The romance with the printed word shows no signs of abating. Despite the rapid growth in e-book sales in recent years, print book output in 2011 grew by 6%, to 347,178 titles, compared to the prior year.
The preliminary numbers released Tuesday by bibliographic database Bowker are “the most significant expansion in more than four years” in the traditional publishing sector, the company said in its annual report on U.S. print book publishing. The uptick was driven entirely by self-published titles. Without them, the number of print titles would have been flat.
“Much as e-books have been the sexier topic over the past few years, most people still read print books,” noted Michael Norris, a senior analyst with publishing research firm Simba Information.
He added that the allure of print clearly extends to self-published titles. “If you talk to the given self-published author, some will admit they get a certain amount of pleasure from holding a physical book, signing it, and giving it as a gift—something that you just can’t do with e-books,” he said.
The universe of printed books is larger than those tracked by Bowker, which only counts books assigned an ISBN number, which identifies them for commercial purposes.
Bowker also has a separate count for titles it classifies as reprint/print on demand. Those titles are sold almost exclusively on the Web, and are put out mainly by publishing houses specializing in works that are in the public domain.
There were 1.1 million titles in that category in 2011, down 69% from the prior year. Reprint and print-on-demand has seen explosive growth in recent years, and the 2011 number was still up 15% over 2009, the report noted.
Among the categories tracked by Bowker, fiction remained No. 1, with 60,000 titles. Children’ literature, including young adult, was second with 36,000 titles.
Though the report does not track sales, Bowker noted that the landscape of publishing is changing.
“What was once relegated to the outskirts of our industry—and even took on demeaning names like ‘vanity press’—is now not only a viable alternative but what is driving the title growth of our industry today,” said Kelly Gallagher, vice president of Bowker Market Research, in a statement. “Self-publishing is a true legitimate power to be reckoned with. Coupled with the explosive growth of e-books and digital content, these two forces are moving the industry in dramatic ways.”