Self-Publishers Are Saving The Publishing Industry

Self-publishers stand accused of destroying the publishing industry with bargain basement ebook pricing. At least, that was the accusation in 2012 when this guest post was written. And it’s definitely still worth reading today because a lot of the same myths about pricing endure in 2021 – so I’ve dusted this post off from the archives and given it a quick polish for you.

This guest post is so much more than a polemic in support of self-publishers or in defense of cheap books. SF/F author Ed Robertson makes a convincing and deeply researched case that self-publishers’ pricing is far from anomalous. Indeed, Ed’s analysis shows that our ebook pricing is firmly in line with the historical pricing of paperbacks since their inception.

Even more interestingly, Ed further shows that it’s large publishers whose pricing is out of whack, and that their pricing of books began to diverge from historical norms when the industry began its wave of consolidation in the 90s. Fancy that.

Rather than engaging in a race to the bottom, Ed argues, self-publishers are saving the industry… from itself. Here’s Ed with more:

Ed Robertson:

I’m a self-publisher. An indie author. Whatever you want to call me. I’ve read many articles about how self-publishers are killing the book industry. I’ve heard it from big publishing houses. From the president of the Author’s Guild. From traditionally published novelists and agents and even other self-publishers. If I want, I bet I can find a new one of these articles every single day.

But I won’t, because I no longer believe them.

Self-publishers don’t have the power to kill the publishing industry. I don’t think anyone does. But we do have the power to change it. We already have – and paradoxically, this change isn’t a change at all. And instead of killing books, this change has helped resurrect them.

We aren’t the first to be accused of killing the industry. In 1939, Robert de Graff threatened to kill publishing, too. At the tail end of the Great Depression, when hardcovers regularly sold for between $2.50-$3.00, he started selling paperback Pocket Books for $0.25.

To put that in 2012 dollars, hardcovers cost roughly $40-50. The new paperbacks, the first of their kind in American markets, cost the equivalent of $4.16. In modern terms, a book that once cost as much as a coffee maker now cost as little as a cup of coffee. A book that once cost as much as a full tank of gas now cost as little as a gallon.

In just over five years from that 1939 launch date, Pocket Books sold 100 million paperbacks.

But it wasn’t all high fives around the burgeoning paperback business. One publisher at Penguin was so aghast at the tawdry covers on his books he wound up selling off the entire line. Others worried openly about the death of the hardcover industry. On the concept of skipping hardcovers entirely and printing straight to paperback, even Pocket Books’ own VP Freeman Lewis said, “Successful authors are not interested in original publishing at 25 cents.”

But they were, of course. Particularly genre writers who didn’t care if this new format was disgraceful. Because it sold. Readers bought their books by the millions. As the format was being denounced as the playground of hacks, authors like William S. Burroughs and Philip K. Dick got their start with bargain-priced paperback-only prints (specifically, with Ace Doubles that sold two novels bundled for $0.35). The history of the era is fascinating – a short yet rich article recaps it here – but what is most interesting to me is that initial $0.25 price.

Passive Guy suggests that self-publishing is saving an industry crippled by missteps (scroll down for his comments underneath the excerpted article). He says big publishers have raised the price of books far beyond the rate of inflation, driving away readers and strangling the market. He doesn’t cite numbers. I will.

  • From 1939-1961, many paperbacks sold for $0.25-0.35. In 2012 dollars, prices started at $4.16 and decreased to as little as $2.71.
  • By 1966-68, low-end prices bubbled back up to $0.60-0.75. In 2012, that’s $3.99-4.99.
  • By 1972-75, mass market paperbacks kept on climbing to $0.95-1.25. In 2012, that’s $5.26-6.92.
  • By the mid 1980s, mass markets hit $2.95-3.95. In 2012, that’s $6.34-8.49, with some beyond $9.50.

In short, relative prices slowly decreased between 1939-1961. By 1966, they climbed steeply, peaking around 1982-86 at an inflation-adjusted $7.99 (or more). The price of most mass market paperbacks has remained there ever since. In less than two decades, paperbacks cost 295% what they did in the years before.

Coincidentally, corporate mergers of publishing houses began in earnest in 1958, accelerated in the 1960s, and became an “epidemic” by the 1970. By the 1980s, the American publishing industry reached a state largely like the one we see today, where a handful of companies own the vast majority of the business.

And as publishing companies grew larger and ostensibly more efficient, the prices of their cheapest offerings tripled.

Correlation isn’t causation. I don’t know that the consolidation of the publishing industry was a direct cause of this massive surge in prices. But if I had to bet, I would bet that these mergers resulted in a de facto monopoly, a semi-collusive state where publishers raised prices simply because they could. I don’t think these price increases were natural or inevitable.

Ultimately, however, it doesn’t matter why they happened.

What matters is that prices went up. A lot. People had to pay more to read. The more they read, the more they had to pay. Books, as much as it might feel otherwise, aren’t a necessity of life. They aren’t food. They aren’t gasoline or electricity. As prices go up, sales go down. Readers read less–especially in times of recession. The market erodes. Becomes vulnerable to change.

For whatever reason, the publishing industry failed to keep their lowest-priced books anywhere near the prices they’d maintained for decades. When ebooks arrived, instead of going lower, they wound up costing even more than the old paperbacks. $9.99. $12.99. $14.99. They still don’t cost as much as a tank of gas, but three of them do.

