America's small publishers are a fast-growing and undercounted group, with estimated total revenue last year of $29.4 billion, according to a new study by the Publishers Marketing Association titled "The Rest of Us 2003: An Update of the 1998 Report on America's Independent, Smaller Book Publishers." The report found that sales from small publishers have increased at a 21% annual rate for the last five years.
The revenue estimate is based on the 73,000 publishers listed by R.R. Bowker that offer between one and 10 active titles. If the next tier of publishers is included, those with 11 to 199 active titles, the revenue estimate jumps to $34.3 billion. Even the smaller estimate exceeds total market figures on small publishers released by other industry groups, such as the Association of American Publishers.
"What we extrapolate from all this information is that the smaller and independent publishers are not represented in those other publisher figures. How much they are not represented is anybody's guess," said Tom Woll, president of Cross River Publishing Consultants, which conducted the study for the PMA.
By calling attention to the sheer size of the small press community, the PMA hopes to increase independent publishers' clout within an industry that has become increasingly dominated by a handful of giant companies. Retailers and wholesalers "have tended to create barriers that make business relations more difficult for many independent and smaller publishers," the report said.
The publishers included in the study are generally quite small, with 70% reporting sales of $100,000 or less. But the fastest growth is coming from publishers with revenues of $120,000 or more. The study also shows that 43% of the publishers had been in business five years or less, while another 20% had been operating between six and 10 years.
Among the study's other findings was that these publishers had generally modest print runs, most often between 2,000 and 5,000 copies, about the same as when the first study was done five years ago. One aspect that has changed is their reliance on the Web. In the new study, 64% of publishers that have up to 10 titles sell through the Internet, up from 19% five years earlier.