Digital goats v Paper sheep?

So there’s been another spat reminiscent of the Stephen Leather equivalent at Harrogate last year. This time involving US self-pubber Barry Eisler.

Apparently agents and publishers don’t like being told they risk being redundant. Quite a few people have commented on this—at considerable length—so I’ll keep this brief.

Of the current top five (as of 25th April 2013) Kindle bestsellers in the USA, three are self-pubbed, one is published by a small, specialist e-book publisher and only one is published by a mainstream, bricks-and-mortar publisher.

It really doesn’t matter what publishers think or how unnacceptable they find some of the terms used by self-published writers in the blogs and speeches written about publishing, the facts are the facts. Mainstream publishers ARE being left out of the process and the value they are capable of adding to the publishing chain IS more and more open to question.

Yes, some self-published writers are horribly disingenuous and self-serving in their arguments—"legacy publisher" is designed to irritate publishers (where do they keep the embalming fluids?) and it fatally undermines their protestations of innocence that they are just the guys who happen to be pointing out the emperor’s nudity.

Barry Eisler, for example, happily peddles the canard that he had never considered that self-publishing might work better for some genres than others. Not only is this from the guy who will happily tell publishers how they are getting it wrong, but I happen to remember a UK agent making this exact same point to him on a radio show he was on over a year ago.

Self-publishing suits Barry Eisler—great. It doesn’t suit thousands of others, nor is it likely to. The trouble is, as far as publishers are concerned, that is beside the point—self-publishing suits commercially savvy, genre-defined authors brilliantly. The authors who have historically been the commercial driving force of all major publishers. If the Kings, the Grishams and Pattersons of the future are going to be self-published where does that leave traditional publishers?



You are asking the wrong

You are asking the wrong question. It's clear where it leaves traditional publishing if all the authors who have the initiative to go it indie and the talent to sell books that way do so. It leaves them out in the cold and the dark.

The real question is, why do they not belong there?

Traditional publishers can and do offer authors a great many very real benefits. The problem is that they vastly overcharge for what those services are worth. They always have. We just didn't know it until recently.

So, they have two choices. They can lower the price of their services to the point where it is once again economically reasonable for authors to consider utilizing them, or they can go and sit in the cold and the dark. Unfortunately, they can't do the former without undergoing some pretty fundamental changes that they are not interested in making. So unless something happens to change that, I foresee a cold, dark future for them.

Now, you may be thinking that the Kings, et al, subsidize the first-time authors, the literary gems who don't sell well, the bold experimental work, et cetera. And that is a very good point. But the thing is said noobs, nabobs and ne'er-do-wells also have access to indiepublishing. If there is a demand, small but real, for their work, the market can still provide access to it - and without the parasitic overhead of a large traditional publisher, they might make more money anyway. For the ones who were artificially promoted into some semblance of success by the Gatekeepers of Culture, things are looking bleak. To that I reply, "Good." Wait, strike that. To that I reply, "Hahahahahahahahaha!" But hopefully, those were few and far between and perhaps now they can find something useful to do, like selling shoes.

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