Big publishers maintained these ebook prices through outright collusion. Even as they fought to keep ebooks even higher priced than their artificially-inflated paperback prices, online retailers like Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo threatened to kill the publishing industry again. They made it possible for authors to publish directly to readers. In the midst of the Great Recession, independent authors offered their books at prices first established in the Great Depression. Some authors went even cheaper. Many wrote genre trash. Many sported lurid, shameful covers. Across the industry, hands were wrung.

“If indies have killed anything, it’s the publishing industry’s idea that books need to cost as much as they do.”

I don’t know what happened to spike prices between 1961 and now. Maybe publishers got greedy. Maybe they just got inefficient, but never had to address the issue, because they were the only game in town; if people wanted to read good books, they had to buy from traditional publishers. Publishers who, for whatever reason, abandoned those low-cost, Pocket-style books.

And when the opportunity finally arose, indie authors stepped in to that gap. If indies have killed anything, it’s the idea that books need to cost as much as they do. Many indies have gone so far as to sell their books for $0.99, or give them away for free. Confronted with this novelty, and constrained by their own recession-tightened budgets, readers have snapped up these cheapest books, leading to a constant deluge of arguments that self-published authors have gone too far, that these prices are unsustainable, that in their race to the bottom, they’ll ruin the market for everyone.

The proper dismantling of these fears would require a response even longer than this one. I will say that indie authors need to eat, too. The rising class of professional self-publishers has to pay for cover artists, editing, proofreading, and advertising of its own. To treat writing as a job, indie authors have to find a way to be paid like it’s a job. In the meantime, self-publishing platforms like Amazon’s prevent prices from bottoming out by rewarding higher prices with better royalty rates and more visibility.

And readers help keep prices from zeroing out by proving by the millions that they are willing to pay a few dollars for books by the indie authors they love.

Very strangely, if you look at many of the moment’s most successful indies, the prices they charge – $2.99, $3.99, $4.99 – are the exact same prices readers paid more than fifty years ago. Indies are the new Pocket Books. And some of them are very, very good. I expect several classics have already been self-published. Able to buy and explore at prices they haven’t seen in half a century, readers are giving us real careers. In return, we’re able to offer them even better books.

Tomorrow, there will be a new article about how self-published authors are killing the book industry. I won’t read it. I don’t believe it.

And I don’t think we have anything left to prove.

Final note from Dave:

Thank you to Ed for that fascinating post. Now that Ed has helped you realize that self-publishers aren’t underpricing their books, I recommend that you read my guide to ebook pricing – so that you know exactly what price to attach to your own work.

ebook pricing is difficult for authors to navigate, but mostly because there is so much nonsense written about it - all you need to do is determine your goals, price accordingly, then evaluate the changes in income

By the way, aside from being a very smart guy, Ed is a fine writer too. You might have heard of his bestselling post-apocalyptic Breakers series, or perhaps his bestselling epic fantasy Cycle of Arawn series, or maybe his bestselling space opera series Rebel Stars – all of which I own and enjoy.

However, my favorite was always a one-off SF time-travel thriller he did called The Cutting Room, which you simply must read.

David Gaughran

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

258 Replies to “Self-Publishers Are Saving The Publishing Industry”

  1. (I’m brought back to this older thread via the new edition of “Let’s Get Digital,” which I grabbed at Scribd the moment I saw the announcement.)

    One thing I found missing from Mr. Robertson’s fascinating analysis of the rise in paperback prices is word count. (This is of special interest to those of us who publish ebooks, since ebooks can be of any word count whatsoever.) I know that the average science fiction novel in the 1960s was much shorter than the average science fiction novel in the 1980s. You can still see the older standard reflected in the rules for the Nebula Awards, which defines a novel as being at least 40,000 words long. Might this rise in average page numbers account at least partially for the rise in paperback price?

    I’d love to see Mr. Robertson’s numbers run again with average word count taken into consideration because, as someone who writes mainly novelettes and novellas, I’d be genuinely interested in what the price-per-word ratio was between those earlier decades of paperback publishing and the later decades.

  2. Reblogged this on a twisted pair and commented:
    “Self-publishers don’t have the power to kill the publishing industry. I don’t think anyone does. But we do have the power to change it. We already have – and paradoxically, this change isn’t a change at all. And instead of killing books, this change has helped resurrect them.” (Ed Robertson)

  3. Hi David. Greetings from London. Self-publishers may not be killing the wider book industry, but is the self-publishing industry killing itself? Why do I write this? Because I have become the latest victim of BookBub’s virtual monopoly. I have hundreds of five-star reviews for my three thrillers and I haven’t advertised with BookBub for about six months. Yet now they have turned me down for all three books (all at 99 cents). This was probably inevitable, given that they say they can now include only 20% of applications for their daily lists. Here’s their stock reply:

    ‘Thanks for your submission. Unfortunately, our editorial team has not selected this title for a BookBub promotion at this time.

    Due to limited space in the email, we’re only able to feature about 20% of the titles that get submitted to us. The editorial team reviews all the submissions that meet our minimum guidelines for a certain category and price point, and selects the titles within that group that they believe will perform best with our members. Other titles the editors reviewed were better fits for our readers’ current tastes.

    While this deal hasn’t been selected for a feature, here are some tips to make future submissions as competitive as possible:

    – Submit your deal at a lower price point
    – Submit other titles from your backlist
    – Re-submit your title in a few months, when it might be a better fit for our readers
    – Review additional tips here:

    Please wait at least four weeks before resubmitting this title for consideration.

    Best regards,
    BookBub Partners Team’

    Given that BookBub doesn’t really have any serious competition (BookGorilla is a waste of time), I can’t believe that the vast majority of writers who have enjoyed past success are not suffering plummeting sales.

