Traditional publishers should learn from self-publishers

Does self-publishing represent a threat to traditional publishers, or perhaps an opportunity? A number of people in the publishing industry seem dismissive of self-publishing writers or their numbers. But Philip Jones of FutureBook thinks that this is a mistake. He notes that readers who buy cheap self-published books will be spending time reading them that they might otherwise have spent reading more expensive works from traditional publishers.

What strikes me most about indie writers, however, is not what they write, but how they publish it. Konrath may be a ‘downmarket’ writer for some, but he is a first-rate publisher for many, as was Hocking: they wrote regularly, priced to the market, and promoted like hell. Heinze and Wilkinson may be looking for publishing deals: they just can’t be bothered waiting for traditional publishers to "discover them".

Traditional publishers need to learn from these successes, if they are to throw off the irritating "legacy" tag some self-published writers hang around their necks.

He suggests publishers should be trying models similar to that floated by Macmillan New Writing (which is unfortunately closed for new submissions right now when it should be scooping up all the fresh “indie” talent it can). They should be building communities and courting the more successful self-published authors (as with Amanda Hocking).

All that makes sense, but the article’s close in which Jones suggests that badly-edited and poorly-presented self-published e-books will put readers off over time, and traditional publishers could improve their appearance, is actually rather amusing. I find myself wondering just where Jones has been over the last few years if he thinks that “professional” e-books are uniformly well-edited or presented. I’ve seen plenty of self-published works that were better than some pro-published for typos.

8 Comments on Traditional publishers should learn from self-publishers

  1. I’ve seen my fair share of ” badly-edited and poorly-presented ” books from ‘traditional’ publishers over the years. I think the publishing industry is full of snobs.

  2. Snobs, sure… but snobs with a PR machine behind them. That’s why traditional publishers have been able to ignore self-publishers so far: The PR machine has the public convinced that self-publishers, with few exceptions, suck; and that their own ebook products are all well-constructed and worth reading.

    Traditional publishers won’t need to “learn” anything from self-publishers until the PR machine is overturned.

  3. Not only snobs but increasingly with no literary taste.

  4. “All that makes sense, but the article’s close in which Jones suggests that badly-edited and poorly-presented self-published e-books will put readers off over time” –

    this is hilarious! I can’t stop laughing. Aside from the obvious fact that traditional publishers have put out a lot of badly edited and formatted crap, what really puts readers off are some of the following:

    1. Traditional publishers increasingly refusing to allow libraries to lend their ebooks or putting more and more restrictions on those loans – preventing readers from discovering new authors with low risk.

    2. Traditional publishers forcing a price point higher than one that comes about via a free market even though the new more expensive pricing ends up earning the publisher less profit per book.

    3. Traditional publishers disabling features such as book lending (even just one time to one person ever) and text-to-speech, that readers find useful and that help them to introduce their favorite authors to new audiences.

    4. Traditional publishers insisting on DRM that makes a book purchased from one vendor locked to a particular device (and ironically, also locked to a merchant – eg, Amazon).

    5. Traditional publishers trying to “take down” Amazon by threatening to withhold their books or window them – thus actually pissing off the majority of their own potential customers by denying them access to their product and making them feel like their business is not wanted.

    Amazon and independent authors succeed because they know what the customer (aka, the actual reader) wants and because they focus on providing it. Whether it be lower prices, features, accessibility across platforms, quality customer service, lending capability, etc. Publishers are so afraid of Amazon and self publishing that, instead of spending time thinking about how they can offer an even better service to their own customers, they continue to try attack tactics against Amazon/self publishing that only result in enraging and turning off their own true customers.

    I like books. I want to like publishers. More and more I have been seeing them as a perhaps unnecessary evil that just tries to put obstacles in the way of me enjoying their books out of nothing more than fear (of Amazon, of indies, of piracy, of sharing between friends).

    Traditional publishers are one big train wreck of their own doing. Quit being so fearful and defensive and start being progressive and inventive. Give their customers what they want and readers will start appreciating them again and Amazon and indies will have less power against them.

  5. What Vonda said. :)

    On pricing, the Big 6 publishers more than doubled prices for Australian customers, just before Christmas. Way to ruin your market, guys.

  6. As far as I know Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight was poorly edited, and look where it got her! Yes some self-published books are of poor quality, but there are many high quality titles. For example Legally Blonde was originally self-published, well according to this anyway: http://www.squidoo.com/authorhouse-publishing

  7. In the future, publishers will look to an author’s self-publishing numbers to see whether they’re worth investing in. If they haven’t been self-publishing, it’ll be harder to get published.

    Also, writers will look to a publisher’s record of how well they improve on an author’s work, how much their brand is worth to the author, and whether the extra sales they can expect are worth the share of the cover price the publisher demands.

  8. Nobilis – I think you are on the wrong line of thinking. In the future, author’s won’t need publishers to be published. It has already started.

    I also don’t see the value of the brand thing. When do readers ever look for what publisher is printed on a book or an eBook. They only care about the title, the author. High quality editing services are and will be available in the future to self published authors, leaving no real advantage for authors to go with the established Publishers.

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