Paper Book Numbers Grow

As I have been saying over and over here, paper books and bookstores are not going away. Period. And indie publishers need to get their books into print as well as electronic. And get those paper books into stores.

So today, for those of you who do not believe me, there is hardcore data and evidence from the release of the Bowker book totals. (You know, the ISBN people.) However, for a conclusion from digging down into the mass of data released, a very short post on Cain’s New York Business written by Matthew Flann puts it clearly.

“The romance with the printed word shows no signs of abating. Despite the rapid growth in e-book sales in recent years, print book output in 2011 grew by 6%, to 347,178 titles, compared to the prior year.

The preliminary numbers released Tuesday by bibliographic database Bowker are “the most significant expansion in more than four years” in the traditional publishing sector, the company said in its annual report on U.S. print book publishing. The uptick was driven entirely by self-published titles. Without them, the number of print titles would have been flat.

“Much as e-books have been the sexier topic over the past few years, most people still read print books,” noted Michael Norris, a senior analyst with publishing research firm Simba Information.”

Holy, smokes, 6%!!  That’s some amazing growth.

You get the full summary article from Cain at

It’s short and clear to read. Now start thinking about getting your books into print, folks.

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22 Responses to Paper Book Numbers Grow

  1. joemontana says:

    You realize without WMG, it would have been -8%…


    • dwsmith says:

      LOL, Joemontana. But we don’t have most of our books in paper yet. We are working at a fast pace to fix that, however.

  2. Except that’s a growth in TITLES, not sales, isn’t it?

    Which is cool, but not proof that people are reading more print books. Only that they have most choices than ever before.

    (But even if sales were to shrink, I agree paper isn’t going away soon.)

  3. Cyn Bagley says:

    Thank you for the information. I now have many of my novels and collections on CreateSpace. Your info made me decide to do it. Now I need to get back to writing again.

    Hope you are doing well – Cyn

  4. Niki says:

    Hi Dean,
    Thanks to you and your blog, I now publish all my books both in ebook and print form simultaneously. I have to date published 5 children’s picture books with one more proof on the way, and one Time Travel novella. Because of all the great information you have on this blog, I wouldn’t do one without the other anymore. It was a learning curve, but I do have a background in graphic design. However, the last time I touched Indesign was when it was still called PageMaker, so I had some relearning to do. I’m so glad I did. Once I got the hang of it again, it really didn’t take all that much time to do both versions. I do wish I could use one file for both, but I don’t think it’s possible, unless you know something I don’t?

    Anyway, my brother is also a writer of some awesome thrillers, and I’ve been helping him get his books up in both print and ebook also. We both started publishing around last November, and we’re having a great time. (Our mother writes too, she’s done some short memoirs for ebook so far. :)
    So thank you for all your great information! We all plan to keep plugging away at it!

  5. Sharla Rae says:

    I love reading e-books on my i-Pad but there are times when a paperback is the only way to go and lets face it, no batteries required. From those of us who like to cuddle up in a recliner on a rainy evening with the real deal, thanks for this news. :)

  6. POD is one of my summer projects.

    I used PageMaker years back, then QuarkExpress, so I expect InDesign is going to be a bit of a learning curve. But I’m eager to move forward. Even with tech curve balls, I’ll have some design fun as well. And I sure don’t want to exclude readers of paper! (After all, I’m one myself!)

    Thanks for the latest print info!

    • InDesign still has a lot in common with Pagemaker. (Quark is very different.) If you remember PM well enough, your main problem will be that they’ve moved everything.

      • Excellent! I really liked PageMaker. Felt really comfortable using it. Quark . . . was never intuitive for me. I’m happy to hear that InDesign resembles the one, not the other! Thanks!

  7. It’s output not sales, which is why the indie dynamic matters. It’s counting my print copies which sell pitifully compared to my ebook copies. Keep in mind that BN is shrinking genre shelf space, so I’m not too sure about store demand for these. Sure, I could try to sell into stores, but that ain’t easy and it’s time consuming. A lot of work to get one or two titles on a shelf. I’d rather make print available and otherwise grow my readership and continue spending the bulk of my efforts on writing.

  8. I always planned to have my Civil War novels in print. Many Civil War buffs are older and prefer print, plus many print publications still want a print copy for review. Besides, with expanded distribution on Createspace people can request it for libraries! So far my print sales have lagged behind my ebook sales. That’s because my ebooks came out in November and I didn’t get the print versions out until April. My upcoming books will be published simultaneously in both formats.

  9. RD Meyer says:

    Paper books won’t disappear. There are some titles that are just better when in paper. However, the digital revolution is overtaking paper. That more titles have been produced doesn’t mean the trend in sales is headed or staying in that direction.

    Remember, the Internet was slow to catch on at first as well, but now most people use email or get their news online rather than via paper. Apart from an EMP reducing our grid to tatters, I’m not sure the trend can be stopped.

  10. Yeah, I think the link between having books produced in paper editions and the importance of the bookstore shelf isn’t really clear in this data.

    All my novels get produced in both paper and e-book editions. Not doing so is a good way to leave 10-15% of the money on the table. The 6% number surprised me because it’s so small – particularly since the summary points out that this growth is entirely due to the self-publishing movement.

    Possibly it’s because so many people are producing a lot of shorter works that don’t translate well to print (too short for economic paper production), but I suspect that the truth is so many people think producing the paper version is so much more complicated than it really is.

