Blog Post

Did Self-Publishing Hype Hit Its Peak In 2011?

The average price of a self-published Kindle top-100 bestseller continues to drop, but a new look at these titles’ performance in 2011 suggests these books are facing increased competition from traditional publishers.

Over at e-book discovery and e-reading site Ebook Friendly, Piotr Kowalczyk analyzes the bestselling self-published books in the Kindle store in 2011. (To do this, he looked at Amazon’s database of past bestsellers — a great resource for anyone else who wants to do this kind of examination. Kowalczyk looked at the lists for each month of 2011.)

All the stats below refer to self-published titles that hit the monthly top-100 list in the Kindle Store. That’s a lot to type out every time so from now on I’ll just refer to them as self-published titles, but keep in mind these findings are only for books that were Kindle top-100 bestsellers for some month in 2011.)

Kowalczyk finds that the average price of one of these titles was $1.40, versus $8.26 for all e-books in the top 100. There’s “a downward trend in both the number of books and the average price” of the books to hit the list — the average price of a self-published title in January 2011 was $1.99, compared to $1.34 in December. And the number of self-published titles in the Kindle Top 100 dropped through the year:

At the beginning of the year “there was a simple divide” between self-published and traditionally published bestselling e-books, but “it all started to melt in the second part of the year,” Kowalczyk writes. As traditional publishers experiment with e-book sales — particularly through Kindle Daily Deal, which Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) introduced in September, and ongoing monthly deals like Kindle Books for $3.99 or Less — it seems they may be pushing self-published authors off the list.

Caveat: In the comments, self-published author and blogger David Gaughran points out:

We don’t know if — for example – the number of spots self-publishers capture in the Top 100 has a seasonal aspect. This is possible. Large publishers schedule the biggest releases from their biggest authors for the run-up to Christmas — Evanovich, King, Patterson, Connolly, Grisham etc. So it’s entirely possible that the “dip” you saw is something that will happen each year, and “normal” service could be resumed this month, or (more likely) next month. We shall see.

Kowalczyk doesn’t believe self-publishing was a fad or that it’s dying out. But in 2011 self-publishing bore “the badge of novelty,” he writes. “Now it becomes the part of the digital publishing landscape.” Going forward, he sees more self-published authors taking on the role of “indie publisher,” publishing other authors’ books in digital formats. And he thinks that the most successful self-published authors will raise their e-books’ prices. Plus, we may see these trends repeat themselves as self-publishing becomes more popular outside the U.S.

3 Responses to “Did Self-Publishing Hype Hit Its Peak In 2011?”

  1. Bob Mayer

    Barry Eisler isn’t self-published.  Signing with Thomas and Mercer of Amazon is moving from one publisher to another.  A smart business play, but I grow weary of him being named as a self-published author.

    And the bestseller lists are made up of # of units sold, not profitability.  Which one do you think is more important to a business?  This is a fundamental flaw in publishing that has prevailed for decades.  Someone selling an eBook for .99 has to sell ten of them to equal my selling one eBook at $4.99.  So I could sell a ton of books at .99, or not so many at higher prices, and walk home with a much bigger paycheck.  I prefer the profitability over the hype.  I’ve been on the NY Times, WSJ, USA Today, PW, etc. etc. bestsellers lists over the years.  I could care less now.  I care about sales x royalties= paycheck.

    I went from selling 347 eBooks in January of 2011 to a total of over a third of a million sold by the end of the year, earning close to three-quarters of a million dollars.  And you won’t find me on any bestseller lists.

  2. Kenya Wright

    I hope you are correct. I just published my book Fire Baptized this week. There is one factor that has not been mentioned in this article, but the growing number of book blogs that help self-publishers get word out about their books. I believe that as long as there are so many people willing to promote books for self-published authors, there will never be a drop in self-published titles.

  3. It’s interesting that you chose to feature Barry Eisler in your photos for this piece as he is indicative of the move of traditionally published authors to self publishing.

    For most well established authors such as Grisham, Connolly etc Kindle sales will contribute a fairly small percentage (although growing) of their overall book sales.

    People like to read authors that they are already familiar with and so it would not be suprising if more established authors start to take the place of newer self published authors.

    However the overall pie is growing with so many new kindle owners hungry for content, it is no longer neccessary to break into the top 100 to be making good six figure plus income as a self published author. And of course people like Konrath and many other self published authors have multiple titles on the platform.