So a week ago, I stumbled on this news item in a generally reliable venue:
The [growth of ] self-publishing has created a new publishing market that totals $52 billion in revenues, according to a new report from media technology firm New Publisher House. According to the report, this is twice as much money as the traditional book publishing industry in the U.S. brings in in its current total annual sales revenue.
The State of Independence 2014 report looked at insights gathered from publishing executives, Amazon, Google and industry data to come up with its conclusions. The report also revealed that the number of aspiring self-published authors that have completed manuscripts is more than 100x the number of actual published authors. In addition, according to the report, self-published titles are 8x the number of mainstream published new titles.
Wow, I thought, interesting news! There’s so little solid data on self-publishing–how great to have an authoritative industry report to shed more light on this exploding new market! So of course I tweeted it.
But then I got to thinking. $52 billion? Seems like an awfully big figure, even if you assume that the lion’s share of it is money made from self-publishers by service providers, rather than money made by self-publishers from book sales. Plus, Amazon and Google aren’t known for freely sharing numbers.
So I did what I should have done to begin with: I took a look at the actual report. Except that this isn’t the report at all, only an “Executive Summary,” without any description of research methodology or any source material references to support the big numbers quoted above. Nor, when I accessed the Executive Summary last week, was there any indication of who authored the report or who was commissioned to create it–or even where the report itself could be found.
There’s no contact information on New Publisher House’s website, and to email CEO James O’Toole via his LinkedIn profile I’d have to pay to upgrade my LinkedIn membership (not gonna happen). So I tracked down New Publisher House’s Twitterfeed and sent a tweet asking if I could pose some questions. After a few days and some link confusion, I was directed to this article on New Publisher House’s website (the article, which wasn’t present the first time I visited the website, is now included in the Executive Summary, where it also wasn’t present the first time I visited).
In addition to my questions, I’m guessing that O’Toole saw some of the skeptical coverage of State of Independence 2014 (the exception in the largely unquestioning dissemination of the report’s claims) and decided to address it–with, unfortunately, less than illuminating results.
[The report] took a great deal of work. Unlike other industries, reliable data is scarce and a company like Amazon doesn’t provide detailed breakdowns in its financial filings or even earnings calls. So how was I able to do it? I’ve produced business cases and market reports for major corporations across a range of industries. I also co-managed the Rich 200 list for Australia’s leading business magazine, BRW – Australia’s equivalent to the Forbes 400. This required establishing valuations on assets for which there was little public data and required lateral approaches (I had wondered about those valuations until one of Australia’s richest people asked me how I was able to so accurately calculate their net worth).
I decided to put the research into a report I’ve called State of Independence 2014 and share it because of the startling information I uncovered. Unlike most industry reports, I’ve actually gone into detail about the methodology so people understand the data and can assess for themselves their validity. This is the Executive Summary. It gives the key findings and table of contents. For those interested, the full report (which has sources and methodology) will be released with our crowdfunding campaign.
We now know that the author of the report is O’Toole himself, but we still have no idea of how he compiled his figures and findings, or why we should trust them. (Nor do most of those “key findings” seem so very startling–for instance, from the Conclusion: “The very technologies which are driving the eBook revolution have the potential to disintermediate and undermine established publishers.” No kidding.) Being able to look at the actual report might put such concerns to rest–but we can’t look at it, because its release has been delayed to some unspecified date.
I suspect it’s no coincidence that New Publisher House is just about to launch “a revolutionary new indie publishing platform connecting authors, publishing professionals, designers & readers“. Maybe when that happens, we’ll be able to get our hands on the corroborating data. Until then, I at least am taking State of Independence 2014 with a massive grain of salt.