How big is the market for self-published titles?

How big is the market for self-published titles?

How big is the self-publishing market? The question is a simple one for which there is no simple answer. In fact, there are lots of complicated answers.

My internal sense is that I instinctively under-estimate the size. The data we have isn’t sufficient to provide a corrective, yet the anecdata from Twitter /comments, and blogs is growing, and suggests to me that this is a market developing rapidly and beyond the purview of those of us who (by contrast) watch the traditional market like hawks. It is of little surprise that what good work has been done in this area has come from within the community.

Are all sales treated equally? They should be, but with self-published sales not visible in the marketplace they aren’t. How can we solve this?

Over the past six months I’ve seen some attempts to blame this lack of visibility on the ISBN—as if a system designed to augment the visibility of individual titles within a complex supply chain was now part of a world aimed at dragging some below the eye-line.

The reason self-published titles are not tracked is that they are predominantly sold digitally, and no e-book retailer that matters releases its sales data to Nielsen (or another provider). That fact that Amazon uses its own Standard Identification Number (ASIN)—which like the old ISBN is a 10-digit number—is immaterial to the larger issue of having no data. Could Nielsen accommodate the ASIN within its system if Amazon chose to supply its data that way? Of course it could. The ISBN is not the problem.

Much though I am up for a debate into why Amazon does not helps indie writers by making them visible in places outside of Amazon, this is not that moment. More importantly, I wanted to find out the answer to my original question: how big is this market now?

There are two approaches FutureBook is taking. The first is that Porter Anderson and I have engaged with various industry minds to get their estimates for both the US and UK markets—and these pieces will be published over the next few days. The second is that we have opened up a survey to find out what the hive-mind thinks—this is now a live with the results to be published on Tuesday (16th June). We welcome your contributions and observations as part of a genuine attempt to provide a corrective to how we view this marketplace.

There are two things we will learn from this. The first is whether we can — between us — come up with a consensus both for the UK market and the much bigger one in the States. The second is whether we can come up with a methodology: do we look at value and volume? Do we include print? Do we assume Amazon is the dominant retailer, and if so do we assume that its hourly updated bestselling charts are an accurate reflection of sales? Or are they algorithmically challenged—as many suspect?

My sense is that the numbers will have wide variances, as will the jottings behind them. But I also think the size of the marketplace will shock and awe. That is why I am doing this.

Of course, this piece would not be complete without my own estimate. Here we go:

The print figure is fairly easy. Nielsen BookScan captures sales made through Amazon’s POD unit Createspace: last year the value was £6.4m, showing growth of 142% on the year earlier. There will be other self-publishers or assisted publishers captured through Nielsen but none as big as Createspace. However, it is doubtful that even with all those added together the figure would be much bigger than £10m—less than 1% of the Nielsen BookScan measured book market. But growing - take note of that.

The digital number is trickier to find. Nielsen, via its consumer survey, reckons that 17m self-published (or Amazon Published) books were bought in 2014, worth £58m (similar to 2013, but up 70% since 2012, and growing ahead of the market in 2015). It estimates 15% of e-book purchases were self-published, though it is unclear from the slides of its most recent presentation whether this is value or volume and how much print it contains.

My own view is that undersells the market—but not by a significant degree. Back in January, The Bookseller estimated the number of e-books sold in the UK to be 88m in 2014 (from data supplied by the big publishers), but with self-publishing 20% of an overall market amounting to 110m, that would put the number of self-published units sold at 22m. That is higher than Nielsen, but not as high as some would have. Estimates as high as a third still seem screwy to me, but if we include Amazon Publishing, as well as KDP titles, in that then 30% may be a decent assumption. Remember though: that still still a third of digital, not print and digital.

But I am sticking to self-published/KDP (and others) titles.

At 88m units, and with a Nielsen-estimated average selling price of £4.26, we estimated the e-book market to be worth £374m in 2014. If we use the same a.s.p for self-published titles, then that market is worth £95m.

It is, though, highly unlikely that self-published titles (where authors market intensely and price accordingly) would enjoy as high an a.s.p. as traditional publishers.

It feels to me that the self-published market for e-books could be as big as £70m, but more if you include Amazon Publishing titles, and more again if add in print books. But £70m feels about right. Even at this relatively modest figure, it still makes KDP the biggest e-book publisher in the UK.

That is some shift in the marketplace, and some black hole in the overall "official" numbers.

Over to you.

The survey is open now.