June 12, 2013

Self-published ebooks account for 20% of UK’s genre market


The greater publishing world’s relationship with self-published ebooks can best be described as dismissive — there’s a common perception that it’s a niche for vanity projects and fan fiction. However, with the news from the UK that self-published ebooks accounted for 20% of crime, science fiction, romance, and humour ebooks sold in 2012, genre publishers might begin to take notice.

Bowker Market Research, who according to Alison Flood in The Guardian, surveyed book purchases throughout 2012, now says that self-published ebooks accounted for 12% of the total ebook market last year, with a rise to 20% when genre titles were considered alone.

Women are also more likely to buy something self-published than men, with 68% of self-published ebooks being bought by women, although this may simply be because women read more in general. Writes Flood, “those who bought self-published ebooks were also more likely to be heavy readers, with the statistics from Bowker showing that 61% of buyers of self-published ebooks said they read daily, compared to 37% of buyers of books as a whole.”

Why are self-published ebooks gaining ground in genre? Some factors here are price and volume. Many self-published ebooks are sold at rockbottom prices, if they’re not given away for free in pursuit of some sort of “virality”. According to Steve Bohme, UK research director at Bowker, “price was the reason most cited by readers for the purchase of self-published ebooks. By contrast, price was only the third most important reason for choosing to buy other ebooks, and books as a whole, behind “author” and “subject”.”

Besides price, perhaps genre publishers and authors have ceded ground in not publishing quickly and with sufficient volume for those who plow through werewolf romance novels. It would also be interesting to know which platform is most common amongst those who read self-published ebooks, given that popular self-publishing services such as Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing lock you into the Kindle format.

Of course, publishers have had a hard time getting ahead in the ebook market. As Rachel Edidin wrote in Wired,

“The technology of digital publishing is awkward and inconsistent. The closest thing to a single file standard, e-pub, is still far from platform-agnostic and notorious for destroying formatting elements, which limits what writers and designers can do structurally if they’re planning for digital. And that’s just for text-based books…Real progress on the digital front would require companies like Apple and Amazon to collaborate to create a consistent format – and for now, they won’t, thanks to a combination of paranoia and proprietary and competitive concerns.”

Yet despite its gains and increased public profile, self-publishing is still mostly a hobbyist’s pursuit, given that half of self-published authors make less than $500 on their book. Publishing is shaken, but it hasn’t fallen quite yet.


Ariel Bogle is a publicist at Melville House.