    Any advice would be appreciated.

    Roger Radford (
    Ps Because of the current turmoil in the Mideast (where I was a foreign correspondent) I have seen a spike in sales of my thriller, The Winds of Kedem, but BookBub doesn’t seem to have taken this book of topical interest into consideration. It’s very frustrating.

    1. While BookBub is a great resource, it’s not the be-all and end-all. I don’t owe my success to BookBub, though it certainly has been nice on the occasions I got one in. There are many opportunities for promotion out there other than BookBub. Go hang out at KBoards and I am sure you will get find some recommendations.

      Roger, other factors may be figuring into your lack of traction. Your covers and prose are good, but are your books part of a series? From your Amazon author page, I don’t think so. Series books by their very nature help to sell each other. And, without a series, you can’t implement the permafree-first-in-series strategy that I have found very effective. Also, have you examined your pricing strategy? My impression is that $6.99 is a bit high for books from a midlist or lower indie. For example, my books are priced between $2.99 and $4.99 and I am making a comfortable living off about a dozen works so far.

      Then (rhetorically), what about your keywords and your blurbs? Have you considered making audiobooks through ACX? What about social media? Have you used something like MailChimp to create a fan mailing list? When is your next book coming out? Building a larger backlist will help you a lot. Have you sought out other authors on forums and asked for critiques or advice?

      Good luck with your work.

  4. Hey David,
    This is an amazing and spot on post. We need more indie authors like you. Thank you for reminding the reading world that Indie authors are a force to reckoned with.

    When you get a chance, stop by, for a fun greet and meet.

  5. Monopoly sounds like the appropriate word. Having so few – and such highly controlling – publishing companies mirrors politics: have a select few in power, and the majority of the people start to feel their free will becoming constricted. I’m hoping to become a part of the e-book reform. Even if I have to start out by earning pennies and sustaining myself on cheaper food.

  6. Couldn’t agree with you more. I too think the Indies are revitalizing the industry while giving readers the gift of affordable books. To me, it’s a win-win for readers and writers. Not so much for the ‘big five.’
    Writer Chick

  7. Knowing what I know about how corporations work, the uglier side between the two sides comes from big 5 publishing. At least with Amazon the author gets some money. Big publishing has abused their mid-list author meal tickets far too long– they deserve their self-made slow death. I’ve been offered contracts by conventional publishers and every one was a deal with the devil. I refused them. I just could not bend over that far and hold my ankles that long. I rather give it away then get raped.

  8. Reblogged this on pilesofpages and commented:
    A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an overview on self-publishing (Self Publishing: Why and How), and this is a great article to add to the “why” section of that discussion. A great read!

  9. The ebook advantage isn’t only about price; it’s about portability. And that, imho, is revitalizing both reading and the writing of creative fiction. I see young people — you know, those people who don’t buy books anymore and so supposedly don’t read — reading on their phones or other gadgets everywhere I go. Granted, I live in a town with a Big State U, but still: more people are reading more things more often in more places. And these are exactly the people most likely to try new kinds of content, as well as new delivery methods. Trad pubs are still cranking out the same old stories. I’m awed at the galactictically vast magnificence of the independent imagination. And proud, now, to count myself among that number.

    1. Good point, Anna. There’s a convergence of advantages to the ebook/ereader (including apps) combo analogous to the convergence of advantages to other networked devices themselves – price, capability, portability, recoverability, transmittability, lendability, sharability, adaptability to the disabled such as the ability to change print size or instantly obtain audible versions, the ability to read in the dark for many devices (making, for example, plane trips that much more pleasant), the accessibility to instantly obtain books rather than waiting for shipment…the list goes on and on.

      Tradpub houses, who were dragged kicking and screaming into the digital age, could have kept their whole pie and preserved their system if they’d beaten Amazon to the punch by coordinating design and production of a Kindle-type reader and pushed ebook technology forward. Instead, they showed themselves to be dinosaurs, failing to understand all the advantages to digital that rapid drove adoption of the new technology. They only saw the downsides and failed to envision the world after just seven years (2007-2014) from the introduction of the Kindle. That failure of vision has left them fighting a rearguard action but, perversely, still benefiting as reading in general is experiencing a resurgence. After the consolidation period, tradpubs are experiencing record profits. It says something sad about an industry that is doing so well largely because of Amazon, yet continues to whine about the trailblazer.

      I often wonder what would have happened had Amazon decided to buy one of the Big Six and launch from an established platform rather than from scratch. Thank God they didn’t. I doubt I’d be making a living as an indie today without the current wide-open environment.

      1. Plus I don’t think I could order replacement ceiling fan remote controls with 30+ 4* reviews from MacMillan and get them in 2 days. Amazon is more than just books! I don’t think of Amazon as my publisher at all. I think of it as a debut-author-friendly bookstore.

  10. As recently as last week I sent an e-mail to a local bookstore asking to do a signing for my Pirate series. I was told that because I published my book on Amazon, they were not interested in doing a signing, because Amazon is trying to run independent bookstores out of business. If you don’t carry the books people are reading, you put yourself out of business, and Amazon is your scapegoat.
    I published my books on Amazon because I got tired of rejection letters, and I know I can write a good story, plain and simple. I got tired of having someone else judge my writing who had never even seen what I can do, and based their opinion on a two-paragraph query. After six years of rejection, and wanting to quit writing, I’d had enough. So I did it myself.
    Yes, marketing is an issue, but I still sell books. People want a good story cheap, and I’m sorry, but they aren’t willing to pay $50 for a hardcover Harry Potter book anymore. Paperback books are cheap, ebooks are cheaper (most of the time), and indie author books are sometimes the cheapest, best reads you will find.
    I’m still stuck on the fact that Hillary Clinton published a book traditionally before I did. What does that say about the state of publishing??

