A 21st century publishing revolution? John Peters looks at the post-publication environment and its unlikely heroes.
If we reflect on the publishing landmarks of the early 21st century so far, we may first thinkof JK Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Dan Brown and Stieg Larsson. The multimillion- selling epics of good and evil, love and loss, vampires and wizards, puzzles, detectives, hackers and criminals have been credited with turning an entire generation of teenagers (and quite a few adults) into avid readers, and with reviving a flagging fiction industry.
But when they write the history of publishing in the early 21st century, I wonder if it won’t list heroes altogether more unlikely than Harry Potter and Bella Swan. For example, John Locke, insurance salesman from Louisville, Kentucky, who in 2011 became the first self-published author to clock up one million sales of digitally-downloaded books. Or Amanda Hocking, who signed a $2m contract with St martin’s Press in march 2011, on the back of hundreds of thousands of e-book sales (teen vampire romance again) on amazon’s Kindle store.
Locke and hocking are unlikely new heroes of a revolution in publishing, which is taking place on several fronts. not just the switch from ink on paper to ‘e-ink’, but the fragmentation and unpredictability which is coming from authors disintermediating traditional supply chains and finding smart ways to go more directly to market. even the textbook market is getting in on the action: according to social learning platform, Xplana, one in four college textbooks will be digital by 2015, with growth of between 80% and 100% over the next four years.
Venerable bibliographic data provider, Bowker’s industry stats show that in 2004, just over 275,000 ‘regular’ books were published. a further 20,000 or so ‘non traditional’ books (described as “reprints, often public domain, and other titles printed on-demand”) were published; less than 7% of the total output (table 1 – overleaf).
By 2010, ‘traditional’ new titles published had grown to 316,000 – a steady 14% growth over the seven year period. But, in the same period, ‘non-traditional’ titles had exploded to a mind-boggling 2.7million; a 130-times increase, now comprising more than 90% of total new titles. the world is certainly changing – and publishers are finding the changes challenging and unpredictable. Amazon announced in may 2011 that Kindle e-books are now out-selling paperback and hardback titles combined. Only a month before, the Bookseller’s Phillip Jones was quoted as saying “the most bullish predictions suggest that e-books will account for 50 per cent of the us market by 2014 or 2015, and then will probably plateau.” the
UK’s Yorkshire Post reported in august 2011 that “in January  digital popular fiction comprised three per cent of consumer sales; by early summer they were six per cent, and they’ve now hit 10 per cent”.
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