The publishing industry is changing at the speed of light. The massive disruption caused by the killer combination of e-books, the internet, the Kindle, and open distribution systems like Amazon have changed the business forever.
Disruption on this scale is never pretty. Businesses will go under. People will lose their jobs. Many writers will struggle to adapt to change. Others will find opportunities and thrive.
To ensure you are in the latter group, you must continually challenge your assumptions.
As little as eight months ago, I was skeptical about the Digital Revolution. I didn’t think e-books would soon become the dominant format. I thought it would take, at the very least, a generation for print to fall out of favor.
I was allowing my personal prejudices (preferring print, preferring bricks-and-mortar bookstores, preferring to attain a traditional publishing deal) to color my views. And I was wrong.
I wasn’t challenging my assumptions. I had assumed that while self-publishing might be lucrative for some established mid-listers with reverted backlist titles, it wasn’t viable for unpublished writers. Again, I was wrong.
My views have changed a lot since then. But do I think self-publishing is the right answer for every writer? No. Do I advise everyone to self-publish? No. However, I do think every writer should consider it, at least for certain projects, and especially for those they have been unable to find a home for in traditional publishing.
I’m in favor of more options for writers. Self-publishing affords writers more opportunities to get their work in front of readers. This can only be a good thing, for writers at least. It mightn’t be so good for other players in the industry.
There are those that want to preserve the status quo: a long chain of middlemen between you and the reader, each collecting a slice of the pie, leaving little for the writer.
Those days are over. We can publish ourselves and sell direct to the reader. If anyone wants to have a slice of the pie they now have to prove their worth, with the retailers being the only ones to successfully make that case to most self-publishers thus far.
I give Amazon a 30% cut. That’s easily worth it for what I get in return: access to their global distribution system and to have them handle all the money. Same goes for Smashwords and the other retailers.
It doesn’t make sense, for me, at this point in my career, to hand a percentage to anyone else. I’m not saying I never would, but it would have to be a pretty amazing deal – not so much financially (although that is a factor), but in terms of how many readers they could bring me. You may well feel differently.
I may well feel differently in the future. The business conditions for self-publishers at the moment are very favorable. But I need to be continually on watch that I am not allowing any new prejudices to color my thinking.
After all, I have skin in the game now. I have three self-published e-books on sale, one of which is a guide to self-publishing, and more coming out shortly. I am not a disinterested observer. It is now in my direct material interest for the e-books to capture an ever-larger share of the market.
How do I guard against slipping into faulty thinking? I need to keep challenging my assumptions. I need to ensure my hypotheses are falsifiable. I need to make certain I haven’t imprisoned myself in a series of rhetorical walls, with windows that only allow me to see how I want the world to be, rather than how it actually is.
So what could threaten the currently favorable conditions for self-publishing?
Publishers could wake up and embrace the future, instead of trying to hold back the digital tide. They could lose their fixation with piracy and make all titles DRM-free. They could release digital versions when ready. They could cut publication times. They could end their futile battle to shore up print sales. They could really market and sell direct to readers. And they could slash prices across the board.
Other things could affect the viability of self-publishing. Amazon could lose significant market share to Barnes & Noble or one of the other competitors where self-publishers don’t seem to make as much of an impact. Alternatively, Amazon could gain an effective monopoly, and use their dominant position to slash royalty rates.
Looking further ahead, enhanced e-books could become the norm, and the higher production costs to create all the audio, video, and gaming segments could create insurmountable barriers to entry for most independent operators, and many would again be forced to license the rights to their content to publishers on inequitable terms.
Now, I don’t think that any of these things will happen in the short-term. In fact, I’m not sure that many of them will happen at all. I think the immediate future is quite rosy for self-publishers, and will continue to improve over the next six months as the market swells with new entrants eager to fill their devices.
However, to ensure that I don’t fall into the trap of faulty thinking I need to challenge my assumptions regularly. You should challenge your assumptions. You should challenge mine. You should test those of everyone you listen to. It’s the only way to keep an open mind.
And that is the key to positioning yourself to take advantage of all of the opportunities that this massive disruptive change will present.