The State of Self-Publishing in 2021

Utility Fog Press entered the self-publishing landscape in 2008 with our first anthology Farspace 1. At that time, the print-on-demand model of self-publishing was still in its infancy. While that is no longer true, self-publishing continues to evolves rapidly in many ways. So, as we enter the 2020s, here is a brief summary of the state of the industry as it readies to undergo its next period of major upheaval.

The first self-publishing platforms with a print-on-demand model (to distinguish them from vanity press) began shortly after the turn of the century. Their initial focus was almost entirely on print books, largely because the e-book reader hadn’t been invented yet.

About ten years later a shift in the industry began with the rise of e-books and for several years authors and publishers were in almost constant discussions on how significant e-books would be, how much of the industry they would take over, and what the future of publishing would be.

E-books didn’t end the print book, as many feared (and some hoped) and the two became part of a well-rounded publishing strategy. The industry continued to expand in a steady way with new platforms being developed and the introduction of affordable audiobook production and distribution methods. Now, suddenly, it feels like we are at another new upheaval, with several developments in the production and distribution of digital content that will once again leave authors and publishers scrambling to understand how they can best make use of them.


Print books are still around, despite almost constant predictions over the last decade of their upcoming demise. There are many who are strong and passionate supporters of the tangible print media and it’s difficult to see print books going away any time soon.

In addition, many authors feel a visceral swell of pride at holding the physical copy of their work that isn’t replicated with the digital version.


E-books have proven their place in the publishing landscape. While digital books have been around since the advent of the internet, formal e-books saw a huge boost with the invention of tablets and dedicated e-readers.

After more than ten years, e-books have become very popular in most fiction genres, although they still haven’t made wide inroads into children’s picture books for what are probably fairly obvious reasons. This may change in the next few decades as parents share technology with ever younger children.


There can be no question that audio books are on the rise. With the ease of production afforded by Amazon’s Audible or, more recently, Draft2Digital in collaboration with Findaway Voices, many self-published authors have tried their  hand at creating audiobooks.

However, while the consumption of audiobooks is clearly increasing, it is, as of yet, unclear how significant this part of the market will be for the average self-published author.  Many report very little return on the time and money they’ve invested in creating their audiobooks.

Undoubtedly, there is still much room for experimentation in this media. 

Digital Serials

A publishing market that has seen a recent surge is the serialized story market. While Wattpad is the Western leader in this area, the market appears to be driven by interest from Eastern Asia and from the teenage/young adult demographics.

This market has become large enough that Amazon KDP has developed an interest and is experimenting with it through their new Vella option.

Due to the strong and narrow reader demographic, any author looking to experiment on these platforms should do their homework before writing.

Non Fungible Tokens (NFTs)

Non Fungible Tokens (NFTs), colloquially pronounced as ‘nifties’ are digital tokens locked to a piece of digital content like an e-book or a digital image. They therefore allow a digital creation to be unique or of limited edition.

This technology, and the markets that go along with it, is still in its infancy but it has the potential to herald in a new digital collectors’ market. The significance of such a change is hard to underestimate as it brings the idea of high-value low production run content to digital media.

So, imagine limited-run collectors’ versions from popular series, or custom creations for wealthy patrons.

Eventually, and at a more mundane level, I hope it has the potential to give real meaning to digital signatures, allowing for e-book signings at online events to have value to the fan. 

Audio Communication

Social media has revolutionized the way we communicate with each other and the  world since the early 2000s. But this has largely been written, slowly evolving into images and to a lesser extent video (when thinking of interpersonal communication, not sites like YouTube).

Recent moves by both Facebook and Amazon suggest the big companies see this moving much more toward various forms of audio and video chat in the coming years.

While this shift isn’t as much about story production (although it could be, as with interactive story sites like, it suggests a shift in the way authors may interact with their readers.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence writing software has been under development in the corporate world and universities for several years now. Japanese researchers have won contests with some truly interesting pieces.

In addition, Elon Musk’s group OpenAI has managed to train AI to create new articles so realistic it resulted in the open source group renegging on their promise to release the code to the world for fear of a widespread deluge of fake news.

It won’t be long, however, before we will be seeing artificial intelligence authoring complete books. However, I foresee AI primarily used, at least initially, to augment and speed up the writing process as authors train AI with their own writing style. 


All the coming changes, new technology, and expanding options can be overwhelming. Often it feels like we’re just begining to understand how to do one thing, when the next new one is upon us. It’s not unreasonable to have a lot of questions. Do I have to learn how to do everything? Can I still publish a print book? Do I have to become a movie star to sell my books?

I believe recent evidence and the changes of the last twenty years, suggest that new technologies don’t replace the old, they supplement them. So, instead of thinking that one format of story will dominate, we see that all can co-exist and will reach an equilibrium within the marketplace. The same for the other technologies.

However, what will be increasingly important for authors is to know their audience. Not only will your story have to meet their expectations, and your promotion be targeting to where they are, but in addition, you will need a targetted publishing strategy or you may not even publish in a format they commonly read! 

The State of Self-Publishing in 2021
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