You could be forgiven for thinking that it was given some of the recent coverage it has had. James Patterson's recent adverts in the New York Times Book Review and others highlighting the wonderful books that wouldn't have come into the world if publishers didn't exist would certainly seem to suggest that it might be.
It is also implicit in the argument I hear all the time from publishers when discussing the subject. “Look”, they say, “at all the talent we nurture. Think of the poor impoverished literary author struggling in her garret. What will become of her if we are not there to publish her books?”
Publishing, they point out, has always worked on an eighty twenty rule, where the profitable twenty percent of books pay for the unprofitable eighty. As no one is all that good at predicting which is going to be which, publishing is - and always will be - a spread bet.
Self published authors – the successful ones – remove themselves from this eco system and so, the argument runs, also remove their subsidy from all those deserving writers who struggle to find a readership - the literary, the unfashionable and the new.
This argument might have an iota of merit if there was a publisher in existence who said to a new author they were signing up “the reason we take such a huge slice of the revenue pie is in fact because contrary to appearances we are not a business but are in fact a social enterprise where a proportion of the money we hope to make out of your books will be spent on other books that we like but which probably won’t make money.”
And publishers do take a huge slice of the revenue pie. Far bigger than they did ten or fifteen years ago. And it is working; this announcement by Bloomsbury is just one of several recent announcements of surging profits by publishers on static turnover.
Publishers are squeezing the e-book orange for all that it is worth and the profits are flowing. Is there any evidence whatsoever that they are investing any of that extra revenue in new, interesting voices? Not much, no.
And you know why? Because publishers are nervous. As they should be. Self publishing is eating away at their business. By some reckonings self published e-books account for thirty percent of the market. That is a figure that should worry publishers.
They like to persuade themselves that self published authors secretly long to be published. They don’t want the hassle of running their own business and hanker after the validation a publishers colophon confers.
But that is increasingly delusional. There are companies springing up all over the place who cater to the needs of self published authors and what’s more, self publishing is in danger of becoming fashionable. When people like Jim Carrey is doing it, then the floodgates are surely about to open.
What amazes me is that more of the big fiction brand authors aren’t doing it. In fact, if anyone reading this does happen to be a bestselling author and your agent is NOT seriously advising you to look long and hard at this option then please do get in touch.