Book Publishing Numbers That Tell A Story

by | Apr 16, 2010 talks about self-publishingThis was the headline in a news report by Jim Milliot in Publishers Weekly yesterday:

Self-Published Titles Topped 764,000 in 2009 as Traditional Output Dipped

Here’s the intro to the story:

A staggering 764,448 titles were produced in 2009 by self-publishers and micro-niche publishers, according to statistics released this morning by R.R. Bowker. The number of “nontraditional” titles dwarfed that of traditional books whose output slipped to 288,355 last year from 289,729 in 2008. Taken together, total book output rose 87% last year, to over 1 million books.

Of these books, the article points out that the top three publishers that specialize in reprinting out of print books produced 687,565 of these titles. (Man, that’s a pretty good year!) But all these books weren’t “self-published” as the headline claimed. Most of them weren’t, they were produced by specialized publishers using digital printing and print on demand to make rare and out of print books available.

Looking at the publisher’s services companies, the top four produced a total of 51,811 titles. It breaks down this way:

  • CreateSpace (Amazon) – 21,819 books
  • – 10,386 books
  • Xlibris (AuthorSolutions) – 10,161 books
  • AuthorHouse (AuthorSolutions) – 9,445 books

This means that on any day in 2009, about 140 books were being published by these four (three) companies at the same time that traditional book sales were declining. And the trend for self-published books is strongly up over the last three years, with no sign of any letup.

More Numbers

Today Alexa, the web metrics company, tells me that the query do it yourself publishing is the largest natural query by which people find this blog. (I think they’re probably wrong about that, but what do I know?)

As it happens, you can “buy” a query like do it yourself publishing in the sense that you can purchase adspace on the results of searches done on this exact phrase. AuthorHouse is the largest buyer of this advertising, followed by CreateSpace and several others.

And where does that traffic go? Mostly, with over 22% of the total, to Lulu alone issued over 28 books a day for every day of 2009.

What About You and Me?

If you’re considering self-publishing, or if you’re involved with a book project already, you owe it to yourself to produce the best book you can.

Every professional I know who writes about self-publishing sings the same song, about producing a quality book. In these numbers you can see the reason why:

If your book is poorly edited, or disorganized, or full of factual errors, or lacking any original research or unique point of view, if it doesn’t provide practical instruction in something people want to do, if it isn’t convincing, if it’s inauthentic, if it looks like my cousin Dave did it in Appleworks, you will be buried by the avalanche of books coming up behind you.

Your only chance is to make your book special. It’s not about your book publishing budget, it’s about your resolve to put out something of which you can be proud.

You can trade money for time by hiring professionals, that’s up to you. But if you want to succeed, you are obliged to go that extra step, to polish your prose a little more, to find more that you can give your readers. That’s what matters most. Then, when you decide how to deliver that book, doing it in a way that’s easy to read and pleasing to look at, even elegant, just makes sense.

These numbers give us a lot to think about, and maybe some “fuel for the fire.” But don’t think about it too long—there’s another 140 coming out tomorrow.

Takeway: There has never been a better time to self-publish, but that goes for thousands of other authors too. How can you make your book stand out?

Image: / Krissyho

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Joel

    Hey butterfly, congratulations on getting a second book out. Createspace might be higher because it was combined with BookSurge, which also was pretty active.

    BubbleCow, thanks for that. Sometimes it’s pretty challenging to get authors to understand that how their book looks and reads is important to its success. But I believe in educations, so I just keep talking about it. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. BubbleCow

    Excellent advice. My experience is that two hurdles stop self-published books selling well. The first is quality of the book, this is not quality of writing but quality of production – editing, type setting and cover design etc. A book that looks and reads poorly will sell poorly. The second is distribution but let’s leave that thorny issue for another day!

  3. butterfly

    I am surprised to see createspace so high being they only do distribution on one channel, how this is going to be my second time around self publishing a book and I am going to try hopefully it will work out well for me.

  4. Joel

    Hey, Neil, thanks for your thoughts. This whole idea of producing quality books—no matter who you are—can’t be emphasized enough. Why waste all that hard work and the substantial investment you’ve made by putting it into what amounts to a brown paper bag? Self-publishers need to realize that they are manufacturing for a retail market. Look at retailers like Tiffany—they don’t throw their jewelry into brown paper bags, they know that those beautiful little blue boxes with the fancy ribbon are part of the whole experience of buying there. With books, this is even more important because often the only interaction you have with a potential buyer is the cover of your book.

  5. neil levin

    Great post Joel. Those were amazing numbers. They made me ponder 2 points. The first was right in line with yours. Self publishers needs to work on ALL aspects of their books. All too often I seen the tremendous effort that they put into completing their ms and then they go halfway on design, production, and marketing. Completing the ms is a huge piece of the puzzle but they need to produce the complete product if they want to really sell copies of their books. A car with a great engine and everything else sub-standard really won’t move too well! The other point was that I was astonished by the number of titles produces by those reprint houses. These numbers were really the output of hi tech machines but they show how you need to revise your thinking about the business as technology radically changes parts of the business. Smaller books at different prices CAN be sold in this one-off world.



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