Last week, Bowker released its periodic report on ISBN output in the self-publishing field, updated with 2016 and 2017 figures.
There are many interesting bits of information in the report–including CreateSpace’s hulking dominance of the field, with more than 10 times the output of its closest competitor, Smashwords (although it should be said that the usefulness of this comparison–and of the figures themselves–in assessing the growth of self-publishing is undercut by the omission of popular self-pub platforms like IngramSpark and Draft2Digital, and also by the fact that many authors who employ these services don’t use ISBNs at all).
What I want to focus on, though, is Author Solutions–where ISBN output is a useful measure of overall activity, since all AS publishing packages include ISBN assignment.
In previous posts, I’ve followed AS’s steady decline, from an all time high of 52,548 ISBNs in 2011 (one year before Pearson bought it and folded it into Penguin), to less than half that in 2015 (the same year that Penguin unloaded it to a private equity firm called Najafi Companies*).
In the latest version of Bowker’s report, that slide continues. 2016 did see a small post-Najafi uptick, from 24,587 to 30,288; but in 2017 the freefall resumed, with ISBNs dropping to 25,971–just slightly above 2015’s output. A few of the individual imprints do show negligible increases, but for the most part they all go down (by four figures in the case of AuthorHouse).
Looking separately at print and ebooks, it’s clear that the decline is primarily driven by print. Between 2012 and 2017, print ISBNs dropped by nearly half. There’s no 2016 bump–in fact the numbers continue to fall–and output plunges more than 18% in 2017.
Turning to ebooks, we can see that the 2016 bump in overall ISBNs was entirely due to ebooks, which decreased drastically in 2015 but more than doubled the following year. In 2017, though, the trend reasserts itself. Although some imprints do show gains, the net result is a drop of 6%–less than print, but down is down.
AS’s long, slow fade says a lot about how self-publishing has changed over the past decade, and it’s both good and bad news. The costly and often deceptive “assisted self-publishing” services that proliferated in the early days of digital publishing are gradually being supplanted by better options, and authors who are savvier about self-publishing know to avoid them. At the same time, though, the self-publishing field is increasingly monopolized by Amazon. And at least for now, the bad old services like AS are still managing to snag enough customers to hang on.**
* Worth noting: AS’s timeline of significant events in its history, which makes much of its acquisition by Pearson/Penguin, somehow doesn’t mention anything about its sale to Najafi Companies.
Najafi appears to have made some pretty drastic changes after it took over. According to one former employee, posting on Glassdoor,
Other Glassdoor reviews confirm this information. I guess authors aren’t the only ones getting screwed.
** As are the scams–in particular the growing number of Author Solutions copycat companies run out of the Philippines, in many cases by ex-Author Solutions call center staff.