  11. Spotted the ‘David Gaughran’ mention in the communication from Kindle – good shout! I think I speak on behalf of a great many self-published authors when I say “Thanks for your unstinting efforts”. Not quite sure where you find the time to write and publish your own tomes and still keep up to speed with ‘developments’ in the industry but it is very much appreciated!

  12. Amazon has a right to make money, just like big publishing does. But Amazon has also allowed ME to make money as a writer, as well as purchase great books at an affordable price. I read more and write more because of Amazon. Do they make money off my reading and writing? Sure. Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so.

  13. I have been an independent journalist for nearly two decades. The initial response was that hiring “freelancers” would kill the job opportunities for “pros”, but what happened? Those professionals had to step up their game, thus independents improved quality over quantity. Now, I am a sports journalist – I can’t say it is the same for all media topics, but holds pretty true to similar course. I am also an independent author and love that corporation media houses and book publishers try to convince the public that a story put out by an independent will never be as good, as fulfilling, as economical, blah to infinity. I have read some very well published ” pro” authors that put out drivel compared to many indies that have put 100% of themselves into the entire process. If anything, independents are once again making the industry better in nearly every way by simply letting the facts speak for themselves.

    Ask a librarian how many times they have a new reader walk in and ask if they have a certain author’s book and are told “no” because it was an independent author “no one has heard of” – only to later have more people come in later because their friend read that story in an e-book and talked about how great this unknown author is. Libraries are getting more interested in providing vastly larger selections for patrons of indies because people are wanting fresh and new and turned off by the corporate media house cookie-cutter formula stories.

    Keep writing. Keep pushing the boundaries.

  14. Great article. I know lots of Australian readers who’ve been complaining for years about the local markup of books, any books. We might have a ‘higher standard of living’ but most avid readers have gone to ebooks or even ordering books from overseas through internet shopping for those who still want the feel of a book in their hands. The Book Depository’s UK website is often the first stop for me for Christmas shopping, but I still buy from small local bookstores when I see something I like, because I suspect they won’t be around much longer.

    1. A good point, Marigold – prices in NZ are painful too, but I still try to buy from our local bookshop because they support our local authors. Sadly I went in today to find the ‘closing down sale’ in full swing. It’s near impossible to sell print in our tiny market so thank God for ebooks and a small (so far) and steady income from Amazon!

      1. It is sad to see so many small businesses closing down these days. It’s quite literally seeing someone’s dream end. Luckily those who dream of being authors are being given another lease on life through the wonders of the internet 🙂 There is hope for some.

  15. Amazon’s saving publishing — or trying to do it, against the vested interests trying to save themselves. And yes, I think indies are saving publishing too — look at EL James, and other indies propping up publishing houses which should keel over.

    Here’s the thing. I don’t care about publishing. I care about READING. I’m a reader first, and a writer second.

    I’m ashamed to admit that I paid $16.99 for an ebook I wanted to read yesterday, even though I told myself I could buy 3 indie books for that price. But I wanted to read THAT book.

    So I’m part of the problem. I know I shouldn’t encourage idiot publishers in their madness. But I paid.

    Readers will keep paying. Publishers will screw every last cent out of readers that they can.

  16. It was interesting to read Ed Robertson’s guest post from November 2012 where (as you say) he “highlighted interesting parallels between historical paperback pricing (pre-industry consolidation) and self-published e-books.” And, indeed, (as he says) “the history of the era is fascinating.”

    However, when I link jumped over to the “short yet rich article [that] recaps” that history, everything that I read sounded way, way too familiar. I did some checking on my bookshelf and found the book that I was looking for, one that I had recently read. The referred-to article by Andrew Shaffer, that was published in a 2012 issue of mental_floss magazine and reprinted online (April 19, 2014) at, is actually a point-by-point, theme-by-theme condensation of the book “TWO-BIT CULTURE: The Paperbacking of America” by Kenneth C. Davis and published in 1984 by Houghton Mifflin.

    I don’t know where Andrew Shaffer got his information, but it is a shame that such a prime source was not credited.

  17. Self-published authors are doing such a good job that I can’t remember that last big 5 book I’ve purchased. “breakers” by Edward w. Robertson is a perfect example. That book is amazing. The entire series was a joy to read. And because of the low price of each book, my friends all could buy their own instead of me lending them mine.

    When I used to buy a lot of paperbacks I used to share them with my friends. A small circle of friends that never bought duplicates because we could share amongst each other, now buys our own ebook copies and we can now talk about books as we read them because we don’t need to wait to finish the book and then lend it.

    All the grip about Amazon is the death toll of an elite class trying to keep control of the publishing industry. What they fail to see is that authors no longer need to go through their gate to get to the readers… the walls have all been torn down.

  18. Many farmers told Henry Ford that they would never buy his stinky/noisy Model T trucks and would stick to their horses and wagons. Look how that worked-out for them. It seems like ebooks are available around the world and now every Author no longer has to kiss the boots of the Trade Publishing “gatekeepers” … Amazon has removed the Gatekeepers. Marketing and visibility remain as a challenge and luckily for Self-Published Authors like me,Trail-Breaking Author like You David Gaughran, are helping the rest of us figure out our Path. Thank you for being visible and for helping us. I own copies of your books and tell everyone I meet about you and your books. Please tell everyone about my 5 star book Champion too 🙂 Miles Cobbett

  19. It’s similar to the music industry and the onslaught of MP3’s or Blockbuster and Netflix. The old giants don’t like their boats being rocked and they don’t know what to do about it besides fighting.

