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Uncovering the Truth About IBPA Members: 2019 Member Survey Results

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by Seth Dellon, Director of Strategic Development, Publishers Weekly

Seth Dellon

IBPA Board Member Seth Dellon considers 2019 member survey results.

In late 2019, IBPA reached out to members to hear about the biggest lessons they learned over the past year. My lesson was that indie publishers are uniquely positioned to go direct to consumer in a way that larger and Big Five publishers are not.

My big revelation for this was anecdotal: A friend from a Big Five publisher told me, “We suck at going direct to consumer.” And while it’s always interesting to hear Big Five publishers admit to sucking at things, there’s a more compelling data point that backs up my claim: According to the 2019 IBPA member survey, a full half of IBPA’s independent publisher members and 52% of author-publishers cite direct-to-consumer sales as their largest sales channel.

IBPA member surveys—which are conducted on an annual basis—are always full of compelling data, but, in 2019, with the help of the Portland University Publishing Program’s research department, the IBPA member survey is a document that shows five-year trends, best practices, and surprising truths—like the truth that IBPA members are killin’ it with direct-to-consumer sales.

If that’s not a surprise to you, that might be because the IBPA community is well-versed in the benefits of distribution, and distribution is such a large part of almost every IBPA Publishing University conversation because only 15% of members have distribution (and 46% want it). But there’s good news: Not only are IBPA members making it on direct-to-consumer efforts, but (to quote the survey), “distribution is not a prerequisite for profitability.” Seventy-five percent of profitable IBPA members lack distribution.

One less surprising trend? To grow your list and your profitability, you’re likely going to have to publish other people’s work: 97% of IBPA members with 100+ active titles are indie publishers who publish other people’s work. That also means working more with freelancers, like 86% of IBPA members with 100+ titles in circulation do. And though 93% of this group publishes in both print and digital, they’re printing more books at quantity versus on demand.

Many of these points raise more questions than they answer. Do some indie presses maybe not need distribution? How do they begin to vet and work with freelancers to scale up their title production? And what about title acquisition? What are the direct-to-consumer outlets that work?

While many of the results from the survey present as a checklist of best practices, there are still holes to fill in. That’s why at the 2020 Publishing University in Redondo Beach, California, the board-presented keynote will bring together some of IBPA’s favorite thought leaders to give feedback and pontificate on the survey’s most compelling findings.

Seth Dellon is the director of strategic development at Publishers Weekly. Prior to PW, he was the associate publisher of Foreword Reviews. Dellon has worked in book publishing since 2006 and sits on the IBPA Board of Directors.

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