The Big Five traditional publishers are going the way of the dinosaur, or at least, that is what the numbers seem to indicate. With the rise of e-book sales and self-published “indie” authors, the trend is toward the Big Five houses receiving less and less of a share of the reading public’s dollars.
Brad Torgersen, an award-winning science fiction author, traces the beginning of the self-publishing trend to 2007 with the release of the Amazon Kindle.
“This, along with Amazon’s CreateSpace feature—allowing indie authors to also put hardcopy product onto the market—enabled independent authors to successfully compete with traditionally published authors on a wide scale, with broad audiences,” says Torgersen.
In 2012, the Pew Research Center noted a definite rise in Americans who owned e-book readers. In 2012, 33 percent of Americans owned either a dedicated reading device or tablet for reading. The increased reading device ownership coincided with a spike in e-book readers in 2012. At the same time, print book reader numbers were starting to decline.
This is perhaps why Cedar Sanderson, an independent author with two dozen books to her name, says that the self-publishing trend really began in 2012.
“I first noted the trend in 2012, and published my first novel in December of that year,” says Sanderson. “However, the crest of the wave didn’t come for another two to three years.”
A look at Google Trends seems to back her up. January of 2012 was the date of peak interest for the search terms “Kindle self publishing.” After that, the interest in those specific terms declined. That does not mean, on the other hand, that interest in self-publishing has diminished.
“Each year we see more and more authors going either exclusively ‘indie’ or are running some form of hybrid operation, wherein they are releasing work both through traditional publication channels and through indie modes,” says Torgersen.
In 2016, the website Author Earnings, a research site that keeps tabs on book sales, reported that between January of 2014 and February of 2016, “the market share of paid unit sales between indie and Big 5 e-books has more than inverted.”
In 2014, the Big Five publishers accounted for about 40 percent of e-book sales, and in 2016, they made up less than 25 percent. Conversely, indie authors held just over 25 percent of sales in 2014, and now make up almost 45 percent of the market. In addition, despite the Big Five making up more of the market in gross sales (although that is also decreasing steadily), independent authors individually are making significantly more than their traditionally published counterparts.
“I think the genie is out of the bottle,” says Sanderson, “and we may see many changes, but I think that having tasted freedom, most writers will not allow themselves to be stuffed back into the roles the Big Five forced them into.”
Sanderson sees the fact that the Big Five publishing houses have been jettisoning their mid-list and low-list authors in order to maximize profits as the main reason that authors have been jumping to indie self-publishing. It seems the trend is here to stay.
Torgersen says that the only way he sees self-publishing slowing down would be under the collapse of Amazon, the biggest distributor of self-published works. However, he does not think that that is likely to happen any time soon.
“Frankly, I don’t see Amazon.com struggling right now, so while Amazon.com continues to provide a reliable, market-tested conduit, independent publishing should thrive,” says Torgersen.