figures. Sometimes small specialized publishers can compete with their stats, but it’s rare.
Here’s the interesting point: because of the wide variety of media available, the role of the publisher is less important than the role of an agent or PR firm. To me, this implies that the method of publication does not matter, as long as the book is good, the author has a platform, and the book is marketed properly. (Read more thoughts on traditional vs. self-publishing.)
I was hoping to find some predictions for the future of publishing in this report, but I understand why they avoided it. The publishing industry is in an unpredictable state. Other forms of media are competing with books for everyone’s attention, independently published books are competing with the Big Five, online is competing with brick and mortar, and there isn’t a clear indication at this point how the ebook vs. print book chart will flow. But I can tell you this: the world is reading, and the demand for a great book is higher than ever. Keep on writing, indies!
What are your thoughts on the state of publishing? I’m interested in hearing how you interpret these findings and if you have any predictions.
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