In an attempt to outline the growth of book self publishing in the United States, I found this article by Rachel Donadio entitled "You're An Author? Me Too!" It cites some stats on book publishing in the United States as well as some information on the leading self publishing companies like iUniverse and Xlibris.
Here's what she had to say on the state of book publishing:
In 2007, a whopping 400,000 books were published or distributed in the United States, up from 300,000 in 2006, according to the industry tracker Bowker, which attributed the sharp rise to the number of print-on-demand books and reprints of out-of-print titles. University writing programs are thriving, while writers’ conferences abound, offering aspiring authors a chance to network and “workshop” their work. The blog tracker Technorati estimates that 175,000 new blogs are created worldwide each day (with a lucky few bloggers getting book deals). And the same N.E.A. study found that 7 percent of adults polled, or 15 million people, did creative writing, mostly “for personal fulfillment.”And here are some honest to goodness stats on iUniverse. It doesn't sound so nice seeing that an average author from iUniverse doesn't sell anything above 200 copies of his/her book:
IUniverse, a self-publishing company founded in 1999, has grown 30 percent a year in recent years; it now produces 500 titles a month and has 36,000 titles in print, said Susan Driscoll, a vice president of its parent company, Author Solutions. While some are “calling card” books that specialists sell at conferences and workshops, most are by ordinary people who want to get their work in print. The writers tend to be on both ends of the age spectrum. “As people get older, they have more time and more money and something to say,” Driscoll said, while their grandchildren are often driven by “that need for fame,” she said. “They may not be avid readers, but they certainly are writers.” Not that anyone is necessarily paying attention. Driscoll said that most writers using iUniverse sell fewer than 200 books.Also she had some information from Xlibris, another self publishing company that highlights more promising sales for potential authors
Xlibris, a print-on-demand operation, has 20,000 titles in print, by more than 18,000 authors, said Noel Flowers, a company spokesman. It is “nonselective” in choosing manuscripts, he said, though it does screen “for any offensive or inappropriate content.” Xlibris’s top sellers include “Demonstrating to Win!,” a computer manual (15,600 sold, not including copies bought by the author), and “The Morning Comes and Also the Night,” which the company lists in the “religion/Bible/prophecies” category (10,500 sold).
The article continues to outline self publishing companies, their alliances and their costs but she ends her article with a note on how so many of these books are cluttering the reading atmosphere with noise rather than music.
Although I do think it's possible that all these books may be making it much more accessible for ordinary people to get published, let's not discount the opportunity to find the gems in the mines. That is why we mine right? To find the gems?