Self-publishing a book has never been a sure bet. One needs the time, stamina, resources, technical and business knowhow and, yes, writing chops to ensure that all the hard work and hefty investments (up to tens of thousands of dollars) will pay off. Then there is the prestige of traditional publishing houses and, conversely, stigma against self-published books from bookstores and many mainstream media outlets, which refuse to review them.
It seems, however, that this landscape is one of myriad being changed significantly by the digital shift. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported two weeks ago that self-publishing in general is on the rise:
“Is it worth it? Apparently, it’s at least worth the risk. In 2007, about 134,000 books were self-published in the United States. In 2008, that rose to more than 285,000 and in 2009 soared to more than 764,000.
In contrast, traditional publishers produced about 288,000 books in 2009, almost stagnant from 289,000 the year before, according to the firm R.R. Bowker, which tracks the book industry.”
The article ties this to the bright new future of self-publishing books online. It is one of a crop of recent write-ups on the topic, from USA Today’s more superficial, rah-rah trend alert to more nuanced articles like the Star Tribune’s or the LA Times’.
The e-book is clearly rising in relation to its paper kin – according to the Association of American Publishers as cited by the LA Times,
“Digital book sales make up 9% of the overall market and are growing rapidly. During the first 10 months of this year, they reached $345 million, a 171% increase over the same period in 2009 … Print book sales dropped 23%, to just under $4 billion, in the same 10-month span.”
This, combined with the ease of production involved in reproducing works electronically, the widespread availability of a new mechanism with which to self-publish online – via channels such as Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, PubIt! from Barnes & Noble, and Lulu – and an increase in potential financial benefits as compared to going through traditional publishing houses seems to have sparked an increase in electronic self-publishing. With regards to opportunities for profit, the benefits of going online and solo are blatantly obvious, and a big incentive: “Authors typically get 10% to 25% of the proceeds of digital sales if they go through a publisher, compared with 40% to 70% if they self-publish” (LA Times).
It would be valuable to see upfront self-publishing statistics from Amazon et al, a research paper waiting to happen. From the articles cited, however, you can at least gauge the anecdotal mood of selected sources, and it appears to be thus: online self-publishers swear by the new developments, while staid publishing houses dismiss their obsolescence as “cocktail party sensationalism” (quote from a publisher in the LA Times). This view of traditional publishing is characterized by Gerri Knilans in Trade Press Services’ Trade Secrets blog as “just the kind of arrogance that let Netflix, Hulu and others put Blockbuster Video all but out of business.” That might be particularly true if a method for reader selection of books a la Pandora music service emerges (LA Times), diminishing big publishing’s marketing advantage.
Challenges remain to self-publishers, and it has been pointed out that the successful ones quoted in the media are largely already well-established, resource-ready and marketing-savvy. However, considering the confluence of trends noted above, I for one am betting on the new, online self-published kid to increase substantially in market share. Here are a few things I think may happen in the near future:
- More and larger forums available for information on self-publishing. This will encompass information-clearinghouses, peer-to-peer support groups, and other advice-giving platforms for would-be and current self-publishers, in formats from the Internet, TV, radio, and “physical world” institutions.
- Traditional media outlets will review self-published books. “The trade
journal Publishers Weekly recently decided ‘to embrace the self-publishing phenomenon.’ For a fee of $149, self-published authors get their books on a listing
that includes a description and ordering information. From this list, PW chooses 25
titles – ‘gems worthy of attention’ — for a full review” (Minneapolis Star-Tribune).
- Positive feedback cycle: the more stigma against self-publishing books erodes via developments such as the two above, the more such developments will occur, contributing to an overall spike in people choosing to go online and self-publish.
Who knows? It may seem increasingly likely you’ll be reading an e-book on the subway by the writer sitting next to you.
The Huffington Post
Los Angeles Times
Trade Press Services