    1. If that’s not actually tongue-in-cheek, I believe you have really jumped to the wrong conclusion, M. Porup. Yes, technology disrupts and redistributes power. You’re right about that, and that’s the point. It’s redistributing power from the elitist few to the populous and democratic many.

      That’s exactly opposite of your prediction of the destruction of “creativity, dissent (and) free speech.” Just as the internet poured fuel on the fire of creativity, dissent and free speech, so have ebooks written by indie authors.

      Tradpubs with their many gatekeepers were seldom proponents of creativity, dissent and free speech. They wanted and continued to want a risk-free fat bottom line. The became the “establishment,” the very anathema of creativity, dissent and free speech.

      I realize, judging by that line about Amazon and after reading your blog post, that it’s the fact that the ebook market is dominated by one retailer that really disturbs you, along with the capability to collect information on your reading habits. Those are valid concerns. But I remember reading over the past few years about how Facebook would bring about the end of all civilization and privacy, facilitating Big Brothers everywhere. Yet, use of social media has arguably toppled tyrannical governments, and the concerns about data mining is largely overblown because there is simply far more data out there than is digestible by Big Brother. Be wary? Sure, but let’s not claim the sky is falling when it’s not.

      1. The short term will continue to see an apparent democratization of publishing. Take away the gatekeepers, and you and I and David Gaughran and everyone can publish whatever we want to (hopefully quality, but that’s another story).

        The long-term consequences, however, are dire. In an age when technology is advancing at an exponential rate, the past–even a few years ago–cannot predict what will happen tomorrow.

        I think it’s important to zoom out and look at the ebook revolution in a broader context. Rather than write pages in the comments section, let me link to my thoughts on Big Data and Zero Days, here:

  20. Fascinating isn’t it, how long this debate is going on? Will it take a generation before Big Publishing stops trying to convince the world that we indies are the death-knell of books? What we are threatening is THEM – the publishers, and their industry – not books themselves, or the future of reading. Perhaps for so long they big publishers WERE books and reading, in their entirety, they are making this mistake – but also, being threatened, they are twisting the situation somewhat to help them seek allies. People will go on reading, so other people will go on writing stuff for them to read – regardless of the rise and fall of companies like Hatchette et al – regardless even of the fate of Amazon. But Amazon has given many of us the chance that we would never have had from the big 5 publishers, and Amazon continue to help me make my living. I sort of feel honour-bound to help them defend their corner, and defend them from such laughable accusations as being the ruination of the book industry. Big publishing may not survive the current changes – but what has Big Publishing ever done for me?

  21. I love… really love a finely bound, hardcover book, but in the past ten years, my own earning power has dropped so that the discounted $25 hard bound is now out of the question, unless it’s something I’ll refer to lots of times in the future. That $25 goes to put a half-tank of gas in the car. I read as much or more than I did back in the day, but the realities of economy and space (our library shelves, expanded as far as possible were filled years ago, and I’m trying not to build all those towering stacks of read books…) have changed my standard procedures. Now,lk for a fun read, or a review read, I opt for the eBook. I don’t think I’m alone in that, even among us old-schoolers. Now, I don’t blame the dinosaurs for the comet that laid them low, they didn’t see that coming; but Publishing needs to wise up, fast and stop wasting consumers’ time with the cute puppet shows and like drivel.

    1. Richard, you are better off than we are in New Zealand where hardcover books cost $50-60 and paperbacks run from $25 to $40! At least the high prices here mean that we can publish on Createspace and still make a small profit even accounting for the very expensive postage rates, and in our tiny market, POD is much more sensible than a print run done locally. Most publishing firms here have shut up shop and moved to Australia which leaves the field wide open for us indie publishers!

  22. If the Amazon email is accurate — that their efforts are only about getting publishers to drop their e-book prices — I’m all for their effort. I’m disgusted by traditional publishers who charge more for an e-book than a paperback costs. That said, I can’t entirely trust Amazon that that is their only purpose.

  23. Interesting… I just had an email from Amazon Kindle today using the same comparison of Indie publisbed ebooks with the emergance of the paperback in conjunction with a request for authors to support them in their ongoing battle with Hachete…

  24. Every month I used to go to the bookstore. I bought a couple of paperback books each time. But then the price went up and I started going less often. So I am definitely price driven and I bought a lot more books when they were cheaper.

  25. My apologies if my tone appears hostile – it was not meant to be. I was concerned that you had attempted to read a few indie books and come to a conclusion about all indie books.

    ‘Fifty Shades’ was, initially self-published. My point is that it is no longer self published but has been ‘through the mill’ of one of the biggest mainstream publishers, Random House. To all intents and purposes it is no longer an indie publication, but a mainstream one.

    I liken the revolution in access to publication as (vaguely) similar to the ability of 18th century pamphleteers here in the UK to publish what they liked, when they liked, without the judgement of ‘gatekeepers’ to prevent the dissemination of ideas that did not conform to the opinion of the gatekeepers.

