Books in the new world
In the stampede by the various factions to have their say on the proposed de-regulation of book imports, one group seems to have been overlooked: The self-publisher. It may come as a surprise to some, but more books are self-published in Australia, than are published by the mainstream publishing houses. Self-publishers are writers who self-finance the publication of their books because nobody else will. As one literary Agent put it to me recently: “Self-publishers are a conundrum for the industry and we don’t really know how to deal with them.”
To analyze this “conundrum” more closely, one needs only to understand the industry in simplistic terms. The major publishing houses are essentially commercially based entities. Like any business, they only want to back winners. Books, be it novels, biographies, self-help, non-fiction, are all products a publisher wants to sell; no different from a cosmetics manufacturer wanting to sell lipstick. And, they invest big money in the hope of getting bigger money back. In many ways they are not unlike a Football club that carefully selects a list of players to win them a premiership, but also cultivates a rookie list for the future. Most writers on the other hand do it because we love it. It’s a passion. Therefore it will not surprise anyone to hear that there are far more writers out there, than there are publishers willing to publish their work. Publishing houses could receive up to 5000 manuscripts a year, from which they may choose one or two for publication; most will not even be read.
So, what do you do when you have a product you believe in and nobody to produce or market it?
In the past, the majority of writers in this position filed their manuscript in the bottom draw of the cupboard at home and started on something new. However, since the introduction of Print-on-Demand technology, all that has changed. Now, a self-publisher can publish her/his work, develop some simple computer skills and design her/his own cover and enlist the assistance of a number of self-help websites to have their work edited, and reviewed free. They then have access to a world-wide market by submitting their book to Google Books and Amazon and Lulu’s websites, all available for a start-up cost of less than $100. They can then join a plethora of author websites offering assistance and encouragement to promote their work. Some of these sites act as a sort of union with members buying each others’ books. The entire publishing industry including newspapers is on notice. The internet has changed our way of life in ways unimaginable, two decades ago.
Self-publishers explain this revolution in two words: The future!
So where do you think the self-publisher stands on the issue of de-regulation of publishing and parallel importing? I won’t speak for others; they can do that for themselves and not everyone will necessarily agree with me. But for me, the bottom line is: I couldn’t care less! Publishing houses have never shown an interest in me. Literary Agents ignore me and bookstores only call me when someone makes an inquiry. Yet my books sell here and overseas in a cut-throat market. A book doesn’t have to be something special to be published. Books are bought on the basis of interest and value, not literary merit. The reader doesn’t know if the book is good until it has been read. Most books today are purchased on-line. The very nature of competition has been turned on its head and the once revered retail bookstore is staring its use-by date down the barrel just like the neighborhood hardware store. But it isn’t the threat of de-regulation that places it in this invidious position. The internet already has!
One can debate the positive and negative impacts of this development, but it has nothing to do with government regulation.