Two very interesting posts came out last week signifying major shifts in publishing and how self-publishing may be regarded. This article is a must read: Adding to the Bottom Line With Self-Published Titles. Thie gist of the article is this: self-published titles are not the money-drain they used to be and now can be seen as a way for bookstore to…wait for it…turn a profit:
At the 20,000-square-foot Boulder Bookstore in Boulder Colorado, Arsen Kashkashian said self-published books are “definitely a growth market for us.” After getting “inundated” with local authors looking to sell their self-published books, the bookstore instituted a policy and fee structure loosely modeled on publishers’ co-op policies. Self-published books are taken on consignment, and authors are charged a basic one-time stocking fee of $25. The fee goes up from there for a book’s newsletter placement, website promotion, etc. There is also a fee for participation at events, which usually feature several authors who divide the cost. As long as the book looks professionally bound, Boulder Bookstore will accept it on consignment. By the end of the year, Boulder will stock about 100 self-published titles on its shelves.
Some may be dissapointed, as this is a pay to play model of publishing, and granted, it’s unfeasibly to spend $25 at bookstores all over the country to carry a book. Still, it’s a significant development in that it shows how bookstores are adapting to the new environment and seeing self-published books as a way to actually make money, rather than books put out by less-than-talented writers who have no business being on the shelves. As the article goes on, “Kashkashian noted that self-published books are of a much higher quality than 10 or 15 years ago, and they often hit a niche that books from the big houses can’t.”
More: “Viewpoint Books in Columbus, Indiana, also carries self-published books on consignment and has seen a positive effect on sales.” Consignment isn’t anything new, but the fact that consignment is leading to better sales is significant.
Still, the problem is that this is mostly for local authors. National distribution for self-published authors still remains the Great White Whale of self-publishing.
Authors of the Future
Nathan Bransford has a great post titled Will Authors of the Future need Publishers? He writes:
The industry right now is facing a looming restructuring as e-books become more and more a part of the landscape. And as e-books become more and more common publishers will increasingly see their raison d’etre challenged by digital and self-publishing.
Right now, with e-books hovering somewhere around 5% of sales, authors still need publishers…But what about in the future if e-books become 50% or more of an author’s sales? You don’t need infrastructure to distribute e-books: you just need an Internet connection….
I really don’t think publishers are going to disappear entirely. The package of services and expertise they offer are unmatched (when things are running as they should), and it would be extremely difficult for Authors of the Future to navigate all of the complexities of making a bestselling book of the future by themselves.
I don’t think publishers are going to be obsolete either, but as Bransford goes on, publishers will be more service-based, rather than gatekeeper-based. One of the more positive things to come out of a bad economy is that it leads to a restructuring of the system that led to the initial recession. A growing number of bookstores now see self-published titles as a viable economic opportunity. Publishers are seeing self-published sales as an economic opportunity as well.
We just have to wait for ebooks to become 50% of the market and the Espresso Book Machine to be at your local Walgreen’s before the restructuring of publishing is complete.
Paying for Reviews
On a somewhat-related note, I want to revisit the idea of paid-for reviews. It’s just a different media world right now, which means there needs to be a different model for how web-based vehicles make money. Fox is experimenting with a subscription model for news sites – which is not likely to be successful because you can find the same information for free elsewhere. But at least it’s an example of old media trying to adapt to the new media environment and shows how you can’t look at monetization online through the same lens as you view old media.
The old criticism is that a paid-for review cannot be honest. To this I ask, Why not? If a reviewer is able to retain objectivity, what is the problem with payment coming from the writer – this is no different than the pay-to-play model at the Boulder bookstore mentioned above. What’s worse: not being reviewed due to the impossibility of reviewing the thousands of self-published books that come out every year – which are going to grow in years to come – or gathering together a reliable stable of reviewers who will review books in a timely fashion because they are being paid for it. Most of the POD review sites review a few books a month. What really needs to happen is for a site to review several books a week, which is much less likely to occur with a free review system.
The main issue I have is with accessibility. The advantage of self-publishing is that no one is locked out of the gates. And charging for reviews means those that can’t afford it won’t be able to get a review. Money and publishing are a bad mixture, as has been shown with the marketing madness in mainstream publishing. But if the cost is kept well below the exorbitant prices of Kirkus reviews ($400), it’s less of a barrier.
I am not just playing devil’s advocate here. I am actually trying to figure out a way to review more writers and find a way to bring in quality reviewers who might be attracted by paid reviews – even if it’s a relatively small amount – $30 or so per review.
So, taking that all into account:
About the Author: Henry Baum
I’m the author of The American Book of the Dead. The novel won Best Fiction at the DIY Book Festival and the Gold IPPY Award for Visionary Fiction. Largehearted Boy says it's "reminiscent of Philip K. Dick and Haruki Murakami, a book that boldly explores the future and defies genre." I'm also the author of North of Sunset, winner of the Hollywood Book Festival Grand Prize, and The Golden Calf - first published by Soft Skull Press, with editions in the U.K. (Rebel Inc.) and France (Hachette Littératures). Visit henrybaum.com for more information. I’m the editor of Self-Publishing Review.