Explosion of Self-Published Titles (and/or ISBNs) — it’s not all a good thing.


A recent analysis released by Bowker noted that last year 727,000 ISBNs were issued for self-publishing.  While the report cautions that this is ISBNs, NOT titles, I would respond that “it’s even worse than that.”

First, what do I mean by worse? Isn’t it a good thing that self published authors are availing themselves of traditional tools and getting out there? No. No it’s not. To steal directly from publishing perspectives:

“On the other hand, this can be seen as yet another emblem of the market’s inventory glut that worries many: when the trade is not reducing its own output, this sharply increased level of content from self-publishers is adding, along with publishers, to the “wall of content,” a relentlessly rising overhang of competition faced by every title that goes to market, no matter how it’s being published or by whom.”

The number of books read by the public is roughly flat. The number of titles is astronomical. This is why the Author’s Guild is reporting significant declines in average author income.  Only so many books being purchased, but the pie is huge.  While ISBNs are not the same as titles, the fact is that eBooks don’t require an ISBN (neither B&N, nor Amazon require an ISBN for an ebook. Neither does Apple, nor Kobo, the other players). I speculate and it is pure speculation based on trends I have seen, such as over half of eBooks on Amazon don’t have an ISBN, that the number of titles per year by self publishing is over 1 million.  No wonder that the average sales of a book is often 100 copies or less. Let’s face it, the odds of making a living writing are probably worse than making a living as a musician. Most writers have day jobs–even many on the New York Times Bestseller list. Most, not all.

Many, many titles sell less than 10 copies.

I’ve grumbled, mused, lamented this before. What is new here? Is there a call to action?  One thing I am trying to do more of is end on a positive note.  When I was managing large groups of people I used to say, “Don’t just tell me what’s wrong, bring me solutions.”

No simple solutions. We need more filters. Readers need to start paying attention to filters and demand more of them.  My solution(s):

  1. We need more readers to write REAL reviews, not the crap that often shows up on Amazon. These reviews should help the reader and the author.
  2. We need something other than Goodreads. Goodreads is owned by Amazon. Amazon is not evil, but it has its own interests at heart. Amazon benefits from the TOTAL books sold. They do want happy customers, so they can’t let the eco-system of bookselling on their site get TOO chaotic, but that is about it.
  3. The paid reviewers (such as publishers weekly, or others) need to come up with a better paid system. Given the sheer quantity of books, the stigma for a paid review needs to disappear. However, these paid companies have a fatal flaw. If you (the author) don’t like the review you can ask that it not be published. This needs to stop. Pay reviewers (it is hard work and takes a lot of time), but publish ALL the reviews. If the author is not willing to take the risk, than that is fine. But, take the risk. Put it out there. If there are more HONEST paid reviews out there, we all will accept them.

Self-publishing CAN work, but instead of blasting the big 5, small publishers and self publishers should be looking at what they provide that is important. One thing they provide is access to real reviews, not just potentially gamed customer reviews.


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