To thine own self
17.02.12 | Neill Denny
The news that self-published content now comprises about a quarter of the volume of e-book fiction sales should serve as a wake-up call to traditional publishers.
For years publishers have looked down their noses at self-publishing, condemning it as vanity publishing, near enough a scam in which deluded authors part with their cash to publish unreadable books. It was the last option available for those who never escaped the slush pile.
But now the slush pile has gone online and some of it at least is commercially viable, with readers prepared to pay money for books professional publishers have turned down. Partly, this is the result of flawed decisions by publishers who have mistakenly—for whatever reason—rejected books that the reading public subsequently see value in. Partly, digital allows small groups of readers to come together online in a way that is impossible in physical retailing, and thus form a viable market for specialist and niche titles.
The current situation is perhaps reminiscent of what happened when the supermarkets starting selling books in the 1990s. A new market was created for new types of books: indeed, would Martina Cole, for example, have become a million-seller—or even been published at all—in the supermarket-free 1970s?
This is becoming a critical period for publishers. Play their cards right, and they can sign up the best self-published writers before they become too big to care. Additionally, they can use e-book-only publishing to test out new writers for far less cash outlay than that demanded by the old hardback model. But leave it too late, through inertia or prejudice, and the self-published authors will become too powerful to need conventional publishers, or indeed, agents.
For Amazon there is no such dilemma. Sitting on the vast majority of sales data for e-books, it now has the ability to identify which writers and genres are succeeding—data publishers are very much in want of—and promote accordingly.