After writing my list of the top 10 books of 2015 I got to thinking about what the ratio of independant/self published authors was to traditionally published ones and how the quality compared.
The reasoning behing wanting to check the quality is simple: traditional books still sell and (as far as I can see) far outsell independant authors. Now a lot of this is going to be marketing but a lot of the books I read I've never seen any marketing for the author and have simply come across them. Add in the fact that traditionally published books are usually significantly more expensive (even as eBooks) than independantly published ones, perhaps the extra cost can be accounted for by the extra quality of having professional editors pick the stories that get published. I am sure that many people are put off independant books because they think they will be inferior (I admit this is anecdotal).
Down the to analysis. This is all going to be subjective but hopefully usefull nonetheless.
I read 33 books for the first time in 2015. 19 of these were independant (usual eBooks) and 14 were traditionally published (all printed books except for one short story). The skew there is simply because as eReaders are more portable I get more opportunity to read eBooks than printed ones, so therefore I read more of them.
As I review everything I read on Goodreads it pretty easy to have a look at the star ratings I gave and split the list into independent and traditionally published authors. The results are quite interesting simply because it seems that from my point of view in 2015 they both scored about the same. Independant authors scored an average of 4.42 stars per book, traditional publishers 4.36. They have very similar ratings for each of the star ratings to, 58% to 57% for 5 star, 26% to 29% for 4 star and 16% to 14% for 3 stars and below. Traditional publishing scored the only 2 star of the year for The Long Utopia by Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett which I thought was rather weak (review here),
Looking further into this, though, the results should be markedly biased towards traditional publishing if variable quality is assumed for authors that one has never read before.
A lot of the eBooks I read are essentially random choices, they have either been offered to me for review (in which case they may be something I wouldn't have normally picked up) or are picked rather haphazardly from sites like Smashwords where large numbers of books are published daily by their authors. The printed ones have by and large been from authors I knew I liked before I picked the book up. So in general I would have expected independent books to score lower simply because there is more chance I won't enjoy them.
Even more detail on that - and naming names. In terms I independent authors, the new ones I read books for in 2015 were: Greg Johnson, Kurt Chambers, Travis Luedke, John Darryl Winston, David Chilcott, John Dolan, James Minter, Diana Febry, Deborah Coonts and Charles Kaluza. Of these I read multiple books by Kurt Chambers, John Darryl Winston and David Chilcott. I read the books of only one independant author that I was already familiar with - Katrina Cope, and then she had started a new series with a different feel to it.
For traditional publishers I had read 7 of the authors before (Chris Brookmyre, Stephen Hunt, Alastair Reynolds, Matthew Reilly, Stephen Baxter & Terry Pratchett and Joe Abercrombie). Of these only Alastair Reynolds and Matthew Reilly's books were not part of a previous series of theirs. The new authors I found in 2015 were Boyd Morrison, David Gibbins, Luke Scull and Alex Connor and of these only Boyd Morrison scored 5 stars for one of the 4 books of his I read.
The result is that for independant books I was pleased when I found an author I really liked (most of them) and those that didn't quite make 4 or 5 stars were will worth reading. For the traditionally published works it is perhaps a little disappointing that authors I do like have not been more consistently delivering 5 stars.
The inevitiable conclusion here is twofold. Firstly, independant authors are on the ascendent and secondly don't be afraid to dabble in independant works for fear that they may be self indulgent or just plan bad. It is daunting that there are a lot of books to choose from but that shouldn't put anyone off. I say take the plunge and grab an eBook by an independant author today. You won't regret it.