    Of course, many lunatic ideas were published and no doubt many were badly written, but without that ability to bypass the ideas of others, we would not have had Thomas Paine, Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift, Ben Franklin (his ‘Almanacs’) Lord Byron, James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, Shelley, Tennyson, Thoreau, Walt Whitman… all initially ‘vanity’ publishers. Even Mark Twain self -published ‘Huckleberry Finn’ at one point. Of modern writers, Roddy Doyle self-published ‘The Commitments’, Howard Fast – ‘Spartacus’ (1951), Terry McMillan – ‘Waiting To Exhale’ and many more did the same. When you use the term ‘vanity publishers’ these are some of the people to whom you refer.

    Taken from another viewpoint at least two of the authors to whom you refer might be considered to be ‘genre’ writers and not literary artists. Not by me, but there are as many opinions out there as there are both poor and excellent indie authors.

  26. I disagree. I do not, and never had, liked vanity pressed books. Not because they compromise the world of corporate publishing, but because too often the writer of this type of publishing do not police their own work. I have tried reading a few paperback stories that were self-published and could never finish one. I cannot ignore the mechanical errors. This year, because someone purchased it for me, I read Fifty Shades of Grey. That was more than enough proof for me that e-publishing is just as unchecked as the older styles of vanity pressing. Would I pay $.99 to read bad writing? No. I will, and have, paid more than $20 for a well written hard covered book. For me, it’s not about money; it’s about the quality of the writing. If more self-publishers took time to have someone other review their work for mechanical errors and confusing content, I would more incline to try them again. Currently, I will only read a self-published story upon recommendation by someone I trust. I do not read e-published at all as I prefer to hold a book in my hand and turn the pages…the glare from the reader just doesn’t provide the same relaxing experience. Just my opinion.

    1. The regular kindles don’t glare. e-ink readers like the Kindle 4 and Kindle 3 and Kindle Touch don’t give the sensation of glare; backlit screens do. So you might feel that way about a Kindle Fire, but the same can’t be said for a regular kindle.

      Technically, though, glare results from reflected light. Light can reflect from a book page as well as an electtronic screen. Or from the table in the background, or wall to the side of you. It might or might not reflect more from an electronic screen, but if it does, you can, for several dollars, get a screen protector that lessens that glare.

      Myself, I have a small gooseneck booklight clipped to my kindle. I can angle the neck of the lamp to be free of glare every time, something much harder to do with a book under ambient light. I have read out in the sun during the summer, and haven’t found it a problem yet. And my eyes are very sensitive to glare — I always spend considerably extra to get polarized lenses on my glasses.

      Another nice thing about e-books is you can get samples of 10% of the book right away, which should be plenty to judge whether to spend your money on a book or story.

      1. You are saying, I can review 10% of a e-book at, say Amazon, before purchasing it? That would be a deciding factor in itself. I would never have time to review every book, but I could review a few that have a catching title or description.

      2. My apologies if my tone appeared hostile – it was not meant to be. I was concerned that you had attempted to read a few indie books and come to a conclusion about all indie books.

        ‘Fifty Shades’ was, initially self-published. My point is that it is no longer self published but has been ‘through the mill’ of one of the biggest mainstream publishers, Random House. To all intents and purposes it is no longer an indie publication, but a mainstream one.

        I liken the revolution in access to publication as (vaguely) similar to the ability of 18th century pamphleteers here in the UK to publish what they liked, when they liked, without the judgement of ‘gatekeepers’ to prevent the dissemination of ideas that did not conform to the opinion of the gatekeepers.

        Of course, many lunatic ideas were published and no doubt many were badly written, but without that ability to bypass the ideas of others, we would not have had Thomas Paine, Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift, Ben Franklin (his ‘Almanacs’) Lord Byron, James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, Shelley, Tennyson, Thoreau, Walt Whitman… all initially ‘vanity’ publishers. Even Mark Twain self -published ‘Huckleberry Finn’ at one point. Of modern writers, Roddy Doyle self-published ‘The Commitments’, Howard Fast – ‘Spartacus’ (1951), Terry McMillan – ‘Waiting To Exhale’ and many more did the same. When you use the term ‘vanity publishers’ these are some of the people to whom you refer.

        Taken from another viewpoint at least two of the authors to whom you refer might be considered to be ‘genre’ writers and not literary artists. Not by me, but there are as many opinions out there as there are both poor and excellent indie authors.

      3. Yes, Sha’tashari, you can download free samples of e-books from Amazon. I’ve often used that to read, say, the first story or essay in an anthology for free, and sometimes you get more than that. And some introductory essays — the one on Penguin’s Shirley Jackson book, The Haunting of Hill House, for instance, are terrific reads. Seeing that a book has a foreword by someone I like often sets me to downloading it for free. And that in turn can tell me a lot about the book while giving me the chance to read something by another author I already know I like.

        Of course 10% means the cut-off point can come mid-sentence, but it’s almost always enough to give you an idea of, say, the names of every essay or story in an anthology or whatever else you need to know from the table of contents, plus sample an author’s writing style and ability. Downloading that 10% is a great money-saver and a way to enjoy lots of free content on a legitimate basis.

        Amazon has software you can download onto your computer and use to read the free samples too, so you don’t even need an e-reader to try it. But e-readers are cheap these days; under $70 for some kindles. I got mine for I think $69 at Staples with a free $25 gift card for Amazon kindle books, bringing the effective price down to $44. And of course there are thousands of books for free on Amazon too — mostly out of copyright classics and free promos of new books, of which I have downloaded hundreds.

    2. Hello sha’tashari. I should mention that I am an indie author by choice and the idea that all indie publishing is for vanity’s sake is, frankly, risible.

