Demystifying the Digital Census : Digital Sales Growing, But Slowing

Last week, I began a series in which I’m applying a microscope to the results of FutureBook‘s Digital Census of 2015 and breaking down to its component parts just what the fallout will be for you and me as indie and self-published authors.  FutureBook, an annual project of industry titan The Bookseller, has been hitting the books for five years now and has become the standard-bearer for those elements of the publishing (and specifically, digital publishing) revolution that range from mainstream (like Amazon) to cutting-edge, innovative, or brand new (like Goop and Medium!).

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The fifth annual FutureBook conference was held, in part, to evaluate and respond to the Digital Census of 2015, in which record numbers of readers and writers and bloggers and publishers (of traditional or indie ilk alike) and other industry experts reflected upon the ways that has changed or the ways in which they foresee the industry changing, all while indexing their hopes and concerns for where the Book as an object and industry and personal revelation is headed.  The data was condensed down to five talking points which in turn guided and shaped the course of the rest of the conference, and which indicate our ever-evolving relationship to publishing.  These points are:

  1. Mobile overtakes tablets and dedicated e-readers as the device of choice […]
  2. Digital sales are still growing, but they are also slowing […]
  3. Self-love levels recede as many indie authors report lower satisfaction levels […]
  4. Publishing remains very much divided on matters digital […]
  5. … And the majority believe publishers remain unprepared for what is coming [….]

Today I’m going to examine the second of these points, having addressed #1 (the rise of mobile) in last week’s post.  Here’s what the final FutureBook publication says about digital sales, which continue to demonstrate significant growth––although perhaps also showing signs of plateauing :

digital sales

The data meshes nicely with a series I just finished two weeks ago (“The Current State of E-Readers | An Author’s Guide“), in which I lay out the reasons why slowed growth in both ebook and e-reader sales is both a cause for concern (less overhead profit coming in) and for optimism (a diversified, stabilizing market with more competition and more options for authors).  Much of the research I gathered there applies here, so I don’t want to sound like a broken record and repeat myself––but I do want to emphasize the last line in the FutureBook article:

“Publishers have found that digital technology makes producing and delivering audio much more straightforward, but many are concluding that apps are not worth the candle.”

I think this is an important sentence because nowhere else in the article do audiobooks earn a lot of love, and even in the data mentioned above, the statistics for digital audiobooks is combined with that for digital e-books (that is, the text-based variety that doesn’t involve voice actors and snappy narration). And if there’s one segment of the digital publishing industry that’s neglected here and deserves a second look, it’s the digital audiobook!  Readers love them, and so therefore authors are beginning to pay attention.

We all have probably heard about Amazon’s merger with Audible and their ACX offerings for digital audiobooks by now, but what we don’t know (necessarily) is that there’s a whole niche market out there for authors looking to self-published audio books outside of the ACX/Audible/Amazon umbrella.  This Publisher’s Weekly article, for example, takes a look not just at ACX but at smaller companies without big corporate backing, like Open Book Audio and Spoken Word––and other media are starting to take note, including MediaShift and Author Marketing Institute.

As with all aspects of self-publishing, producing an audiobook (either with or without ACX/Audible/Amazon involvement) is a time- and energy-intensive process that deserves both careful and cautious consideration before you decide to commit … or not to commit.  But if there’s anything I’ve learned from my years in the publishing industry, it’s that readers are inherently voracious and will devour good words wherever they find them and in as many formats as they can discover them … and that there’s no such thing as “standing still” when it comes to the evolution of book distribution technology.  We have, as authors, a responsibility to remain at the forefront of the digital evolution––not hanging back and attempting to deny the inevitable progress from one mode of consumption to another, but leading the way and cutting new paths for those who follow.  Only if we innovate can we stay relevant and useful to our readers.  And I fully believe it when I say your book deserves to be heard.*

 

* and yes, I know that’s a terrible pun!