    • dwsmith says:

      Nathan, the reason the 6% number is so surprising is that it is higher than the normal industry book growth each year. Publishing in these numbers tends to be pretty consistent at 2%-4% growth year over year. And has been for decades, with a slight dip in the early recession year. 6% is off the charts in numbers when you look at the size of the business and the number of books being produced. That’s what is shocking people in the traditional world. They can feel the flattening of their numbers, so suddenly realizing the growth is huge (compared to normal) is shocking. And might wake some people up. At least the smart ones, not the ones running the Author’s Guild.

  11. Mark says:

    Yeah, it’s number of titles in print but it doesn’t say anything about sales. That’s the key point and we don’t know if number of print books increased.

    All the data I’ve been seeing over the last two years indicates that revenue from ebooks is rising and revenue from paper books is falling, most notably in mass market.

    So is paper going away? Not anytime soon but I could see a time maybe 10-15 years from now where paper books are a bit like vinyl records — still being made but for a niche audience. Even that’s a murky prediction. I don’t think e-readers are as much of an advance over print as portable digital music was over vinyl.

  12. Suz Korb says:

    No one can truly know the future of publishing, not even by following trends. It seems to me it might be a waste of my time and money to try and get paper versions of my books into stores, but POD on websites seems like a great idea. I mean, it can’t hurt to get your books out there in paper AND electronic formats for the time being, right? That way our books are available to those who prefer paper books, or those who only read eBooks and etc. At least until we know for sure that publishing is going the way of eBooks 100% – so to speak.

    • dwsmith says:

      Suz, I know for a fact that in my lifetime, your lifetime, and your kids lifetime, that books will not be 100% electronic. And that bookstores will exist in many different forms for that same period. I don’t know that from my perfect vision of the future, but of my study of the past of the publishing business. This is nothing new. Honest.

      I have no idea where this false belief that just because a segment of books goes a certain way means it will be 100%. That would be like saying when the pulp magazines came in, that all fiction in the future would be pulp magazines. Or that when paperbacks started to take off in the early 1940s and 1950s that there would never be a hardback again. Or like saying that when audio books came in that there would never be paper ever again. Or saying that when the trade paper format started to gain that it would be the only form of book.

      Electronic is a form of book. Nothing more. A delivery method and form. It will level around 35% of the total books sold, just as paperbacks did. By the way, audio books are the second fastest growing form of book these days.

      As a business person, it’s always better to not cut out customers for no reason. Just my opinion.

  13. Suz Korb says:

    Umm… I meant 100% as a joke. I said “so to speak” meaning eBook sales will be a lot higher in future. Guess I should have made that more clear. Sorry!

    And my opinion is the same as yours. I think customers should have books available to them in any and all formats possible.

  14. So print titles are up, and print sales are down. I’m not sure this is news… ;)

    What it does mean is that an awful lot of indie writers are doing what you suggest, Dean – getting the print book out there too.

    Really, does it matter if print drops to 10% of fiction sales, someday? Why would you deliberately give up even 10% of your income? *Of course* you ought to do a print version, even if it’s only 10% of sales. If you ask most businessmen if they think investing a little time or money once in exchange for a permanent 10% increase in revenue would be a good thing, I think most will say yes without hesitation.

    I think many indies don’t really understand print design; and print designers are still charging more for the job than ebook designers tend to, so it costs more to outsource. But it’s not that hard to learn to do yourself; and even if you drop a couple hundred dollars on outsourcing, that’s probably going to be worth it, in the long run.

    • Niki says:

      I agree that it’s worth it to have both, as I have stated above. In my opinion, based on experience, the reason print designers charge more than ebook designers is print is more complicated and time consuming. I explained the process to my brother like this – think of an ebook file as water or liquid. It moves. The reader can change the font size, and you don’t need page numbers because the pages flow plus a smaller cover. Think of a print file as stone. Pretty much says it all. Once it’s laid out, it doesn’t change. You need to figure font size, leading, margins, headers, footers, page numbers and twice the size cover as an ebook. When it’s set it’s set. Both processes can be learned, and with each book, gets easier, because you can use one book as a template for another.

      For novels or novellas, I write it in Word (for ebook), than either copy and past into Indesign or place it there for the printed book. Once there, I figure the details, font size etc.. But for my picture books, I figure the print book first, because I’ve been doing two page spreads. (I had to learn that). To turn it into an ebook, I take the words off the images, and cut the pages in half and put the words under each page, so the reader can adjust the font size. I don’t know how to do fixed layouts for the Kindle Fire yet, but it’s on my to do list.
      Sorry the long post, maybe it can be helpful to someone. :)

  15. Mark says:

    The question isn’t whether it makes sense to do a POD version. It’s whether it makes sense to make the effort to try to get the titles into bookstores and if bookstores will be an increasing or decreasing source of sales.

    I suspect bookstores will decline and sales therein will also decline. That’s my feeling. I think that the combination of rising ebook sales and internet sales (Amazon and B&N) will continue to squeeze bookstores, especially in fiction. (They’ll hold the line better with non-fiction and children’s books.)

    So as an indie with limited resources, how best to devote those resources? If you’re WMG with 100+ titles it makes sense to try to sell to bookstores. As an indie with a handful? Probably better to do POD and let Amazon and B&N sell your paper books, and maybe try to get some local distribution in bookstores where you live.

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