Print Vs. ePublishing: 3 Views And Then Mine

January 22, 2009

I will link to these in a certain order because they build on one another.

First, there’s wicked-smart Kat Meyer:

The Double-Edged Sword of Self-Publishing (and other mixed metaphors for a monday)

You see, self-publishing services are about one thing – they are about getting books published. The better self-publishing firms will offer some copyediting and design services, and see to it that the book is made available by online retailers, but they will not create a demand for that book, nor make that book worth reading. It’s like that shiny, gleaming, rock-stuck, double-edged sword just sitting there for the taking – it certainly looks easy enough; and there are very few barriers to getting your book published (money being the main barrier, though there are options where not even money is required). But the barriers to getting your self-published book read? Those barriers are real and they are many.

This is because the so-called “barriers” that the self-pubbed author managed to avoid by circumventing the traditional publishing route, were not simply barriers. They were check points. They were safe guards. They were opportunities for a lot of industry trust agents to jump on board and show they not only believed in the book, but were willing to risk their own money, time, and/or professional reputations to see that book make it in the world.


For traditionally published books, this vetting manifests as a byzantine process where millions of seemingly unconnected people work together, but apart — each taking some kind of personal and/or financial risk on a title. Agents, editors, designers, marketers, publicists, sales reps, reviewers, TV show hosts, bloggers, booksellers, librarians, etc., (I’m sure I’m forgetting a few people here) – boldy stand up and put their money where their mouths are, all so a traditionally published book can have a chance of making it in the marketplace. And usually, these players are not just idly signing on to support a book because it’s “popular” or “trendy” (i love these “scare quotes”). They are often supporting a book because they are quite passionate about it. Their love for, and belief in the book is worth a lot to others in the list of industry players, and eventually enough people willing to risk enough time and money on that book translates into readers being willing to risk their time and money on the book.

On the other hand, for the majority of self-published books, there is no vetting, or gate-keeping, or author platform building, or curation process. And, the majority of self-published authors will find themselves trying to gain the trust and willingness of readers with no collateral to offer in return.

All of that is true. And it’s why over and over again I’ve stressed the great importance — the do or die vitalness — of having professionals on hand for any writer who wishes to go the direct-publishing route. Copyeditors, proofreaders, eBook designers, cover artists. Just because the entire world has been transfered to a writer’s shoulders doesn’t mean the post-manuscript phase becomes extinct! It doesn’t become extinct. It becomes a pre-publication expense the writer must now bear.

Next up is writer Cliff Burns, with: Preserving the Future: A Modest Proposal

My wife Sherron has thrown down the gauntlet.

The other night she told me: “Listen, you’ve had your fun insulting editors and publishers, belittling their intelligence, always going after them. Now, how about something constructive? You’ve got ideas on how to improve things and make the system run better so let’s hear them, wise guy.”

Right. Here goes.

Cliff then goes on to propose a system that is half of that new HarperCollins imprint (which I hated on, here and here), combined with POD (Print On Demand).

Third is David Nygren at The Urban Elitist, with: Business Model for eBook Only Publishing House

Among the proposals made:

-eBooks only (or mostly).

– The publisher accepts authors, not manuscripts.

– Therefore, authors can publish whatever they feel is necessary: something book-length, something article-length, a short story, a paragraph, a sentence, a poem, a play, a script or a rant. Fiction or non-fiction. Finished or not finished. The idea is not to create and package “books” but rather to create a forum and content delivery system for quality writing that will appeal to a certain type of reader. Think of it almost like a hybrid book/magazine publisher.

– The publisher focuses on developing content to suit the tastes of readers in that publisher’s market. Not a niche, necessarily. Just a shared taste.

– The publisher publishes hundreds or perhaps thousands of writers.

Well, that finally forced me to codify at least a portion of my thinking about the way the future should work out. I left this Comment:

No ads, no “publishes hundreds or thousands” of authors, and probably no subscriptions.

We have too many ads in our lives already. Ads in paperbacks were tried in the 1970s. FAIL then, FAIL now.

eBook-only publishers who succeed will focus to a tight audience. I keep thinking of Hard [Case] Crime in the US and Do Not Press in the UK. Both are publisher brand names I trust and would read anything they put out.

That’s what’s needed for eBooks.

Once a reader understands what a publisher is offering, they will be more willing to sample more of that publisher.

This is why current print publishers devised imprints. Unfortunately, the imprints have a diluted “focus” and really act only as guides to bookstore shelving and marketing.

What eBooks need is an Apple-like cult status for marketing. Apple doesn’t do certain electronics. Likewise, an eBook publisher wouldn’t do all kinds of books.

By slicing everything this way, readers know where to go for what they like, publishers know the audience, and there’s room for as many publishers as possible without the interference of a distant corporate Board.

And that’s not everything I have to say about it, either. But I have an entire blog to dribble that out over time.

As a postscript of sorts, there’s this in Time magazine: Books Unbound

Put these pieces together, and the picture begins to resolve itself: more books, written and read by more people, often for little or no money, circulating in a wild diversity of forms, both physical and electronic, far outside the charmed circle of New York City’s entrenched publishing culture. Old Publishing is stately, quality-controlled and relatively expensive. New Publishing is cheap, promiscuous and unconstrained by paper, money or institutional taste. If Old Publishing is, say, a tidy, well-maintained orchard, New Publishing is a riotous jungle: vast and trackless and chaotic, full of exquisite orchids and undiscovered treasures and a hell of a lot of noxious weeds.

Not that Old Publishing will disappear — for now, at least, it’s certainly the best way for authors to get the money and status they need to survive — but it will live on in a radically altered, symbiotic form as the small, pointy peak of a mighty pyramid. If readers want to pay for the old-school premium package, they can get their literature the old-fashioned way: carefully selected and edited, and presented in a bespoke, art-directed paper package. But below that there will be a vast continuum of other options: quickie print-on-demand editions and electronic editions for digital devices, with a corresponding hierarchy of professional and amateur editorial selectiveness. (Unpaid amateur editors have already hit the world of fan fiction, where they’re called beta readers.) The wide bottom of the pyramid will consist of a vast loamy layer of free, unedited, Web-only fiction, rated and ranked YouTube-style by the anonymous reading masses.

Unfortunately, that piece stresses how writers made a leap from direct-publishing to Big Bucks From The New York Dying Dinosaurs of Print.

I’ll have none of that.