Producer/Product/Publisher + Online Publishing

by nike, July 15, 2013

imagesThis isn’t really a fully-blown, well thought out post. It’s just a skeleton placeholder for some ideas I’ve been thinking about. Well, when I say *some* ideas, I really mean *an* idea. About publishing.

I was thinking about why I’m so resistant to the hoopla around self-publishing, particularly ePublishing, and how many writers, particularly aspiring writers, are being advised that it is the future of publishing. I’ve heard a lot about this, and about how it’s the best thing since sliced bread because writers no longer have to go cap in hand to publishers. The overstated version of the opportunities offered by the eruption of cheap, or free, alternative publishing avenues is that we (the writers) have taken back control of the relationship between ourselves and our readers. We can do just what the publishers do: we can get our book out there, in print or digitally, available to every reader on the planet.

Just quietly, I want to whisper *BS*.

More importantly, one thing I want to say is very simple, really. And it is this.

When you sell a book to a traditional publisher, under the auspices of a traditional contract, whether the book is being published digitally, in print, or in some other format, you are the owner of the IP in a product – your book – which the publisher invests in. In really, really simplified terms, you are the producer, your book is the product. Readers are the market. The publisher is the middleman. One of many, really, since there’s also usually the distributor and/or the bookseller.

In many of the new publishing models – including most ePublishing models I am aware of, but by no means all of them – you are not the producer, you are the market. You are being sold ‘publication’ and/or ‘distribution’. You are being sold your dream. The publisher, in these models, has relatively little interest in selling your books on to readers, because what they are actually retailing is publication. And they’re selling it to you. At the point where you buy publication of your book, they have already completed most of the economic transaction. At the point where they produce a digital copy of your book, and a free or price-point link to it from their website (and/or other ‘marketing opportunities’), many of them have completed the transaction. Perhaps the place where people go to click-and-buy your book includes lots of advertising for other products and services. In this case, you and your product are often being used to facilitate further sales to other writers of the publisher’s services: publication, distribution, marketing …

Is your book available online? In various formats? Whether anybody then buys your book, in whatever format it’s available, is not really this kind of publisher’s (primary) concern. For these kinds of publishers, the transaction is complete: you got what you paid for.

I think this is true even if you aren’t paying the publisher up-front. If you are allowing your work to be published by them, without any advance or significant ongoing investment on their part in the editing, production, distribution and marketing of the work, you are selling your IP for nothing. And they are investing pretty much nothing in it. Especially if its one of those DIY ePublishing platforms like Kindle Direct Publishing.  They’ve written the software, and hosted the page, and will let you put your book on their virtual bookshelves. But they are not investing in your work. You have not ‘sold’ the book at this stage: you have been ‘sold’ the idea of being an author.

In return, the publisher gets (for nothing) the right to distribute your work, and the right to earn a fee for every sale you make. In other words: you are paying them to publish your work, and host it on their site. (In more traditional publishing relationships, the publisher gets a fee for every book sold because they have invested in it: editorial time and input, design and layout, proofreading, marketing plans and materials, review copies, distribution of hard copies, and so on and on).


In other words, you have not completed a traditional publishing transaction in which you are the producer, the book is the product and the publisher is (one of) the middlemen who get your work to the market. Instead, you have completed a transaction in which you are the market and the publisher is the service-provider. You have ‘bought’ publication either up-front, and/or through ongoing fees-for-service. You may even be invited to pay extra for additional services, such as design, proofreading, formatting, or ‘extra’ marketing.

This is not to say that non-traditional publishing is not for you, that it isn’t the beginning of the future of publishing, or that there aren’t a lot of writers for whom it is the answer. It’s just an observation about how these forms of publishing shift the contractual/economic relationship between writers, publishers and readers. And an invitation to consider the consequences of seeing the ‘alternative’ publishing field this way.

One thing that strikes me is this: most of these publishing houses exist in a market-driven economy. How can writers use their collective power, as the market, to benefit themselves as writers, the community of writers, and the community of readers?

Also, if you *are* the market, then you can shop around, compare prices/deals. If you ARE going to use one of these alternate publishing routes, understanding that you are the consumer can put you in a powerful place. Unlike in traditional publishing, where you want the publisher to buy/distribute your book, in this model, the publishers want/need you. You are their market. They want you to ‘buy’ what they’re offering, and recommend it to your friends, and so on. They have invested in providing a service – publication – for which they want to increase demand.

Err … that’s my two cents. Just thinking aloud. Would love to hear what you think.

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