What Does the Future of Self-Publishing Look Like?
The publishing world has changed immensely in the last decades, in ways that would have been impossible to imagine before those changes began, and the outlook for the future of self-publishing has shifted with it. Ten years ago, e-books made up less than 1 percent of the trade book market, yet they now make up 40 to 50 percent of units sold. Particularly in genres like fantasy, romance, and science fiction, traditional publishers have lost their former iron grip on the industry in an unprecedented way.
In turn, authors have shifted their expectations and practices, even turning down lucrative deals with major publishers in favor of retaining control over their work and profits. Successful major authors are even choosing to self-publish some of their books. Such moves would have been unimaginable just a few years earlier. So the question is, if that much can change in the publishing world during the last ten years, what can we expect from the future of self-publishing in the next ten years?
The Future of Self-Publishing
Mark Coker, writing for Publisher’s Weekly, points out several important trends to keep watching in regards to the future of self-publishing.
For one, the rise of e-books will continue, with even more of the market going digital, thanks to the affordability and accessibility of the format. While it seems unlikely for print to disappear entirely anytime soon, with some arguing it is making a comeback, it’s also a safe bet that more readers will continue to jump on the digital bandwagon.
In turn, this will further what Coker calls the “democratization” of publishing, as major publishers lose their role as arbiters of which authors are able to reach their audiences. This role depended on their control of printing presses and retail distribution networks, which will continue to erode.
As smartphone ownership expands internationally, so will the market for e-books. What we’ve already seen happen in the last 5 years will now happen on a global scale. For the moment, international distribution is one of the areas in which traditional publishers still hold an advantage. This may change, with indie authors gaining direct access to international markets.
The Indie Author
All of this means the cultural ascent of the indie author will continue. Thanks to their earning a much larger percentage of the list price, as well as retaining total creative control over their work, this is a trend that will keep appealing to authors. And as they earn a larger and larger chunk of the market share, indie books will continue to show up more frequently on retailer bestseller lists, as well as in lists from industry staples such as the New York Times. Already, the stigma of self-publishing has largely disappeared as a result, and this process will only accelerate in the coming years. The future of self-publishing is a bright one.
Thanks to these developments, some are even predicting that major publishers will either die off, or adapt to serve indie and self-publishing authors, by 2030.
It’s important to remember that books are subject to the same forces that forever altered the music, movie, and gaming markets in the last 20 years. Two decades ago, software, movies and music were sold in physical formats in stores, for generally higher prices than what we see today. When the digital revolution threatened that system, markets adapted. Music stores declined, and Apple took over, selling instantly available music for one dollar a song or ten dollars an album instead of nearly 20 dollars for a CD. With movies, rental businesses like Blockbuster famously died out, and subscription services like Netflix took their place, riding high on the new possibilities of working with digital formats. Now, similar subscription service models can be seen in the music and video game worlds as well, from services like Spotify and Xbox Games Pass. The book world is on the same trajectory, just moving at a slower pace.
Already, Kindle Unlimited offers a subscription service for books, but only for books whose authors or small publishers have agreed to give Amazon exclusive rights. Perhaps the future of self-publishing will see expanded subscription services for e-books. This could involve e-books with embedded advertisements, or even interactive e-books. As digital books move away from the traditional paper format which inspired them, books could take advantage of the capabilities of digital devices by offering color, interactivity, connectivity, share ability, and new features we can’t even imagine yet. Amazon may face new competition from forward thinking enterprises that take advantage of the potential of digital formats.
It’s very likely that we haven’t seen all of the possibilities of the format explored just yet. As e-books offer more to win readers over from traditional print formats, this can only fuel the rise of self-publishing, and give authors more control over their own work. Print books will have their place for the foreseeable future, if only for our emotional attachment to them. But the rise of digital formats will continue, and with it, the industry will keep changing. If major publishers don’t learn how to adapt to these new realities of the publishing world, they will surely be left behind.