On March 24, 2016 Bowker –the US company that issues International Standard Book Numbers or ISBNs- published a study that reviewed the growth of self-publishing from 2010- 2015 (Bowker 2016). Their study found that during that time the number of self-published books grew by 375% (Quartz 2016). This number may seem hyperbolic but Publisher Weekly recently published an article on the resurrection of the Horror genre through self-publishing that would suggest this number is in fact accurate. What’s more, this exponential growth is being encouraged and supported by none other than publishing antagonist, Amazon.
In an article published on the Publishers Weekly website author Nicole Audrey Spector interviews some of the most prolific and well-known self-published authors. The article specifically looks at the resurgence of the Horror genre as evidence for the success of self-publishing. Each author had their own back-story on how they came to be self-published and why they continued to do so even after gaining popularity. For all their differences the commonality amongst all the authors include persistent rejection from major publishers and lack of autonomy in traditional publishing. As author Martin Kee explains it, Horror is so readily rejected by traditional publishers because its “a genre with rabid, but small, fan bases and obsessive authors; it’s a hard genre to sell.” Spector suggests that the reason it is so hard a sale is due to the fractured and versatile nature of the genre; Horror is made up of many subgenres including but not limited to supernatural horror, postapocalyptic horror, fantasy horror, sci-fi horror, comedy horror, and of course vampires, werewolves, and zombies.
What was once a stigmatized genre well on its way to decline is now a thriving enterprise thanks to self-publishing and the benevolence of Amazon. In 2007 Amazon launched the Kindle Direct Publishing platform that allows authors to bypass the hurdles of traditional publishing for a 30% cut (Lamron 2016). Kindle Direct is not the only platform of this nature; other such platforms include Xlibris, Nook Press, Smashwords, LuLu, Blurb, Author House, and Create Space, another Amazon platform (Quartz). More and more authors are turning to self-publishing to find the autonomy and financial gains that are more difficult to achieve through traditional publishing. Author Susan Goggins relates how difficult it was to work with her old publisher Ballantine arguing that the slow moving nature of traditional publishing greatly impacted the success of her writing: “by the time they released the first of our vampire series- two years after we submitted the [manuscripts]- my writing partner and I missed out on the booming subgenre of vampire books and paranormal romance; control over timing is so important” (Publishers Weekly, 2016). In addition to autonomy authors like the fact that they get to keep more of the revenue from book sales. Many authors don’t expect to get rich and are really content just to break even. Some of the authors interviewed reported making as little as $20 a month off of their sales while others had seen an 133% return on investment (Quartz). Author Willow Rose found self-publishing to be so lucrative that she and her husband quit their day jobs and are now both working on her writing and marketing full-time. Rose is so successful that she is able to make six-figures and has developed a strong, diversified fan base that is steadily growing with each new publication.
To be sure most self-published authors are not able to quit their day jobs but as Spector’s article shows the concept of self-publishing is gaining ground. The once strongly held notion that self-published books were not good enough because a traditional publisher doesn’t back them is giving way to the entrepreneurial spirit. The big six should be worried as their once proud oligarchy is now under threat in the realms of both ebooks and audiobooks. The rise of services such as those offered by Amazon have made it easier for authors to deliver their content direct to the consumer with relative success. But one question still remains: What is in it for Amazon? Other than the 30% premium they receive from authors on their platform, what benefit does Amazon derive from this business model? Could this be a purely altruistic act or could it be that they are playing with a long game in mind? In either case one thing is for certain: Amazon is playing for keeps.
Bowker. Self-Publishing in the United States, 2010-2015. Rep. R. R. Bowker, 24 Mar. 2016. Web. 22 Oct. 2016. <http://media.bowker.com/documents/bowker-selfpublishing-report2015.pdf>.
Ha, Thu-Huong. “Amazon Has Cornered the Future of Book Publishing.” Quartz. N.p., 15 Sept. 2016. Web. 22 Oct. 2016. <http://qz.com/780897/amazon-has-cornered-the-future-of-book-publishing/>.
Noel, Richard. “Rise of Self-publishing Lends Authors Creative Freedom – The Lamron.” The Lamron Rise of Selfpublishing Lends Authors Creative Freedom Comments. The Lamron, 23 Sept. 2016. Web. 22 Oct. 2016. <http://thelamron.com/2016/09/23/rise-self-publishing-lends-authors-creative-freedom/>.
Spector, Nicole Audrey. “Horror Authors Take a Stab at Self-Publishing.” PublishersWeekly.com. Publishers Weekly, 21 Oct. 2016. Web. 22 Oct. 2016. <http://www.publishersweekly.com/paper-copy/by-topic/authors/pw-select/article/71828-horror-authors-take-a-stab-at-self-publishing.html>.