At the uPublishU conference held June 3 at the Jacob Javits Center in New York just before the official opening of BookExpo America, Kelly Gallagher, v-p of publisher services at Bowker, offered the most detailed analysis yet of the characteristics of the self-publishing market.

Looking at overall growth, Bowker reported that 211,269 titles were self-published in 2011 in either print or digital form, compared to 133,036 in 2010. (The number of titles is based on registered ISBNs.) Gallagher observed that while the increase in output is a sign of a vibrant market, he also pointed out that the growing number of titles represents increased competition among self-published authors vying to get their books noticed by the reading public or a larger publisher.

Beyond documenting the surge in the number of self-published titles released last year, Gallagher presented information on who is buying self-published titles and what types of books they are purchasing. While women bought more units than men last year, 62% and 38% respectively, men spent more money on self-published books, 56% of sales. The difference, Gallagher explained, is that men tend to buy more of the expensive academic/professional and nonfiction titles than women, who dominate the fiction buyers. The age of buyers is pretty evenly divided among the major age groups. Those buying the most titles are in the 30-to-44-year-old age bracket, closely followed by the 18-to-29-year-olds (25%) and those 65 and older (24%).

Fiction was the largest category in 2011, accounting for 45% of units, but because of the lower prices of fiction works, the segment only accounted for 25% of spending on self-published books last year. The highest amount was in the nonfiction segment, which accounted for 38% of spending despite selling many fewer units. The juvenile segment was a relatively small portion of sales in 2011, representing 9% of spending and 11% of units.

The reason for the nonfiction segment’s ability to capture a higher percentage of dollars than units can be seen in the average price consumers paid for self-published books last year. The nonfiction category easily had the highest average price per title, at $19.32; the average price paid for a fiction book was $6.94, the lowest among all segments.

Consumers bought more paperbacks in 2011 than any other format and spent more on that format as well. According to Bowker, paperbacks represented 47% of self-published units purchased last year, but accounted for 75% of spending. While e-books were a close second in terms of units, at 41%, they trailed significantly in the spending category, accounting for only 11% of sales. The reason for the difference is easy to see: the average price paid for an e-book was $3.18 last year compared to $12.68 for a paperback and $14.40 for a hardcover.

Gallagher said that later this year Bowker will release a White Paper on the self-publishing market that will include more analysis of the dynamics of the segment.

New Tool Aims to Help Self-Published Authors Market E-books

A BookStub is a wallet-sized plastic card featuring an image of the author’s book cover on one side, and an individual product code, QR code, and download instructions on the other.

According to Author Solutions—which has published more than 150,000 authors and 190,000 titles—authors can use BookStubs like business cards, carrying promotional copies of their e-books with them at all times and distributing them to potential readers or book reviewers. Each BookStub can then be redeemed for one free e-book via the publisher’s online bookstore.

“Authors still have a great desire to connect with readers and promote their books,” says Keith Ogorek, senior v-p of marketing at Author Solutions, noting that while this sort of marketing is possible at book signings of print editions, authors promoting e-books have traditionally had limited options.

“If you have an e-book, how can you give someone a sample of that and make it feel personal, like you’ve connected with the reader?” Ogorek says. “That’s really how the BookStub idea came about.”

According to Ogorek, authors can even autograph BookStubs before handing them out to fans or potential readers.“How do you capture the experience of a book signing or the experience of connecting with the reader by giving them a physical copy of your book in a digital work? The answer is BookStubs.”

BookStubs are available as part of publishing packets for all authors self-publishing via any Author Solutions imprint, including Abbott Press, AuthorHouse, Balboa Press, Inspiring Voices, iUniverse, Palibrio, Trafford, and Westbow Press, and the company’s DIY e-book publishing platform, Booktango.

Additionally, Author Solutions is currently developing—a site where potential readers will be able to register to get free BookStubs and participate in online book signing events, according to Ogorek.

And when that launches, Ogorek says, BookStubs may be available to all authors, regardless of their publishing company. “We don’t see any reason why this wouldn’t be available to traditional publishers and other self-publishers,” Ogorek says. “The technology that we have and the ability for us to create BookStubs is something that any publisher could take advantage of. And we expect that will happen in due time.”

--Adam Boretz