E-Books and Self-publishing

There’s been a flurry of articles in the mainstream media lately about the future of publishing; in particular, the e-book revolution is much in the air.

I find this interesting. First, because I’m just intellectually fascinated by such transitions and the human mind. Second, because I’ve been thinking for several months now about the possibility of self-publishing.

That term used to be a dirty word, of course. It rings of vanity publishing, which isn’t what I’m aiming for at all. Quite to the contrary. Vanity publishing is where you pay money to see your work in print. Self-publishing, to my thinking, is where you get to keep more of the money when your work sees print.

What’s held me back — what’s held back most folks from going the self-pub route (other than perceived stigma, which I could care less about) — is the fact that a publisher-published book is far and away more likely to sell more copies than a self-published book. So while the author gets a much smaller cut of the pie in publisher-publishing, the pie is so much bigger that it doesn’t matter.

What I keep coming back to, though, is whether that’s changing. E-books are, whether we like it or not, the future. And e-books don’t have the distribution networks required in traditional publishing. You can theoretically distribute direct, from the author to the reader, point to point, with no middlemen. Even if you do utilize a middleman — say, Amazon, for the Kindle — the percentages are higher (35% of cover for the Kindle Store).

But then there’s something else, too: we live in a viral world. What if that viral passing of material could include, say, a book? It would need to be free, of course, but imagine if a book went viral, reader to reader, downloaded, copied, recopied, around the globe. Released in Creative Commons, people would be free to translate it, to play with it, to do whatever-the-heck-they-wanted-to with it, so long as they didn’t profit. The author, meanwhile, would utilize the resulting traffic to make money via advertising click-throughs, merchandising, and actual print copies of the viral book (I’ve bought CDs of material I downloaded for free, after all). The e-copy could be formatted by the author, and the print copy, too, could be self-published on demand and shipped direct to readers.

What kind of book would work for such a thing? An entertaining one, obviously, but also one that has an edge of anti-establishment to it. Better still, it would have many plot-threads with lots of cliff-hangers. Ideally, it would be full of things that could be linked, so that the text itself could become a kind of jumping-off point in hundreds of interesting directions, embedding itself into the interwoven virtual worlds of the Web.

Perhaps I’ve been spending too much time reading things on my iPod Touch, but I think it just. might. work.


  1. I have not yet experienced being published via traditional means yet, but I do like the possibilities of e-books. I was recently published through that route and thus far the only complaint I have is the difficulty there is with marketing. The other frustrating thing that I run into is that people still seem to want to hold the book in their hands and are stubbornly clinging to that line of thinking for some irrational reason. So hopefully with time people will be able to adapt and grow accustom to the future of books.

  2. I think the possibilities are great, too, James. Marketing is, as you note, a real problem. Ideally one would tap into a viral meme of marketing, but it would likely require up-front cost to the writer to produce whatever moves the virus.

    And you’re right about folks still wanting to hold and caress their tomes. I’m one of them, alas!

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