More Data on the Number of On-demand Titles in 2008

May 23, 2009 by Thad McIlroy

To find out the inside scoop on stories like that reported in my previous blog entry, I’m now subscribing to Publishers Lunch Deluxe newsletter, which I receive as part of a $20/month membership to Publishers Marketplace. Thus far I’m finding it to be of excellent value for my research and understanding of what’s happening in the world of trade publishing.

Today’s issue features a long article that goes into considerable detail on “the headline that rocked the book industry” a few days back, namely “Number of On-demand Titles Topped Traditional Books in 2008″. Of course the real story is quite different than that lurid headline implied.

It”s not appropriate to quote the article in full, but I’ll extract a few facts. The unnamed author of the story states that his or her source was Bowker executive Kelly Gallagher (he is General Manager of Bowker’s Business Intelligence Segment).

1. The distinction that Bowker made between on-demand and traditional books refers solely to the manufacturing method: traditional offset printing, versus much more recent digital print-on-demand technologies. So the number can’t be interpreted as equal to the number of self-published titles. It refers only to books printed digitally, and assigned a new ISBN number. Traditional book publishing companies are increasingly turning to this newer technology to publish books in short runs where offset would be too expensive (although Bowker has not yet done the analysis to determine what percentage of the books derived from what type of company).

2. The whole self-publishing industry is, statistically speaking, a mess. For example, according to Lulu.com’s Corporate Profile page, in 2008 “Lulu alone published over 400,000 titles.” Blurb.com claims it published 300,000 titles in 2008. That’s 700,000 from just two companies! But as Publishers Lunch points out, “a lot of the output from outfits like Lulu.com…and Blurb.com never get ISBN numbers at all (it’s an optional service at many such companies).”

3. Further compounding the muted value of Bowker’s numbers is that no eBooks are included, whether from Amazon or elsewhere.

4. I had heard just last month from my colleague George Alexander that there is a new class of publisher that is just grabbing as many out of print books as it can, scanning them, and tossing the whole lot onto Amazon to be printed on demand when the occasional order is placed. Kessinger Publishing, for example, has over 33,000 titles listed on Amazon, all of these with new ISBNs. I feel that adding these titles to Bowker’s annual new title output just misleads the industry about what’s really happening in publishing in America. Searching for Kessinger titles on Amazon, the first on the list is Ernest Holmes’ (1887-1960) Your Invisible Power. The book appears to be a combination of Christian reflection and mystic meanderings. Its 52 pages retail for $13.22 and its Amazon.com sales rank is #802,616 in books. Another firm, BiblioBazaar has over 37,000 listings on Amazon.

The Well-Designed Cover of "Your Invisible Power"

The well-designed cover of "Your Invisible Power"

So stay tuned, as the industry associations and analysts burn the midnight oil trying to get a handle on statistics that reveal, rather than conceal.

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