      To address your main point: it’s true that there is much badly edited or unedited self-published writing. It’s also true that over the last few years more indie authors are using professional editors than was previously the case. Even though I respect your right to have an opinion, what disturbs me most about your post is your dismissal of indie writing based upon your attempted reading of ‘a few paperback stories’.

      ‘Fifty Shades’ is an example of the inherent illogic in your position. This book is not well written, but it has been with Arrow – an imprint of Random House – for some time. Would I call it indie? No. If errors of grammar, punctuation or issues of quality remain in this book they remain so under the auspices of its mainstream publisher. Using your logic, I would read this book and condemn any book published by a mainstream publisher.

      It’s a pity you won’t read ebooks; you will miss many good stories and the complaint about ‘glare’ is not sustainable with most e-readers. I fully understand your preference for paper, but I can also imagine how goatskin readers must have felt when that new-fangled paper came along.

      1. I did not expect you to like my post, but I am a little shy about the hostile tone. It was my understanding that the story, Fifty Shades of Grey, was spirited through on a vanity press in which the writer was responsible for revisions and editing. The term vanity press does sound like it is about vanity, but it is an near-ancient terminology for self-publishing: the publishing house does all the typesetting and printing, the writer is responsible for paying the cost of printing, as well as doing all the marketing and distribution of the book. Regardless of the process that one book passed through, I intended only to disagree with the idea that self-publishing can be detrimental to literature in general because of the cost. I worry that too many stories that are poorly written will cause a reduction in the expectations of the reader. I am a collector of books, not old classics, but works of literary art written by masters of pen in a more contemporary sense; like Roger Zelazny, Piers Anthony, Kathleen Woodiwiss, and Isaac Asimov.

      2. sha’tashari:

        Re too many books leading to a reduction in expectations among general readers, you are right. But the trade-off one gets in return may be of considerable good. What we may get in return is a general increase in literacy.

        By way of roundabout analogy — I’m old enough to remember when typing was something that mostly secretaries did. My college roommates were miserable typists and a paper took forever. At the dawn of the computer age, it was not just computers and their unfriendly software interfaces, largely written by and for software engineers, that intimidated potential new users and slowed the spread of computer literacy, but the simple keyboard interface. Now, largely because of computers, most everyone can type a little. Including all the crazies one gets on the internet. So we have wound up with the crazies a lot more visible, but that’s only the flip side to the enormous boon of having a society in which computer literacy is commonplace and most everyone can fairly quickly type out their thoughts and questions to people around the world and get a response. Or, for that matter, a business opportunity.

        Self-publishing and e-publishing undoubtedly will lower standards, but on the other hand, much like the keyboard, it will make communication — including types that take some real thinking and effort and literacy, like the long-form journalism that was vanishing from our newspapers and magazines, and heck, even a very mediocre novel — all the more ubiquitous. It will raise literacy by bringing more people into the fold of actively creating communicators, by spreading a catholicity of taste that provides space for any idea to make itself known and excel and almost any person to be in the position to be heard and motivate him to be heard, and by making communication closer to a norm than a special privilege either inherited or won through only exceptional merit. There will always be room for the cream of the crop. But now far fewer citizens will be easily controlled, marginalized, and locked out of the cultural and political life of their times. All of us will benefit from hearing more voices, because there will always be worthwhile ones among the dross, and the citizenry as a whole will benefit from having a greater portion of its peoples listening, creating, consuming, and sharing knowledge, and from gaining the increasing technical literacy, however slight or deep, to push the sharing of knowledge and opinion and experience further.

        A democracy needs communication and a literate populace to survive. As giant corporations steadily continue to conglomerate every media possibility into as few outlets as possible, self-publishing and e-publishing are keen threats that democracy may not be contracting, but expanding. Vigorously, and not a minute too soon.

  27. It’s a terrible argument that price alone dictates reading habits. Self-publishing is often vanity publishing. Unedited garbage that leaks onto the Amazon lists so much that it’s impossible to find newly published “edited” works on there – so all the e-book has done for me is push me back into the bookstore to find decent material. I’ll buy authors I know in e-format, I wouldn’t touch anything self-published that hadn’t managed to sell enough copies to get bookstores to order it – and even then Matthew Reilly is probably the only self-published author on my shelf…

    1. Price has a huge influence on the sale of virtually any product, and books are no different – and that’s particularly true when you are referring to the kind of voracious reader that makes up such a huge chunk of the sales for any given publisher (or self-publisher).

      And this idea that worthy books are drowning in a sea of crap is such a myth. The truly terrible books are invisible – nobody buys them and nobody sees them. The few that readers do stumble across can be winnowed out through sampling. And the tiny percentage of those that get purchased despite that will attract a string of poor reviews warning readers away.

      I don’t need a bookstore to make my purchasing decisions for me, and given the ever-increasing numbers of readers switching to purchasing books online at places like Amazon which don’t restrict what titles are listed, I don’t appear to be alone.

      1. Agreed. I’d rather be my own gatekeeper, on the whole. When I can get books written of the Snookies, by the Snookies, and for the Snookies, I know that junk, purely profit-centered publishing by the major publishers shall not perish from this earth. When I can look through book after book from the major publishers that appear to about a wan middle-aged, upper middle class Northeastern intellectual’s confrontation with his divorce, his unsatisfied mistress, his inability to secure tenure or be happy though he already has, his mortality, or his dull day to day life in which nothing of greater than ordinary and insularly self-referential import ever happens or even seems to be part of the world, I know the major publishers want to feed me the same few books again as if they were something new, more challenging or courageous, or had the courage to be newer and challenging for a change. They’d like me to spend, but accept that I’m bound to be disappointed by the retreading of very old ground yet again. This is not being reader-oriented. It is being hidebound.

