A view of the top of the publishing world. The whole publishing world is an open frontier.

The wide open frontier of publishing is fascinating because anyone can publish. The biggest barrier to entry (a fancy economic term meaning how difficult it is to enter a business) is the desire to publish.  I have published 4 books and have had a blast doing so. The very bottom of that world is where I operate.  So what does the top of the publishing world look like?

It has also been transformed, as discussed by Jeff Bercovici in a Forbes article, The Hunger Games Economy. I’m about two solar systems removed from the top of the publishing biz, but it’s still fun to look.

Technology has concentrated sales. Look at this:

To understand the scale of the trend, think about this: Of the total number of copies sold in 2012 of the 400 highest-selling titles, two authors, E.L. James (Fifty Shades of Grey) and Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games), together accounted for a full 25%, according to data tracked by USA Today. Between them, the Fifty Shades of Grey and Hunger Games trilogies claimed all six top slots on the year-end bestseller list. 

I’ll guess the top 400 selling books are just about the full market, except for some rounding errors. Still money to be made at the bottom of the list, but look at that comment – two authors have 25% of the sales and the top 6 spots.

The publishing world is starting to look like Hollywood – the tent-pole hits are carrying the companies. (I looked up the term yesterday – it refers to the blockbuster that delivers most of the revenue and holds up the company, just like the center pole holds up a whole tent.)

The big franchises (Fifty Shades, Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and Twilight) are holding up the industry:

Those blockbuster numbers are underwriting much of the publishing industry, subsidizing a vast network of agents, editors, publicists, lawyers and low-selling authors you’ve never heard of–and many you have.

E-books have affected the blockbusters. It makes it possible to get the next book in the series instantly when you finish one book. They also reduce the price thus increasing sales. Also, buyers don’t have to wait for another production run of a surprise blockbuster.

Here’s an unsourced stat on the share of market they have:

The biggest part of that are e-books, which didn’t exist 15 years ago and now make up 20% of all unit sales and are rising rapidly. 

Compounding  the impact of the tent-pole heavy-weights is the closing of many small bookstores and the appetite of big box stores (read Target and Wal-Mart) to have books they know will sell. That accelerates the sales of the big hitters.


Self-publishing gets discussed in the article. It is actually opening the doors for writers in new ways.

One very creative option is to jump into a new program from Amazon to buy rights to use the names and plot lines from one of the big books. You write your own little take-off on the series and can sell it. The original author gets a cut, Amazon gets a cut, and you get a chance to sell your writing in the context of an extension off a known name. Very cool.

The number of self-published books is exploding.

The number of self-published books produced annually in the U.S. more than tripled to 250,000 between 2006 and 2012, according to publishing industry analyst Bowker.

From about 80K+/- in 2006 to 250K in 2012. An increase of about 160K+/- per year in 6 years. Very, very cool.

The democratizing effect is fantastic, I think:

“I think this is rating up there with the invention of the printing press,” says Howey [a self-published author making $125k a month at Amazon]. “I think Gutenberg and e-books have the same kind of democratizing effect on publishing.”

Publishing is an amazing, astounding, exciting, wonderful world.

The frontier is wide open if you want to go there.

Go ahead, give it a shot!

Leave a Reply

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