Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Digital Warming and Self-Publishing

Today there is much debate over the value and size of the self-publishing channel. Yesterday this channel was restricted by the physical supply chain, which effectively remains owned by the traditional publishing channel. This is no longer the case with the digital channel and works are only restricted by all the other works that they compete with on their virtual shelf and the money spent in promoting and marketing a title.

Self-publishing was once seen by the market as vanity publishing and being the books that publishers didn’t want and therefore unworthy of the attention of consumers. The digital market has changed that and now self-publishing is growing in respectability. There are still poorly written and edited books, but some would suggest that also applies albeit to a lot lower extent to the traditional channel. Both now sit side by side on the same virtual shelf.

Platforms such as Kindle Digital Publishing (KDP) have made it possible for anyone to publish at relatively little cost and receive a large proportion of any revenues generated. Some will argue that there still are costs which are largely forgotten by the author. Others will claim that these tasks can be outsourced at a very low rate to professionals who don’t carry the corporate baggage. Some would suggest that publishers have the ability to generate more sales which even at a lower royalty will generate more money for the author. Others that self-publishing is more transparent, pays quicker and puts the author in charge of the price.

The self-publishing channel is now not restricted to new works, but is increasingly available to those published authors who have been able to revert their works when the publisher didn’t want them anymore, or digitally publish works that never had the digital rights licenced in the first place. The author are now able to republish these themselves digitally via the likes of KDP and others.

We now have a virtual shelf brimming over with old and new, self and published works and the challenge for all is now coined as ‘discoverability’. Marketing spend can still by the bestseller, but those without that backing now have to increasingly compete head to head with the self-published.

In his Report on self-publishing Hugh Howey draws his conclusion that the self-publishing channel is far greater than many think and he makes some claims which others dispute. The reality is that no one really knows the answer and the data today is incomplete and the analysis often more subjective than factual. Amazon, do not disclose and make the detail public and as a result there are many who make assumptions based on their opinion and bad data.

Counting the volume of total works published becomes a futile exercise as many self-publishing ones don’t have ISBNs, let alone bother to register them. So how many ‘new’ titles were published last year becomes an guessing exercise for some and largely irrelevant to many. The slice of market share achieved by some is as only as good as the data collated and what is often outside of that is ignored. Even the definition of a work and the number of renditions starts to be questionable.

Like global warming it would be somewhat naïve to not accept digital warming is happening and one aspect of this is that self-publishing is not only growing but that some authors are making a return off this route. Self-publishing will not cannibalise the traditional channel and as we have said, it can’t compete with others marketing and promotional spend, but it can be a viable first step to many, provide a longevity of a work for others and if dismissed by the traditional players may well come home to haunt some.

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