The last few years has seen profound changes in the publishing world, first with the development of the eBook, then the appearance of Amazon and the Kindle Store and now it is the turn of digital publishers.
Traditional publishers have been with us for decades and include many household names such as Penguin, McMillian and Pan. Their main focus is paperback sales and even though all offer ebooks, their pricing tells you where their allegiances and profits lie. Many ebooks are priced close to their paperback equivalent and a new trend is emerging of pricing ebooks higher than the paperback. Nearly 75% of book sales in the US are controlled by the ‘Big 5’ companies: Hachette, HarperCollins, MacMillan, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster.
Ebooks have been around for many years but the introduction of the Kindle Store 5 years ago produced an explosion in their adoption and in their wake we now see the arrival of the digital publisher. Unlike their traditional competitors, large corporations with a presence in many countries, digital publishers tend to be small, staffed by the former cohorts of the big 5, but are now at the forefront of the next publishing revolution.
They provide authors with the same proofreading, editing and marketing services they would receive from a traditional publisher, but with a higher royalty as they are not burdened with printing books or pulping those unsold. Their progress has been quiet but the impact has been remarkable. If you think this is an exaggeration, take a look at the top twenty crime authors on Amazon UK. Digital publishers account for nine of the top twenty books, and there are six in the top ten, unfamiliar names such as Bookouture, Joffe Books and Amazon’s own publishing company, Thomas & Mercer. The situation in the US is different due to the dominance of the ‘Big 5’ but nevertheless, digital publishers are beginning to make an impact.
If there is one thing we can say with any confidence, the future is wide open. It’s easy to set up a digital publisher and many self-published authors have their own, either as a separate company or simply a name. Digital publishers will grow and become a dominant force in the market if they continue to produce a quality product and pick winners, and they will increasingly become an acceptable choice for authors, particularly those more interested in gaining readers than enjoying the sight of their novel on the shelf of an airport bookshop.