 


Thank you for reading!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at selfpublishingadvice@gmail.com.  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of marketing musings from one indie, hybrid, and self-published author to another. ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

Demystifying the Digital Census : E-Readers are OUT, Mobile is IN

As promised in last week’s “News from the Self-Publishing World,” I’m going to take a closer look at the results of FutureBook‘s Digital Census of 2015 and break down just what the implications are for you and me, indie and self-published authors.  FutureBook, an offshoot of the well-known institution, The Bookseller, is now in its fifth year and rapidly becoming a litmus test for the emergence of digital technologies and their assimilation into common usage across the developed world.  The conference, which self-advertises as “bring[ing] together more than 50 speakers from across the media world for a day of reckoning, realisation and revivification,” may well come to guide these emergences as well as reflect upon them at some point in the future–it has become so important.

futurebook

This year, according to the FutureBook, the five main takeaways from the conference are as follows:

1. Mobile overtakes tablets and dedicated e-readers as the device of choice […]

2. Digital sales are still growing, but they are also slowing […]

3. Self-love levels recede as many indie authors report lower satisfaction levels […]

4. Publishing remains very much divided on matters digital […]

5. … And the majority believe publishers remain unprepared for what is coming [….]

I’m going to take these points one at a time, break them down, and hopefully unpack the important details.  Here’s what the final FutureBook publication says about mobile tablets and e-readers:

futurebook

This little summary is, of course, useful in its own way for delineating the boundaries of the conversation at hand–a conversation in which self-publishing authors have a great vested interest.  The stakes are high for those of us who depend upon ebook sales for our income, and so knowing where to focus our attentions (and, let’s face it, our money) is handy.  (And as we have suspected for a while, we should be focusing on the Kindle Store as a marketplace although perhaps not on the Kindle as a piece of hardware.  For more on that, take a look at my post on Kindles in the e-reader-related series I wrapped up last week.)  But there’s an aspect of the conversation that this summary neglects: why.

Why are e-readers diminishing in appeal?

Is it something to do with a lack of novelty (they’ve been around for a while now), or because the function of reading ebooks can be better performed with other hardware (like the iPad or iPhone), or because of something else entirely?  Reports from industry experts seem to suggest a little of all of the above.  One TechRadar article cites “multifunctionality” and “age” as driving the market these days, with readers under 25 reading far more ebooks than the national average but doing so with the devices they’re always carrying with them anyway–their phones.  This puts “a demographic bomb” under the e-reader, and as the devices’ primary user base ages out of the buying population, so too will the devices themselves.  And this Christian Science Monitor article argues that the whole system has been “top-heavy” from the beginning, with only a handful of companies getting in on the e-reader market in the first place and therefore rendering it fragile and dependent on sales figures that can swing dramatically from one quarter to another.  We can’t ignore those other voices, too–like this one from the Independent–that the act of turning a page on an ebook simply isn’t rich enough to edge out the superior experience of holding a print book in hand.

All this to say, we can’t afford to forget that any entry into the canon of Great Technologies can be supplanted by changes in market demands, ousted by demographic shifts, and displaced by some new shiny gadget.  Remember that whole “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” expression?  Well, it probably originated in the early 1700s, and we still eat eggs and put them in baskets today.  By which I mean to say: some things remain the same, and some things change.  It seems that what needs to stay the same is our dedication to adaptability in the rapidly changing world of self-publishing.


Thank you for reading!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at selfpublishingadvice@gmail.com.  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of marketing musings from one indie, hybrid, and self-published author to another. ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

News From the Self-Publishing World: 10/26/15

This week in the world of self-publishing:

This has been a huge week for self-publishing, in that there doesn’t seem to be a large media outlet left untouched.  Take this October 23rd article in Publishers Weekly, for example, in which contributor Alex Palmer demystifies a few tried-and-true self-marketing methods.  Why is this such a big deal?  For starters, when an industry giant like PW dedicates significant page-space to a (for lack of a better term) “self-help” piece specific to self-publishing authors … well, this is a tacit acknowledgement that there are enough self-publishing authors out there to make them a significant reading bloc that PW is clearly willing to go to great lengths to woo.  Ten years ago, or even five, PW would have been far more likely to publish “discovery” pieces aimed at readers (past, present, or future) of self-published books and traditional publishing experts, rather than self-publishing authors themselves.  So this is exciting.  And the tips Palmer lists (like: “call ahead to make an appointment with the librarian or bookstore owner rather than just appearing unannounced” and “build […] ties to communities long before books come out so [authors and librarians or booksellers] won’t be strangers when the time comes to ask for arranging author events and distribution”) pack a punch and are backed up with useful insights from a variety of experts.  This has to be one of the best (and most interesting) assistive pieces I’ve read this year.

