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June 24, 2011
Is Self-Publishing Finally Coming Into Its Own?
And by "its own" here I mean "a big enough business to be profitable and competitve". Long-time readers will remember that I've been circling around the issue of self-publishing for years
. Each time I look, it seems that the business is still full of landmines and pitfalls for authors and publishers alike
A few days ago, on the occasion of John Locke becoming "the first self-published writer to sell a million Kindle electronic books", Liam Allen for the BBC takes a look at self-publishing, independent authors, and the state of the business as he sees it.
Allen points out that there are now multiple success stories we can point to - people who were turned down by traditional publishing houses and who have gone on to have best-selling self-published books, even beating out well-known name authors in sales rankings. There are also bonus points for authors having more control, and taking home a much larger share of the sales revenue.
That said, an author can't just hand over an e-book and expect it to sell itself. The author has to take on many of the duties previously handled by the big publishing houses - promotion, marketing, and fulfillment among them. Some of the self-publishing enterprises give authors mechanisms for this, but none are offering the kind of full-service boutique you get from, say, a Random House.
Pricing is also a challenge that the self-published author has to surmount. Allen quotes Locke as saying that the 99-cent pricepoint of his e-novels was originally intended as a "loss leader" but in fact they've become his biggest sellers. Shades of Cory's argument that giving his stuff away was selling the hell out of it. Low pricing itself can be a two-edged sword. People (fans) who get used to a low price for one book may not stick with you if you raise the price and even though e-publishing systems often give authors the chance to change their selling price, there are no clear guidelines about whether or not to raise or lower a price.
I think one of the sure signs that self-publishing will have arrived as a well-accepted business model will be when we begin to see real statistics and case studies around these issues - and not just the current crop of how-to books. If those rigorous studies don't already exist, I predict we'll see a good sampling of them before this time next year.
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