The results of our 2011 Publisher Survey are in. While much of the data we collected from online and print publishers aligned with others’ assumptions about the marketplace and publishing in general, several of the responses we received surprised even us.
To be clear, this survey focused solely on “short-form” content publishers, ie: magazines, journals, and special-interest blogs. We did not survey book publishers and the results of this survey should not be interpreted to extended to that market. Book publishing is an entirely different best altogether.
The Size of the Industry:
The number of online-only magazines, journals and special interest blogs (collectively, “online publishers”) is extremely difficult to calculate with a high degree of accuracy. Unlike in the print world, where a publication has a registered ISSN, there is no such requirement for online publishers. We know from Ulrich’s that there are over 200,000 “active” ISSNs out there — so getting a handle on the print world is pretty easy. Estimating the online-only segment of the industry is much more difficult.
After much analysis we estimate the number of online publishers to be approximately 2 million world-wide. This number includes publishers who maintain both a print and online edition of their publication. At this time we don’t have a way to easily tease apart the number of online-only publishers from those who have both an on- and off-line presence.
As background, we took data on the number of “active installs” of various publishing platforms (WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, etc.), compared with the latest known data on the size of the online content world as a whole, to glean a reasonable number as a baseline. We know from past surveys and other research that by our definition, “online publishers” account for less than one percent of all online websites. Author blogs or forums, for example, are not considered “online publishers” by our definition.
But the size of the marketplace means little to a writer trying to get their manuscript published. In fact, the larger the market the more difficult it can be to find just the right publisher. So how do publishers believe writers are finding them?
Writers, on the other hand, place word-of-mouth 6th. Duotrope is by far and away the number one resource writers use for finding publishers — which is pretty amazing when you consider that Duotrope lists only Poetry and Fiction markets.
So why the disconnect? Could it be that writers are limiting themselves by not looking for markets other than poetry/fiction? Could it be that writers see publishers in a fundamentally different light than publishers see themselves? The data in this and our 2011 Writer Survey did not attempt to answer these specific questions. But given the sometimes dramatic differences between the two sets of data surrounding similar subjects, we believe the results mirror a growing disconnect between publisher and writer. For example:
The majority of publishers responding to our survey (42%) stated that they typically take 1-3 months to respond to a submission. 31% of publishers said they take 3-6 months to respond. In essence, over 70% of the publishers surveyed will take more than 30 days to respond to a submission.
Compare this with the 42% of writers who think that anything over 4 weeks is unacceptable. In an online world where instantaneous communication via IM, Twitter and Facebook is the norm — where print news magazines are struggling to stay relevant with weekly editions — it becomes clear why so many writers simultaneously submit their work to multiple publishers, or withdraw their submission from a publisher after just a few short weeks. (Editor’s Note: Currently 5.27% of all submissions made through HeyPublisher are withdrawn by the writer before they’ve ever been read by an editor.)
Perhaps writers need to better understand the pressure publishers are under when it comes to unsolicited submissions.
Nearly 30% of the publishers surveyed said they receive in excess of 50 submissions per week. More than 50% of the publishers receive at least 20 submissions per week. Given the oftentimes small size of the staff responding to the slushpile, it is no wonder it can take up to 6 months to respond.
But what is more important to writers is the percentage of unsolicited submissions actually accepted for publication.
To the benefit of writers, 73% of publisher tell us that “most” of their content comes from writers they’ve never published before. Solicited vs. unsolicited status doesn’t seem to matter much in an editor’s eyes. But as an industry, publishers are by and large still publishing less than 2% of all the submissions they receive. And if you’re a new writer, the odds are still stacked against you. Less than 10% of the submissions from previously unpublished writers are finding a home with the publishers we surveyed. In other words, as a new writer your submission has a 2/10th of one percent chance of being published.
Volume seems to be the answer to this problem, as revealed by our Writer Survey. Those writers who submitted more than 10 works a month to various publishers also saw the highest acceptance rate of any group.
The Social Media Experiment:
Nearly 60% of publishers believe social media (commonly though incorrectly used to refer specifically to Twitter and Facebook, collectively) is an important part of their marketing efforts. Despite this, 53% of those same publishers feel that their social media marketing efforts are ineffective. What this tells us is that publishers haven’t yet figured out how to make the most of the social media services available to them. Or, put another way, they do not yet know how to equate a social media action with a tangible reaction on their website, either in terms of readership or submission volume. Given other data we’re seeing elsewhere, we suspect this trend will continue for at least the next two years.
Though most publishers have some social media presence, a full 33% of those surveyed still do not have a Facebook fan page. Given that roughly 43% of the US population has a Facebook login, the fact that a third of online publishers are not engaging with their readers on the very platform where their readers are hanging out seems to us to be an inexcusable oversight. If independent publishers are to survive in any meaningful way in the coming decade, they need to embrace the coming conversation that social media represents.
Summing up a survey like this is never an easy task. In terms of publishing platforms, response times, and acceptance rates, not much has changed in the past 12 months. The biggest change has been with the sheer number of online publishers that have come into existence this past year. And the number that have gone out of existence.
The average lifespan of a new online publication appears to be less than 6 months. The longevity of a publication that makes it past their first year is unknown to us at this time. We’re collecting that data and hope to have some meaningful stats this time next year.
If you have any questions and/or comments please feel free to let us know.