Ten years ago, at StreetLib we embarked on a journey to establish one of Italy’s pioneering self-publishing distribution platforms. Back then, prevailing industry sentiment asserted that self-published books inherently lacked quality.
According to Bookstat, self-published titles captured 51% of all online unit sales and 34% of revenue in 2022, as reported by Publishers Weekly. This seismic digital shift, largely driven by the soaring popularity of e-books, which saw 526 million sold in the U.S. in 2022, has democratized publishing, enabling countless individuals to share their literary creations.
While traditional publishers in the Western world remained tethered to print, independent authors worldwide ventured into uncharted territory, embracing online reading platforms, serial platforms, and webtoons—alternative mediums offered by tech giants that have expanded the boundaries of the literary world.
At StreetLib, our mission has remained persistent since the outset: to empower both independent authors and traditional publishers, allowing them to maximize the potential of their literary endeavors. We facilitate the distribution of their digital content across many platforms, encourage the adoption of varied business models, and extend their reach to any possible corner of the globe. Through years of firsthand experience, we have discerned several key aspects in the evolution of the self-publishing landscape.
Firstly, as social media platforms grow stronger, the role of self-publishing has expanded beyond its traditional boundaries. Authors now view self-publishing not merely as a means to showcase their work, but also as a strategic stepping stone to secure traditional publishing deals and foreign rights sales.
Secondly, the once-clear demarcation between author and publisher has blurred in recent years, giving rise to a new breed of literary entrepreneurs known as author-publishers. These are talented self-published authors who assume control by establishing their own publishing imprints, leveraging their industry knowledge. This trend not only empowers authors with greater creative control but also fuels their exploration of innovative marketing strategies and distribution channels.
Thirdly, after enduring years of stigma, the industry is beginning to embrace self-publishing as a legitimate pathway for authors to share their stories with the world. This shift in perspective serves as a testament to the exceptional quality and diverse voices that self-publishing has propelled to the forefront.
As the book publishing industry moves toward digital transformation across multiple formats and workflows, I firmly believe that the developments of the past decade stand as a robust cornerstone for the future of digital publishing, including the self-publishing sector. Several generational trends, in my view, will chart the course for the industry.
The first of these is the further internationalization of the industry. Right now, the U.S.’s online population represents less than 10% of the global total, which means there is far greater potential in the broader, global market. To address this, indie authors and publishers should consider embracing digital formats, expanding their digital distribution to new countries, and adopting new business models such as subscriptions, which are more popular in price-sensitive countries in Europe and elsewhere.
Second, audiobooks. It’s no secret audiobooks open doors to a new audience that may not engage in traditional reading, broadening the reach of authors and publishers. Gaining organic visibility through audiobook streaming platforms and employing innovative marketing techniques, such as playlist promotion, will be imperative for all types of publishers. Crafting shorter, episodic content helps control production costs and maintain a consistent release schedule for visibility.
Community building is a third pillar of this work. In an increasingly creator-centric media landscape, indie authors must be able to connect with niche communities and must adapt to the new ways of community building. Cross-platform interaction, rather than linear outreach and distribution, will become a crucial strategy for engaging dedicated readers, listeners, and fans.
Finally, incorporating the use of AI technology can be an empowering tool for all. Rather than fearing that AI might replace writers, indie authors are well-positioned to seamlessly integrate AI tools into their everyday publishing processes.
Over the last decade, self-publishing has undergone a remarkable transformation. It has evolved from being a mere alternative to traditional publishing into a formidable force that is reshaping the future of the literary world. As we step into the next decade, we anticipate numerous exciting developments and remain committed to building the publishing service that the new generations of authors and publishers rightfully deserve.