Self-Publishing Maturing, Up 17% Last Year in the U.S.

The self-publishing market is entering a new stage of maturity after an initial boom several years ago, according to Bowker’s latest analysis of ISBN registrations in the U.S. from 2008 through 2013.

To be sure, not all self-published authors obtain ISBNs for their work, but among those that have done so to date, their output of titles is increasing. The number of ISBNs registered in 2013 rose nearly 17% from the previous year.

That growth comes not from ebooks, which actually dropped 1.6% during that period, but from print titles, which rose 29%.

Bowker researchers conclude that the self-publishing market is “stabilizing as the trend of self-publisher as business-owner, rather than writer only, continues.”

The full report and breakdown of the data is available here.

Related: Atria Publisher Judith Curr Talks Self-Publishing Decision-Making at Digital Book World 2015

[Press Release]

NEW PROVIDENCE, N.J., Oct. 8, 2014 /PRNewswire/ — A new analysis of U.S. ISBN data by ProQuest affiliate Bowker reveals that the number of self-published titles in 2013 increased to more than 458,564, up 17 percent over 2012 and 437 percent over 2008. Print titles were up a very strong 29 percent over 2012, indicating the format’s continuing relevance to self-publishers. While self-publishing continues to grow, the pace appears to be normalizing after several explosive years.

Read Bowker’s report on self-publishing here:

“Our general conclusion is that self-publishing is beginning to mature. While it continues to be a force to reckon with, it is evolving from a frantic, wild-west style space to a more serious business,” said Beat Barblan, Bowker Director of Identifier Services. “The market is stabilizing as the trend of self-publisher as business-owner, rather than writer only, continues.”

The analysis also shows:

Print books have strong value to self-published authors, enabling them to reach a broad audience, often via independent bookstores.

A handful of companies continue to dominate the publishing services sector for independent authors. More than 75 percent of self-published titles with ISBNs came to market with support from just three companies: Smashwords, CreateSpace and Lulu.

Bowker’s analysis is based on ISBN registrations in the U.S. The vast majority of books in all formats have an ISBN. In addition to the obvious benefit of ensuring unequivocal and clear identification, ISBN registrations – and accompanying metadata from publishers – reveal market trends and enable insights into emerging areas.

Bowker provides a spectrum of services for small publishers through resources such as, and To view Bowker’s 2013 report on self-publishing visit

About Bowker® (
Bowker® is the world’s leading provider of the bibliographic information that connects publishers, authors, booksellers, and libraries with readers. The company has a 140+year history of organizing and applying metadata for books to support industrywide efficiency. With an expanded focus on Identifier Services (, Bowker provides resources to make authors’ and publishers’ titles more discoverable. Through its Books In Print® data services – including the industry leading Books In Print® database — Bowker provides tools to promote, organize and sell books, supporting such ProQuest services as Syndetic Solutions™, Books In Print online, and the new library management system Intota™ Assessment, as well as discovery systems for book retailers and providers around the world. As the official ISBN Agency for the United States and its territories and Australia, Bowker makes books easier for people to discover, evaluate, order, and experience. A ProQuest affiliate, Bowker is headquartered in New Providence, New Jersey with additional operations in the United Kingdom and Australia.

10 thoughts on “Self-Publishing Maturing, Up 17% Last Year in the U.S.

  1. Ebook Bargains UK

    It’s worth bearing in mid that many indie authors use the free ISBN provide by CreateSpace in their ebooks, contrary to the clear guidelines that ebooks and print books require a separate ISBN each.

    One reason for that of course is the extortionate prices Bowker and Nielsen charge for an ISBN.

    But those who can easily afford it also follow this path.

    Take the Amazon imprints. Check out the Thomas & Mercer ebooks and you’ll find they all carry the exact same ISBN as the print books.

    As an example, try ISBN 9781935597216, which is Joe Konrath’s Shaken, as e-published in the Kindle store by Thomas & Mercer using the print-assigned ISBN.

  2. Michael W. Perry

    I’m not quite sure what Bowker means by self-publishing maturing. Given their policy of overcharging for small ISBN purchases, it probably means that the company is selling a lot of ISBN’s to self-publishing authors at those inflated prices. All that’s becoming established it a bad idea, using a printed barcode scheme for ebooks rather than something far better.

    As a publisher who owns a block of 1,000 ISBNs, I can laugh at that policy as far as I am concerned. But I do feel for many a struggle new author has to defer taking the kids on a picnic because of what Bowker is calling market maturation. I call it greed and indifference.

    I wouldn’t call the market mature. Mature markets function efficiently. Today’s market is vastly less mature than when I entered publishing in 1999. Then releasing a book meant sending two files to Lightning Source and releasing it to Ingram a few days later. Within two weeks, that book was available in bookstores, online and retail, around the world. That’s a mature market, smooth and efficient.

    Today’s publishing isn’t like that. I know publishers who feel that, in addition to traditional printing or Lightning Source POD, they must release a book through Amazon’s CreateSpace, lest the nasty little thugs who haunt the company’s executive suites, (again) send down an order to delay shipping or yank Buy buttons from non-CreateSpace POD titles.

    Releasing digital is remains messy. The good news is that almost every ebook retailer now accepts Epub as a standard and ereaders are rapidly becoming Epub 3.0 compliant. Even better, the latest version of InDesign can export PDF and both reflowable and fixed-layout epub from the same document as that used for printing.

    The hold-out, as we all know, is that author/publisher-hating troll that lurks on the shores of Seattle’s South Lake Union. It not only insists on sticking to its own proprietary ebook standards, it won’t lift a finger to help those who need to create an ebook that’s more complex than a simple novel. Pity those who want to create digital versions of their textbooks or cookbooks.

