Although perhaps regarded as a 21st century ‘buzzword’ in the world of publishing, self-publishing has been around for many years. From ‘The Tales of Peter Rabbit’ to ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ self-published books have been littered among the bestseller lists for decades.
Recently ‘Vook’ have re-launched as ‘Pronoun’, a self-publishing platform for authors providing them with the tools they need to publish, print, track performance and improve the online visibility of their work with a ‘best of both worlds’ approach overlapping between the self-publishing ideal of the author keeping all of the rights to their book, and the work of the traditional publisher getting the book into the market. Pronoun is marketed as being completely author-centric and (crucially) free to use, with authors earning 100% of all revenue (after retail discounts) including any ebook sales.
So does this mark the decline of tradition publishing? Mick Rooney however, is skeptical about ‘Pronoun’, questioning whether the platform really will be free for authors, or if there will be a hidden catch or fee somewhere along the line. He argues that Pronoun’s business model and ‘mission statement’ paint a picture of the publishing world as an epic tale of war between author and publisher, which doesn’t quite ring true. Pronoun appear to be presenting the author-publisher relationship as on the brink of decline, however sales figure would deem this simply incorrect.
On the other hand, it is true that there has been a parade of authors who turn away from traditional publishers to have more say in how their work goes from art to product. Author Cornelia Funke turned to self-publishing after refusing changes to her (already German published) novel when it reached the US market; and Polly Courtney claims to have turned to self-publishing to ‘regain control’ after using traditional publishers to publish her first two books.
But in the changing world of publishing, should the methods of publishing remain the same? In her article on thebookseller.com, Orna Ross has a battle cry of ‘power to the author’. In A Manifesto for Self-Publishing Authors Ross makes a case for self-publishing to be better for a digital format, but should also meet current trade standards. By being ‘closer to the reader’ she claims that “I can afford, more than anyone else, to rethink the ‘book’, and what it means to ‘publish’ and to be a ‘publisher’.”
So is self-publishing a real threat to those ‘in the industry’? Philip Jones via thebookseller.com says we don’t really know… Until Amazon release official figures we can only estimate the size of the self-publishing market. However, certain genres are thought to fit better with self-publishing – children’s books are apparently a tough nut to crack with traditional publishers and as a first time author self-publishing is can be a more successful path to take. Jones argues that the key to keeping the traditional publishing industry alive is to make sure that they hold on to their existing key authors.
I believe that the sole problem with self-publishing is that writing and publishing are two different skills – one cannot expect that just because an idea or product is yours, you are the best person to edit, produce or market it just as much as someone whose strengths lie in editing could produce content of their own. I think that self-publishing will flourish, particularly as reading and publishing become more digitally focused – however this does not have to be seen as a ‘threat’ to traditional publishing. Perhaps traditional publishers should see this as a springboard for change and use it to create more of a discussion and dialogue with their authors, keeping at the forefront that the relationship between a publisher and an author should be mutually beneficial.