Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Personal publishing will rule us all (like a tyrant!)

Hi gang, I am toying with retitling self-publishing to personal publishing, as it more correctly reflects what is happening in the world today. Not to worry, I am not about to don an ascot and consider myself part of the literati simply because I recognize that the trend of taking control of one's future publishing fate in the midst of a culture war. I simply believe this will help reset the way we think of books that are not pit out by one of the "major" (or "top 6") publishing houses.

Publishing feudalism is dying. The monarchies have cannibalized themselves over and again, buying, selling, being bought, and falling victim to the ultra-conservative "profit ├╝ber alles" mentality that strips all meaningful creative progress (and soul) from the marketplace over time. Short-term gain has replaced the dedication to presenting and preserving quality thought and fine literary expression. The response to this is natural.

The world breathes. Tides ebb and flow. Seasons rotate in an unending cycle. More dualistically, pendulums swing (back and froth, back and forth). The rise of the "self-publisher" is the rise of successful self-publishing that dates decades back to successful mail order. "How to Pick Up Girls" would never have made it in bookstores in the 19080's but found a huge market in mail order, with full page ads running in national magazines that appealed to guys. That one book has sold over 2 million copies (some to most copies at $20 a piece), making a nice pile of change for the self-published author. Let me reiterate. That is $40 million the author created off of just one book--on picking up girls. That is his money! It did not go to retailers and publishers and agents. he opened up the cash drawer and backed the dump truck in and piled money until the drawer was overflowing.

The story of the successful self-publisher is an American icon. The story is told again and again in endless names, some authors selling out to traditional publishers, and others remaining quietly famous and insanely wealthy from their efforts. Multi-millionaires you would not recognize because they are not on TV.

But self-publishing success has naturally led to a self-publishing support industry. Just as the vanity press industry's greed killed the goose that laid those wonderful eggs, the opening grew for low-cost assistance to self-publishers. "Need a book printed? We can do it cheap!" Or, "How about distribution?' The services available to today's "self-publishers," which now refer to small publishing start-ups, authors with one or two titles, authors who use the services of assistance publishing companies such as CreateSpace.com and BookSurge.com, lulu.com, and more intensive operations like OutSkirts Press, is a booming market. It has been said that during gold rush, the smartest way to wealth is to sell picks and shovels.

Well, someone is listening to that wisdom. If 80% of Americans want to write a book (statistically quoted time and again), then the market for book publishing assistance will end up overwhelming the efforts of "traditional publishing" to stem the tide. Brick and mortar bookstores become less and less integral to the distribution of books, and "self-publishers" become personal publishers, issuing one book or more, and of ever-increasing quality. This may be the best time in history to be an editor.

To survive the rising tide of personal publishing, brick and mortar booksellers MUST remain a viable entity by becoming havens for reading and discussion. They must replace the coffeehouse as the cultural melting pot. Less individual copies of more titles is the order of the day, and books must be able to be replaced in-stock faster than ever. Not having a title on a shelf spells the death of profit, but languishing titles means that marketing is not being done properly. Titles and authors must be presented to the reading public and in such a way as to help people find authors who they will enjoy, based on their highly individual needs and desires.

Nothing can stop the rise of the personal publisher. But even with millions of new books entering the market over the next few decades, few will ever be read by more than a dozen people. That removes the threat to both the intelligent publisher and the savvy bookstore owner. Titles that are important to the public will always have a demand. Titles being promoted by the author will reach similar sales. But titles written and abandoned can be left online to be ordered "on demand only" to preserve shelf space and sanity.

The current publishing industry is in disarray. The solution is to retain the hard-won wisdom of centuries of professional publishing and bring in new (internet and caffeine-fueled) blood to manage the operations under the guidance of wise leadership. As to the individual authors, we must provide the very best books we can conjure forth, and present them to our core readership. The rest is simply a matter of details. Death to "self-publishing," for "no man is an island unto himself." Long live personal publishing, and the global support-staff that comes with it.

I remain humbly, your typing monkey.

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