Talk about making serious press with serious media outlets; this week in The Bookseller‘s “FutureBook” section, contributor Porter Anderson walks us through a variety of self-publishing related news items (some of them in the lead-up to a #FutureChat Twitter event on Oct 23), but far and away the most interesting (I find) is his commentary on the divisions and contentions that exist between the different players in publishing today, and between traditional publishers and the self-publishing author.  He asks the question: “Is independent publishing ‘the contrary’ of the Trade?” by which he means, “Do we really have to frame every conversation about self-publishing and traditional publishing as a case of binary opposites?”  (My wording on that one.)  This is partially in response to some comments made by Hachette Livre’s Arnaud Nourry at the recent Frankfurt Bookfair (in which he described self-publishing as “the contrary of my business. We look at books and decide what we do and do not want to invest in”).  Anderson comes to no conclusions, leaving the field open to conversation in the “FutureBook’s” #FutureChat and at the upcoming Author Day conference on November 30th in London.

You thought it couldn’t get any bigger, didn’t you?  Well, it did.  And by “it,” I mean “self-publishing authors making a big splash in major headlines this week.”  Take this October 20th article for People Magazine‘s online edition by contributor Drew Mackie, in which we are presented with exactly what the title promises: seven movies that have their roots in the self-publishing book industry.  The Martian has gotten plenty of press lately, and Still Alice made the rounds and raked in a whole bunch of awards as both a book club favorite and an indie film darling, but some of the other titles might surprise you: Legally Blonde, for example.  Who knew?  Not me.  And I certainly am excited to hear that Hugh Howey’s Wool has FINALLY been moved out of “Development Hell” and into pre-production.  Mackie quotes Howey as saying, “Traditional publishing is much too restrictive. I don’t want to pump out the same book over and over. I want to challenge myself and produce the work that I feel is missing from the marketplace.”  And that, dear readers, is exactly the kind of rip-roaring rallying cry we all need to hear once in a while!

This one goes out to those of you from across the Pond––no, the other pond.  Australian media supergiant Yahoo7 highlighted the accomplishments of a self-publishing Aussie in a detailed October 21st article by contributor Sophie Smith.  Beau Taplin, a native Melbournian, has been making waves not just in the self-publishing industry Down Under, but among celebrities the world over.  He counts Kim Kardashian, Jessica Stam, Sophia Bush, Bindi Irwin, and Lauren Phillips among his many readers, but far and away he can credit his social media prowess with garnering him a wide readership.  Writes Smith, “Mr Taplin is making a living from the full-time occupation [of writing] despite choosing not to refer his work, which has attracted 281,000 followers on Instagram, 16.3K on Twitter and 10,000 on Facebook, to a commercial publisher.”  Taplin, who self-professes to “lean toward the shy end of the spectrum,” sees the novel as falling naturally in line with the traditional publishing model––but he wanted to do something different.  His book, Buried Light, comprises only 100 pages of prose, but it has rapidly eclipsed Taplin’s previous two books in sales.  Of finding his voice through self-publishing, Taplin has much to say: “I was lost before this.”  You can read more about his book at the link.


As a self-publishing author, you may find it helpful to stay up-to-date on the trends and news related to the self-publishing industry.This will help you make informed decisions before, during and after the self-publishing process, which will lead to a greater self-publishing experience. To help you stay current on self-publishing topics, simply visit our blog every Monday to find out the hottest news. If you have other big news to share, please comment below.

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.