State of Business Book Publishing—2016



I was telling a good publishing friend the other day that for my agency business, my customer base has dwindled to about half of what to was even 5 years ago. My customers are trade publishers – some multinationals while others independently owned – and this list seems to suffer casualties each year.

It’s the reality of the marketplace.

By all measure there are less books sold than the previous year and the publishers have less places to out their product in a tough retail environment.

There has been a slight reprieve for publishers as e-book sales have flattened for some time and allowed print to gain some traction. But while no one seriously believes that e-books will disappear, so to, it’s hard to rationalize that print will grow in leaps and bounds.  Simply put there are not enough places to put books out into a marketplace where demand is stagnant.

Hope for writers in self-publishing

So where does that leave the writer in all this?

Depending on what your objective or goal, it could be both the best or worst of times.  As noted above the trade publishers are less interested, generally, in new book projects. But ironically the one area of growth in the book industry are the self-directed or self-publishing options.

Let’s put to bed that term vanity publishing as some still use to describe this process of paying to have a book published.  Self-publishing is now sophisticated and legitimate by any  measure. The quality of the books are mostly superb, the marketing clever and the books gain as much attention as what might be called traditionally published books. The book reviewers who shunned self-published books years ago now regularly post reviews of a self-published book alongside a big multi-national release.  Why would they do that? Perhaps because the books are good. In fact there are even showing up on local bestseller lists in areas where the book has been picked up by enough by local booksellers.

Here’s another reason why it might be the best of times for writers. As those large publishers feel the squeeze of a changing marketplace, one of the sad realties is that good people are let go. This contributes to a very rich and deep freelance stable of editors, designers, and experienced book people to work on many of these self-published books. These are the same people who edited and re-structured many bestsellers and notable books published not that long ago.

There are pitfalls and dangers with self-publishing and we will continue to explore in this blogspace what to be aware of before taking that path.

In summary, for book publishing, like most industry and businesses, the only constant is change.  This industry has faced and will continue to face obstacles and demands on the book. Many critics have written off book publishing in the past and while it has been battered and beaten, the book survives. How it is produced and by whom has changed significantly even over the past 5 or 10 years. Where it will be in the next decade is worth watching.

Photo credit: João Silaas