    With InDesign now creating, in a couple of minutes, a fixed-layout Epub that looks identical to its print counterpart, I queried Kindle support staff as to whether Amazon’s software would at least convert fixed-layout Epub to Amazon’s mysterious KF8 format. I was told to contact third-party companies. Pay perhaps thousands of dollars for what InDesign can do for iPads, Nooks, and Kobo readers for free? No thanks, you Amazon SOBs.

    I happen to know that Adobe, whose InDesign team is only a few minutes drive away from that troll’s lair, is quite eager to add KF8 capabilities to InDesign to round out its feature set. Amazon, notorious tightwad as it is, wouldn’t even have to update its buggy and out-of-date Kindle plug-in for InDesign. It could simply assist Adobe in the process. After all, its only Amazon that knows KF8.

    So no, while the self-publishing market and digital publishing in general is maturing, it can’t become mature as long as Amazon sits astride the market, acting like the rich kid on a playground who insists that, because the bat and ball are his, everyone must play by his rules.

    Today’s messy and complex publishing market will only mature when:

    1. Amazon reforms and begins to behave like an adult. Not likely.

    2. Amazon’s ebook market share slides to the point where it has to cooperate. That’s unlikely as long as Apple remains unwilling to pour financial resources into competing with Amazon on ebooks. Every Mac and iDevice sold this Christmas season should come with a substantial iBookstore coupon to get users habituated to using iBooks.

    3. We toss Democrats out of Congress this November, leading to congressional investigations in both houses, and we elect a Republican to the White House in 2016, ridding ourselves of the current corrupt, Chicago-machine DOJ. But will that help? I suspect not. It probably means that the D party’s extorting money from large corporations for favors will be replaced by the R party’s pitiful zeal to appear as the friend of big business. Poor R’s. They don’t realize that, faced with a choice between an extortion’s threat and a nice guy, big business (except for the brave Koch brothers) will put their money into the Ds.

    4. Publishers and independent authors display backbone and make life difficult for Amazon until it quits acting like a spoiled brat. Publishers will, if brave Hachette is any indication. But independent authors? Probably not. I’ve never had to deal with a more mousy group of people in my entire life. No matter how badly Amazon underpays and abuses many such authors, they remain its loyal fanboys. \Kick me again, Amazon,\ they seem to be saying repeated. \Pay me 35% royalties when Apple pays 70%. I don’t care. Charge me a grossly inflated download fee for my books. I don’t mind being ripped off.\ It’s disgusting.

    Many of these little authors foolishly think it was Amazon that gave them their chance when POD made self-publishing easy. It wasn’t. It was Lightning Source and a host of author-assisting companies like Lulu who printed through Lightning Source. Amazon wasn’t favoring any sort of authors, self-publishing or otherwise. It simply offered every book that Ingram distributed. It was the fact that every Lighting Source title could be fed into Ingram that revolutionized self-publishing, given Ingram’s huge reach.

    Patience, I keep telling myself. Despite all the efforts of that ugly troll, the book publishing and distributing market is getting better. It just takes time.

    –Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books

  3. Joe Mighty

    It’s far higher than 17%. Most self-pubbers either use free, POD assigned ISBNs or, for ebooks, don’t use any at all. Also, many self-pubbers use publishing house names, so there’s no real way to know if they’re self-published.

    So Bowker is only scraping the surface here.

    1. ebookbargainsuk

      Joe, any self-pubbers using a facility like Smashwords or Draft 2 Digital will have an ISBN assigned if they haven’t got their own, so will be incluied in the Bowker seep. many of the titles on Amazon without ISBNs will also be elsewhere via Smashwords or D2D so again will have been included.

      Titles exclusive to Amazon will not have been taken into account, but that total is not going to vastly increase the percentage Bowker cites.

      1. Joe Mighty

        Apparently you’ve misunderstood, MOST self-publishers don’t bother with ISBN numbers for their ebooks. The only time it’s necessary is when you’re uploading an ebook to iBooks, which is when Smashwords and D2D uploads them for you. Apple is the only retailer who demands ISBN numbers for ebooks. B&N, Kobo and Amazon don’t. And you don’t have to be exclusive to Amazon to say no to ISBNs.

        So if you’re counting self-publishers, you’re likely only counting those at Apple, which is only a small percentage of self-publishers overall, since most of them make very little money in iBooks and have either abandoned it or don’t bother in the first place.

        Your reply demonstrates your basic lack of knowledge about self-pubbing.

        1. Tony Hursh

          Actually, Apple hasn’t required ISBNs for several years now. I don’t know why Smashwords still requires you to have an ISBN for publishing to Apple; Apple itself doesn’t care any more than Amazon or B&N do.

          That only serves to amplify your overall point that most indie/self-pubbed authors aren’t bothering with ISBNs, of course.

  4. Andrew

    I’m an indie and, as a Canadian, I have access to unlimited free ISBN numbers. I have my own prefix and I can crank out new numbers all day.
    I still don’t bother with them for my kindle versions and kindle is 90% of my sales. Obviously, my experience is anecdotal, but I’d be surprised if indies in other countries would want to pay through the nose for something that’s becoming increasingly irrelevant.

  5. Smart Debut Author

    Very few indies use ISBNs for their ebooks. Even many of the multimillion-selling indies don’t.

    Hence, ISBN-based statistics about the ebook market completely fail to account for the vast majority of it.

    It’s a hell of a lot bigger than Bowker thinks… but it’s invisible to Bowker.



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *