The explosion of self-publishing platforms has, understandably, been a topic of great debate in the publishing world. Quite simply, these platforms have the potential to completely transform the structure of publishing as we know it – from who can publish a book in the public realm to the price that a book will be sold at. But what does this really mean for the industry?
In my opinion, ebooks and self-publishing present a range of new and exciting possibilities to traditional publishers to evolve. Take Penguin, for example. The publisher has recently invested into author services and self-publishing platform, Author Services, while in 2011, ebook sales made up 12% of its total revenue. It’s an impressive percentage that effectively demonstrates the direction that the market is moving in, and from a practical point of view, I can see the appeal. Embracing digital publishing has the potential to reduce overheads and unnecessary outgoings while still offering almost limitless opportunities for expansion.
The perceived threat comes from the vast array of authors who are now able to bypass traditional publishing houses and publish and market their work themselves. Examples of hugely successful self-published authors are not hard to find, and there are a few in particular that any discussion of the topic can’t fail to mention. E. L. James and her Fifty Shades trilogy is one. Hugh Howey and his widely acclaimed apocalyptic novel ‘Wool’ is another.
But I think it’s worth noting that although these authors began their journey in self-publishing, they also made agreements with traditional publishers to produce hard copies of their books. This undoubtedly is a major factor in their success. In fact, Fifty Shades accounted for almost one in ten of the 750 million books sold globally by publisher Random House across the year, resulting in record annual revenues and profits. And although I’d been reading rave reviews of Howey’s ‘Wool’ for a while, it wasn’t until it came out in paperback that I invested in a copy for myself.
This goes to show that the input and expertise of a traditional publishing house is still very much in demand. By positioning themselves as an expert in possession of all of the tools that self-published authors need to hit the big time, publishers can ensure that their knowledge and business model can go hand in hand with the digital revolution.
The real danger posed by self-publishing, as far as I can see, is in the already established, big name authors of the publishing world. There’s a real possibility that as self-publishing becomes more established, these authors could jump ship and take on the role of publisher and marketer for themselves, safe in the knowledge that a large percentage of their loyal readership will duly follow.
Whatever happens, the publishing industry almost certainly has more to gain from embracing digital publishing than it has to lose.