Wednesday, October 24, 2012

No. Self-Pubbed Authors Are Not Killing the Publishing Industry

By Steve Weddle

Melissa Foster wrote a piece asking whether self-published authors are "killing the publishing industry."

I thought we were beyond this argument. I guess not. So let's take care of this one today.

Here's how she starts:

Self-published authors have created a devaluing of the written word, and, some of them are scrambling to see how low they can go to get noticed. Let us list the ways: 99-cent price point for ebooks.  Free ebooks via KDP Select program.  Unedited work. Kindle giveaways to get attention and bulk up sales.  And lastly, nasty reviews from other authors with the sole purpose of driving down customer ratings.

Imagine the genius it took for a self-published author two years ago to be the first author ever to give away a book for free. Amazing. Why didn't we hear about this on the news? A free book? Holy shit snacks. For reals? Yes. I don't know who that self-published author was, but give that kid a cookie and a Pulitzer. (Oh, I forgot. They don't give Pulitzers for fiction these days. Well, a cookie. At least that has value.)

Oh, but what about those self-published authors giving nasty reviews to others in order to drive down their "competition's" ratings? Wait, those weren't all self-published authors? The most recent and biggest doer of that thing is an author with a real publishing contract with a real publisher? Oh, well then.

So self-published authors are ruining the wonderful world of publishing?

Again, from the original post:

Although many do try, and not just by giving away books for less than a buck. Many indie authors are now relying on gimmicks to gain sales. They’re giving away Kindles and iPads in exchange for reviews and as raffles during sales promotions. Traditionally published authors aren’t stooping to these tactics. Why are indies? The short answer is that with over 1 million ebooks published each year, it’s difficult to make a mark.
The lesson may be that if indie authors don’t value their work, chances are no one else will either. Readers want, and deserve, quality books, and they’re used to paying for them. Think about it: pennies for pages didn’t exist before ebooks and self-publishing were viable.
Does this mean that self-published authors are killing the publishing industry? Yes, in a sense it does.  What can be done about this devaluing of the written word? How can self-published authors change this scenario and help make self-publishing, as a whole, shine and earn as respectable of a reputation as traditional publishing?

Is it so terrible that people can pay $9.99 for a good self-pubbed novel rather than a $25.99 hardback of Snooki's latest Big Six publication?

There are great Big Six books and there are lousy ones. There are great self-pubbed and indie-pubbed books and there are lousy ones.

Your question is whether self-published authors are killing publishing, but I think what you mean is whether bargain pricing is killing publishers' ability to charge $25.99 for a Snooki hardback.

Many Big Six publishers will offer discount books, especially when a new book in a series comes out. For example, when a Big Six company is trying to get $25.99 for the new Inspector Fakename book (#19 in a series) they might offer a few books in the series for free or for 99c. I guess you'd call this a "gimmick." Sounds like good marketing to me. Unless, of course, a self-published or small press author does the same thing. Then that particular author has engaged in "this devaluing of the written word," as you say.

Big Six publishers fought as long as they could against what was good for readers -- ebooks. Now they're having to catch up. I think if you were to talk to any executive at a Big Six company, she or he would admit to a number of mistakes made over the past couple years.

Let me flip this around in another example. I've lived in small towns where small mom-and-pop stores survived for years by having the following hours of operation: "TU-FRI 10 am-3pm & By Chance." I am not making that up. Their hours included the phrase "& By Chance." How quaint and lovely, right? Well, when WalMart or Generic Food Store located nearby and offered serious hours of operation and reasonable prices, business went poop for the small shops. Of course, the small shops complained that Generic Food Store was putting them out of business.

Big Six companies will adapt, as have those small town businesses that have survived. So many Big Six folks are so ahead of the curve on this, but the industry itself, which is legion, will appear slower to adapt, I suppose. People "in the industry" are clever and know exactly what they want to do. Many are doing it. There are so very many great people doing great things in the Big Six world of publishing. Just as there are many people in the indie-pub world doing great stuff.

Small publishers and indie-authors and whatever names you want to assign the DIY writing crowd have found that they can distribute their books directly to the readers (via pdf download from an author's page, Amazon, Smashwords, etc) and do an end-run around the mammoth corporations that have to sustain Manhattan real estate and expense account limos.

Authors who are handling their own books are now able to make more money for themselves. This doesn't mean that they "devalue" the written word. They're no longer fighting for $5,000 advances spread over three years and two dollars per hardback after the book "earns out." They're not giving up control of covers. They're tracking down artists themselves. They're making their own decisions based on fonts and art and distribution. Sure, they have to hire their own publicists. So do Big Six authors. Sure they have to schedule their own readings. So do Big Six authors.

These authors aren't "devaluing" the writing -- they're valuing it more than most big corporations ever have.


Nigel Bird said...

bang on that drum and bang on full stop.

Anonymous said...

I find it funny that people who generally pride themselves on being about change are the ones whining the loudest about it.

sandra seamans said...

In the past couple of weeks I've run across two publishers (small press) who don't want to see work from self-published authors which has me puzzled. If their sales are good, why wouldn't they want new work from an author who has proved himself?

This whole "self-pub - don't" debate drives me crazy.

Dana King said...

I don't see what the fuss is about. The publishing industry has steadfastly clung to outdated business practices, trying to carve out whatever savings there are to be had from the one link of the chain they can't do without, the content producer. (Authors) They don't need indies to kill publishing; they've been doing a bang-up job on their own.

Bryon Quertermous said...

Self publishing gave us new Anthony Neil Smith novels and new JD Rhoades novels and new Jeff Shelby novels and new Dave White novels and a John Rector novel and soon a new Victor Gischler novel, all of which are amazing books that big publishing didn't care for. Fuck big publishing.

But big publishing isn't the enemy either, they're just playing a different game. Community theater productions of originals plays aren't ruining the Broadway theater scene. It's just a different game.

Thomas Pluck said...

The only work you can devalue is your own.

Paperback originals destroyed publishing 60 years ago. Then the mass market paperback. Then chain stores. They embraced the discount bin, and now e-books and self-publishing are the enemy.

It's all been said before.

EA said...

As long as self-publishing continues changing the marketplace, I don't think we'll ever be beyond the conversation. Big publishers are losing millions on the new playing field and they won't go quietly. There's room for everybody, but only when the e-book is a mature, accepted part of the landscape will the conversation stop about what it's "destroyed." By then, e-book publishers will be screaming about something eating THEIR lunch. It's a normal creative business cycle, offering opportunity to the new, nimble and agile while clearing out the old, and sometimes disgruntled establishment.