This may be the first time in my life that I gave up on a basic research project because it was simply too much work - and scrolling makes me dizzy. If I'd kept to the basic premise, I could have made it through the recent data for a few self publishing companies, but the project immediately began to expand beyond the immediate scope. For example, a number of authors paying to publish their first book end up publishing a trilogy, or even a half dozen books at the same time. In other words, they've been writing for years, possibly meeting rejection from the trades, and then having all of their works published at once when they find out they can afford it. Another interesting example is authors who jump from one self publishing company to another - who can resist tracking those trends? And then there's the phenomena of authors who have been published by commercial trade publishers shifting to paid publishing, as well as authors who originally paid to get published catching on with a trade publisher.
The amount of data you can generate from simple searches on Amazon is astounding, and a rudimentary survey of the authoring business on Amazon would make an excellent master's thesis for a student in a publishing program. Going really in depth and analyzing, say, the last thousand titles from each publisher for the major author services and trade publishers, should generate more than enough work and data for a PhD dissertation. Even my cursory peek indicated a repeat rate for authors in the double digit percentages, it could run from 10% to 30% or higher at different self publishing companies. It also helps explain the explosive growth in titles. It's not simply that lots of Americans are writing some books, it's that some Americans are writing lots of books. If anybody wants to take on this project, feel free to contact me, and maybe your university will let me sit on your committee:-)
By coincidence, I finished reading the works of Captain Maryatt (who also commented on publishers) this week and started on the novels of Edward Bulwer, more frequently known as Lytton (he inherited the title Lord Lytton). For some reason, the first number in the collection I found begins with one of his later novels, "The Caxtons", published in 1849. The following is quoted from that novel, a conversation between a father, son (Pisistratus) and uncle, where the uncle is setting up a publication society to publish books rejected by the publishers of the day, including the father's master work:
"Milton, sir, as everybody knows, sold 'Paradise Lost' for ten pounds, - ten pounds, sir! In short, instances of a like nature are too numerous to quote. But the booksellers, sir, they are leviathons; they roll in seas of gold; they subsist upon authors as vampires upon little children. But at last endurance has reached its limit; the fiat has gone forth; the tocsin of liberty has resounded: authors have burst their fetters. And we have just inaugurated the institution of 'THE GRAND ANTI-PUBLISHER CONFEDERATE AUTHORS SOCIETY,' by which, Pisistratus, by which, mark you, every author is to be his own publisher; that is, every author who joins the society. No more submission of immortal works to the mercenary calculators, to sordid tastes; no more hard bargains and broken hearts; no more crumbs of bread choking the great tragic poets of the streets; no more 'Paradise Lost' sold at ten pounds apiece! The author brings his work to a select committee appointed for the purpose,- men of delicacy, education, and refinement, authors themselves; they read it, the society publish; and after a modest deduction, which goes to the funds of the society, the treasurer hands over the profits to the author."
"So in fact, uncle, every author who can't find a publisher anywhere else will of course come to the society. The fraternity will be numerous."
"It will indeed."
"And the speculation - ruinous."
"Because in all mercantile negotiations it is ruinous to invest capital in supplies which fail of demand. You undertake to publish books that booksellers will not publish: why? Because booksellers can't sell them. It's just probable that you'll not sell them any better than the booksellers. Ergo, the more your business, the larger your deficit; and the more numerous your society, the more disastrous your condition. Q.E.D."
"Pooh! The select committee will decide what books are to be published."
"Then where the deuce is the advantage to the authors? I would as lief submit my work to a publisher as I would to a select committee of authors. At all events, the publisher is not my rival, and I suspect he is the best judge, after all, of a book, - as an accoucheur ought be of a baby."
"Upon my word, nephew, you pay a bad compliment to your father's Great Work, which booksellers will have nothing to do with."
That was artfully said, and I was posed; when Mr. Caxton observed , with an apologetic smile,-
"The fact is, my dear Pisistratus, that I want my book published without diminishing the little fortune I keep for you some day. Uncle Jack starts a society so to publish it. Health and long life to Uncle Jack's society! One can't look a gift horse in the mouth."
If you find the dialog above shows promise, Wikipedia credits Lytton with coining such phrases as "the pen is mightier than the sword", "pursuit of the almighty dollar", and everybody's favorite, "It was a dark and stormy night."