Jane Friedman, a self-publishing guru and formerly one of the powers behind Writers Digest, shares some thoughts on the current trend toward print supposedly coming back. Backing up her analysis with charts, Friedman effectively echoes some of the other things publishing industry pundits have been saying already—but it’s still worth taking a second look.
First of all, Friedman discusses the trend toward a flattening e-book market. She ascribes this decline to higher trad-pub e-book prices, as well as swiftly declining Nook sales. In particular, she points out that one big reason for the decline is the lack of any new breakout young-adult franchise hit. “I hope it gives you pause to learn that the absence of a Harry Potter book or a new YA series can directly affect how well the industry does in a given year,” she adds.
Next, Friedman addresses the myth of the resurgence of print sales. She reaches the same conclusion as Mike Shatzkin’s anonymous commenter back in March. (I wonder if that commenter was Friedman herself?) The rise in sales is more than accounted for by the sudden interest in adult coloring books—they went from one million sales in 2014 to 12 million sales in 2015. “Once interest cools off, what do you expect will happen to print sales?”
And finally, she points to a chart from Nielsen that tracks Big 5 publisher market share versus self-published and self-published plus very small publishers, to show that as Big 5 market share has declined from 46% to 34% over the last four years, self-published has risen from 5% to 12% and self plus very small has risen from 19% to 42%—and that’s not even all the data, because Nielsen can’t track all the self-pub titles without ISBNs that Amazon carries. Friedman concludes:
Carry a big dose of skepticism, and look at possible underlying agendas, when you hear celebrations about print’s comeback. While I’m not at all proclaiming the death of print or traditional publishers, few media outlets have an understanding of the big picture.
I wonder if she’s looked at the latest Author Earnings figures? Since Data Guy’s presentation at Digital Book World, the level of respect for the report among the traditional publishing world has been growing considerably, and it’s always helpful to have more data. Likewise, it’s also helpful to have Nielsen’s data verifying some of the conclusions it’s reaching.
It’s also nice to see more and more industry experts starting to agree that traditional publishing has a problem. Perhaps the next step can be figuring out exactly how to fix it.
Correction: A very early version of this story erroneously attributed the quoted comments to another Jane Friedman, founder of Open Road Integrated Media.