Amazon has cornered the future of book publishing

Chomp chomp.
Chomp chomp.
Image: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
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As traditional publishers struggle with sales, Amazon is quietly cornering a powerful new trend in books.

A recent report (pdf) from Bowker, the US company that issues International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN), shows that self-publishing is growing rapidly. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of ISBNs from self-published books grew by 375%. From 2014 and 2015 alone, the number grew by 21%. And perfectly positioned to take advantage of the growth is Amazon, whose DIY print business CreateSpace has become far and away the biggest self-publishing platform in the United States.

A look at the top six self-publishing platforms across print and ebook ISBNs in the US shows Amazon’s CreateSpace dominating.

Amazon’s dominance in self-publishing is probably even greater than Bowker shows. The e-commerce giant’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform lets authors publish ebooks without ISBNs, which means a big chunk of data is not captured by the report.

Self-publishing is getting bigger and bigger. By some accounts, self-published authors are overtaking the big five publishing houses, at least when it comes to ebooks. Self-publishing in ebooks is one reason to blame for a decline in sales across the board this year.

Authors increasingly turn to self-publishing in ebooks in part because the model allows them to take home a bigger chunk of what they sell, compared to what publishing houses can offer.

The number of ISBNs in the US is often used as a measure of publishing productivity—how many books are “registered” in the country, so to speak. But one thing to keep in mind is that an individual book title can be represented by multiple ISBN numbers: A book will have a different ISBN for its print, e-book, and audiobook versions, for example.