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The Rise of Digital Publishing


The growing digital publishing market is showing no signs of slowing down.


New writers are discovering an organic and accessible publishing power with a near unlimited audience. Amazon, e-books and applications like Create Space have opened up fresh avenues for authors to gain recognition for their work.

What stands digital publishing apart?

After working for several years as a literary agent for Christine Green, Natalie Butlin made the choice to resign when she felt that traditional firms were ignoring the inevitable impact of digital publishing. She is now a Publishing Executive at the digital publishing company, Bookouture.

Amazon, the current largest seller of e-books, has played a massive role in evolving the industry. Butlin said: “Amazon is very good for authors, because they don’t care if your last book didn’t sell, they don’t care if you’re a new author. It’s really hard to get visibility in the traditional publishing world. For a debut author that can be a really powerful thing.”

Companies like Bookouture have adopted a hands-on approach to gaining success for their books. “In traditional publishing, if a book doesn’t do well it’s very often blamed on the author. You never buy a book unless you believe in it. That’s what I love about digital: we can give a book many, many chances.”

This means that once a book goes up for pre-order, the data influx is immediate. If customers aren’t biting, the company can make changes without drastically impacting profit.

“If necessary you can repackage the book entirely. We’ve had books where we’ve completely rewritten the blurb and just that alone has lead from it doing nothing to hitting the top positions in the charts and selling hundreds of thousands of copies,” commented Butlin.

The stats:

Thanks to the Author Earnings report, we can compare the writer royalties from traditional and self-published sales.

stats on e-book published

Butlin continued: “You can’t really fight it. If the books are available you have to work with it or be left behind.”

The books that publishers are willing to invest in rarely fall in line with the novels that populate English Literature degrees.

High quality writing is now defined differently, fuelled by the drive for profit and raising the author’s profile. If a book is successful, the odds are that any sequels will penetrate the market.

Specifically at Bookouture, Butlin said: “We would consider it high quality writing because it achieved all the things our readers were looking for. We’re a much more commercially focused publishing company and we’re looking to go after the mass market.” Ulysses might be your lecturer’s favourite read, but in 2018 it’s not going to clear the shelves.

However, not long ago, something else did. In 2012, The Telegraph released an article titled: ’50 Shades of Grey is best-selling book of all time.’ The article discloses that an incredible 5.3 million copies had been sold in Britain at that time.

“It draws in people who don’t normally buy books and that’s a tough thing to do. You’re not going to get that with a literary book, usually,” said Butlin. Sorry Joyce.

“I think one of the key differences between digital, or digital the way we do it, and traditional publishing is that we don’t have to sell to retailers, we only have to sell to readers.”

The package deal

For a book to sell in digital markets, it needs to be packaged correctly. The package is comprised of the cover, title, blurb, and later the reviews. Three of those four things can be controlled by the publishers.

Butlin’s first publishing project at Bookouture was The Little French Guesthouse by Helen Pollard. “It was such a huge learning experience for me. I learned that you want the most commercial package; you don’t need something that completely reflects the content.”

“We had 7500 pre-orders and it was fascinating that people were buying this book based on the blurb, cover and title alone.  7500 people were willing to buy this book, having absolutely no idea what was in it apart from what we’d packaged it as.”

It’s fair to say digital publishing is working for readers and authors alike.

Ellie Reeves is in her second year of English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. She is a contemporary poet and prose writer, and has contributed to Concrete and Vocal, alongside her personal literary blog. She is currently completing a short story titled Pluck and her first poetry collection will be released by EggBox Publishing this Autumn.