Prediction: When Self-Published E-books Will Be Top Dog

Prediction: When Self-Published E-books Will Be Top Dog

self-published e-booksLast week, Digital Book World published the results for the e-book best sellers in the first quarter of 2014. There are a few things interesting about this list to me:

  • First, the largest publisher in the world topped all others in appearances. Interestingly, that same publisher has 0 e-books in the No. 1 spot.
  • HarperCollins is outpacing every other publisher in No. 1 titles in the e-book market with 10. The two publishers next in line each have 1 title each at the No. 1 spot.
  • Amazon moved up to No. 4, from No. 9 for the whole year in 2013. In fact, Amazon’s e-book best sellers are more than half for the first quarter what the total was all year in 2013.
  • Hachette, No. 1 in 2013 for number of e-book best sellers, fell to No. 3 on the list in the first quarter of 2014. It’s interesting to note that Penguin Random House sold almost as many books in the second half of 2013 as Hachette did the whole year. The merger between Penguin and Random House in June 2013 clearly affected present and future rankings.
  • Finally, self-published e-book titles tied with Simon & Schuster e-book titles for fifth place in the first quarter of 2014. In 2013, self-published titles outpaced Simon & Schuster to secure the fifth spot in number of e-book best sellers (99 for the whole year). You can see the 2013 rankings here.

What are we to make of this?

I think one thing we need to understand is that the big publishers have deep pockets. They have a lot of marketing mojo that gives them an advantage over self-publishers. Nevertheless, more and more self-publishers are learning how to market books online (the Big 6 – Big 5 + Amazon – are getting better at it too, by the way). As more self-publishers get better at marketing their own titles, I can see them moving up the list as a group, but not too far up as long as the big houses keep throwing money into their marketing machines.

Predictions That Could Affect Future
E-book Best Seller Rankings

Digital Book World has published a book of predictions about the e-book business for 2014. There are some interesting prophecies on this list. I’ll tell you which ones I think are most likely to come true. Here are the predictions I find most interesting:

  1. Barnes & Noble will unload Nook and go private. This is an interesting prediction for a couple of reasons. First, the brick-and-mortar book business is in decline, overall. But not for Barnes & Noble. And it’s the Nook that is dragging B&N down the drain. If it continues to lose money, the company will have to unload the dead weight. The question really is, How? Will Barnes & Noble find a buyer? If so, I don’t think the new owner will make it competitive with Amazon. I don’t see the Nook ever being a major competitor in the e-book market, no matter who owns it.
  2. Amazon will go physical. This one I’m not so sure about. If it does, it will go physical as a department store or as a showcase store. I don’t think you’ll see every item Amazon has for sale in physical stores any time soon. But it would not be a stretch to see Amazon use physical space to showcase new technologies for the purpose of increasing sales. Otherwise, I don’t see what Amazon would stand to gain by opening brick-and-mortar stores.
  3. Publishers will invent new revenue streams. I agree. They’ve already figured out that book series are hot sellers. It’s entirely feasible that book publishers will build membership sites and sell access to e-books as package deals or start their own Web-based magazines to showcase writing from authors of the books they publish. They can then put premium content behind a paywall and offer subscribers discounts on books.
  4. Publishers will adopt a subscription e-book model. I don’t know why they haven’t already. Why not publish e-books with extras the same way that the movie industry now sells movies in DVD format with extras – outtakes, interviews, behind the scenes footage, etc.? Book publishers can package their e-books with author interviews, character sketches, author notes, and other data that are not included in print books. They can easily include this information for a variety of e-books in their catalogs using a subscription model and give top authors a behind-the-wall blog for interacting with their fans. Another thing that is making a comeback is serials. Online serials that serve as standalone stories featuring characters from best selling titles could be a big selling item as a subscription service.
  5. Publishers will launch magazines around reader interests. This has already started happening. If the Big 5 are going to compete with Amazon, they’ll have to get better at marketing on the Web. They’ll have to be digital publishers, and what better way to do that than to attract a following with a standalone Web magazine?

In many cases, if these predictions hold true, they will definitely affect future best seller lists.

The loss of the Nook in the market would open the door for more Amazon sales. You could see Amazon seriously make a run up the list, possibly up to No. 2, very quickly. Subscription e-book models and Web magazines would both give big publishers greater leverage in the e-book market, especially if they start selling their e-books directly to readers.

So When Will Self-Publishers Be The
E-book Best Sellers Top Dog?

In order for self-publishers as a group to overtake Amazon, Hachette, and Penguin Random House on the e-book front, they’ll have to get better at marketing. Smashwords can be a big help. Personally, I think there should be other distribution models for self-publishers and independent publishers.

Author co-ops could do a lot to catapult self-published authors higher up the list. The indies have to get more creative and leverage their individual successes for the betterment of the whole, something they’re not quite good at.

I hate to say when Hell freezes over, but I think as long as the big publishers are doing well and self-published authors are stuck on the “self,” then it will be a difficult wall to climb. I think we’re looking at a decade at least before top-selling indie authors unite for more market leverage.

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Allen Taylor
Allen Taylor
Allen Taylor is a freelance writer, content strategist, and award-winning journalist. He is the author of "E-book Publishing: Create Your Own Brand of Digital Books," available in the Kindle, ePub, iBooks, and PDF formats.


  1. Enjoyed your article, well done.

    • Allen Taylor says:

      Thank you, Debra.

  2. Larry Hewitt says:

    The door is open for creative marketers to rewrite the industry standards, much as you have described with packages, subscription services, etc. – based on selecting subsets of the indie publishers. This takes capital, of course, but in an emerging marketplace opportunities exist. Independents working by themselves will not accomplish this – simply too much noise to overcome. The likelihood is high that that existing companies – Amazon possibly included – will miss this turn in the marketplace, if it happens. Premium content may help push this. The lowest common denominator format of epub and Kindle reduces the perception of quality and therefore value. Better formatting and style will help establish a stronger independent market.

    • Allen Taylor says:

      Certainly, high standards will help everyone. I do believe indie authors can work together to market each other’s books and cross-promote. Savvy marketers will look for these opportunities and take advantage of them.

  3. Mia McKimmy says:

    Great info, Allen. I read anything I can find about the future of publishing. As a yet to be published writer, I’m trying to decide which route will be best for me, traditional or self-publishing.

    • Allen Taylor says:

      Keep educating yourself, Mia. The first step is to have a manuscript worth publishing. Until then, it doesn’t matter whether you go traditional of indie. If a manuscript is good enough to publish, you’ll be able to make that decision at the proper time.

  4. Yes! “The indies have to get more creative and leverage their individual successes for the betterment of the whole, something they’re not quite good at.”
    Sometimes I feel like everybody’s in this for themselves. There’s a lot written about self-promotion; less about promoting ourselves as a category; a movement, if you will. 🙂

    • Allen Taylor says:

      I agree, Jennifer. Everyone is in it for themselves. But we should all be of the mindset that a rising tide raises all ships. There’s enough pie to go around for everyone. Share and share alike.

  5. Good article. There are several places that one can advertise for a small fee and some where your book or books can be accessed for free. I have seven ebooks and print books and just finished an eighth one. I publish through Amazon, Smashwords and Createspace. I showcase my books on my own site as well on IndieAuthorNews and I use every resource I can and am always looking for more. It’s work, but I have made a friend in New Zealand and he has my books on I carry his and his wife’s books on my site. I think that working together will eventually pay off for both of us. The more places you can showcase the better.

  6. Allen Taylor says:

    Those are all good suggestions, Barbara. I love your domain name!