<em>The tech world is full of new, frequently awesome and often controversial products, services, inventions, and innovations. I’m writing from the centre of it all, the San Francsico Bay Area, to discuss a wide range of topics from current news to ongoing debates and issues. </em>
Since the launch of the Amazon Kindle in 2007, e-books have been steadily gaining popularity and while discussions on tech and literature typically involve a debate over their ubiquity, sales have recently stagnated at around 30 per cent of total U.S. books sales and it looks as though growth will be slow if it occurs at all. Add to this that publishers and authors don’t really care if you buy their book in physical or electronic form, and you get a rather underwhelming sense of the importance of e-books. Their popularity has meant more for the tech industry than it has for publishing and more for readers than it has for writers. However, there are a few important changes brought about by e-books that are changing what, not just how, we read.
One of the larger shifts that e-books are responsible for is the rapid increase in the prominence of self-publishing, a shift that would have been impossible without the digitization of content.
The self-publishing model varies slightly depending on the platform, but in all cases authors upload their books to the publisher or distributor’s website to have it published on one or more online stores. While most services offer exclusively electronic publishing, there are also physical book self-publishing services such as Amazon’s Createspace.
Self-publishing is proving to be a much larger force in the literary world than many expected it to be. Although the vast majority of self-published authors will never sell enough copies to support themselves financially, there are a surprising number that have found success.
A recent Author Earnings Report found that self-published writers are collectively earning 40 per cent of the total income earned by authors from e-books sales. A big part of the reason that self-publishing is working is that authors make anywhere from 65–85 per cent of each book sale, as opposed to 8–15 per cent in the traditional model. This means that writers can target smaller niche audiences that wouldn’t be viable for publishers that have to invest in professional staff, marketing, and other overhead.
One of the major advantages of self-publishing is that the ability to upload content to open systems has allowed artists to take bigger risks, push their creative boundaries and ultimately create a wider range of content. This content is then reviewed by the general reading public which means that the role of deciding which books see the light of day is shifted from a small number experts to a large number of readers. This idea is borrowed directly from the tech industry.
It adheres to many of the libertarian-esque tendencies that Silicon Valley frequently exhibits and is also wonderfully entrepreneurial. However, there are a number of disadvantages of applying it to literature. In addition to the general de-professionalization of the review process, it is nearly impossible to differentiate unbiased from biased opinions. Many reviews are based on factors such as price instead of content and opinions on books vary far too drastically to use the same review model as Yelp.
There are other problems with the model as well and by far the most prominent is the enormous quantity of terrible work in self-publishing. This is the biggest problem with self-publishing, and the biggest advantage of traditional publishing.
On top of the rigorous selection process that goes into getting a book published, collaboration with editors and professional publishing staff churns out significantly better books. The copy you buy in a bookstore is almost always vastly different from the original manuscript; editors and authors work together to improve the book as it’s being written.
When software disrupts an industry, it bypasses traditional processes, replaces existing players, and improves efficiency. In the publishing industry this has meant sacrificing quality and de-professionalizing processes. Fortunately, these models don’t have to be mutually exclusive; there is room in the multi-billion dollar book industry for both.
Let self-publishing be an avenue for authors to experiment and get discovered while the traditional model continues to publish curated, professional works.
Self-publishing would not have seen the success it is currently enjoying without the prominence of e-books. Because of self-publishing more authors will have their work read by more people, literature will see a greater depth and breadth of content and traditional publishers stand to gain from a larger pool of proven talent.