        There’s a myth that the gatekeepers do such a great job. They don’t. They often have such narrow vision that they keep most of the stuff of life beyond the lip of the navel invisible.

        It should be kept in mind, too, that many writers are bringing their back catalog back into print via self-publishing as rights revert to them over time. It’s a good way to keep their name in public view, or to help revive it after publishers have lost interest or believe there may be a market for a book, but it wouldn’t be a big enough one. These books were originally professionally published. The reason they are not still in print and available to old fans and new is a publishing decision that may be irrelevant to a work’s quality — a business decision, in short.

        Self-publishing doesn’t just open up a world of opportunities to unskilled or never-published writers, but to old hands who not only have plenty to offer readers, but have long since proven it. There are countless wonderful books that self-publishing has rescued and continues to rescue from oblivion. They are a part of our cultural heritage I’m happy we can reclaim and still learn from and enjoy regardless of the whims, stylistic prejudices, and all too frequent pure bottom-line fixation of major publishers.

      2. On the one hand I agree with you – on the other…

        I actually wish there would be MORE reviews (bad or good) posted. Instead there are a wealth of indie authors with books of various quality – and few to no reviews at all. The constant begging for reviews from my various Indie groups is deafening however if I (as an ebook author) take the time to snatch up, read and review one of these books and post it on Amazon – it’s likely to be deleted.

  28. Thanks for a great and timely article. I will ask other writers to come by and read it.

    As a reader I concentrate on non-fiction. When I do read fiction it is either a renowned classic or something that the big publishers would never bother with.

    In my view self publishing will not only help writers get published. It will also continue to add to the value and quality of our generation’s literature.

  29. Good historical analysis of the pricing of books.

    I think the big publishing houses have made some big missteps in other areas of larger concern. The Big Five tend of shy away from innovation and, for want of a better word, cross-genres. They want something that sells — that’s guaranteed to sell. So we have vampires having sex with — well, anybody. How many book series could that possibly produce? I’ve lost track. If you’re a new writer with an off-beat idea, you’ll never get published by the Big Five because they aren’t sure your book will sell, so they won’t take a chance on it. So, you write a book that will sell and they publish it, but now you can’t disappoint your fans by introducing that great off-beat idea, so ….

    There’s a lot of great stuff that’s coming out in the self-publishing market because the Big Five are chickens who refuse to take risks.

    On the other hand … self-publishers need editors. Far too many writers really need to submit their work to a writer’s critique group or hire an editor or … what I’m saying is … seriously, some of the worst crap I’ve ever read is available on Amazon. I’m a writer and I understand how that first draft reads like magic to its creator, but nobody should publish something that hasn’t been run by some alpha readers who aren’t dear family or close friends. In that way, self-publishing is killing books, because it’s producing a lot of really bad literature. The rare diamond in the midst of the mud makes it worth it,but … seriously, editors.

  30. Read an article in The Sunday Times which mentioned you David and that has brought me to this very interesting page. Brilliant article by you and Ed, highly informative and pretty much cemented my thoughts. I plunged into the indie market last Christmas with a childrens book, which I have subsequently printed on a limited run to sell at schools, where I do readings for Yr 2 children. This has been very successful but what it has given me is a sense that I am getting somewhere as an author and that I have total control over my image and work. I am currently working on three more books which will be released once I get a decent boradband network (long story, having to use a dongle at the moment which is not too good for uploading). I strongly feel that traditional methods are dying and that it is people like us, amusingly described in The Times as ‘punk writers’, that are showing another way forward. In reading other writers works on the Kindle I have introduced to new talent and people that I can contact and form a relationship with, albeit on a cyber-basis. This is creating a wonderful community of like-minded authors who, rather than compete, want to help raise the industry to another level. I say, hear, hear, we are taking part in a revolution. Rather like the term punk-writers too.

  31. Great post thank you. I like the choice that Indie books offer, rather than the big publishers making decisions on what the majority of people would like to read. I have self-published but I believe I have also gained because through forums on Kindle and Goodreads I have come across other authors whose work I have really enjoyed.

  32. I was a teenager in the 70’s and I remember discovering cheap paperbacks and record club LP’s for a dollar. I kept on buying books as they became more and more expensive but eventually even I reached a point where I had to think hard about each book I bought because here in Australia, we pay even more [~$30 for a paperback]. Like the statistical customers in your article, I’ve bought more books, and read more books in the last 9 months than I have in the previous 5 years combined. Why? Because I bought a Kindle. 🙂 Go Indies!

  33. At first, I was a little surprised, but then I realized I couldn’t agree more. Self-publishing won’t kill the industry. If anything, while self-publishing changes the industry a bit, the one’s who would ‘kill’ the industry is the traditional publishers themselves–and even then I have trouble believing the traditional route would ever completely die out or be killed to the point of uselessness. But who knows. Businesses can surprise us in the best or worst of ways.

  34. Some authors out there just aim to write the equivalent of what used to be called dime novels.
    Some readers demand lobster and caviar for the price of a Happy Meal.
    Are you prepared to pay for the additional cost of editing and for a professional cover? After all, you’re paying for it when you buy a traditionally published book. (On average between $6 and $9 on a $25 hard cover.)

    Most independent authors will try to deliver a good story, do their best to edit it with the help of someone with at least some credentials, and hire a “professional” for their cover. For all that the reader often doesn’t pay more than 99¢.
    That’s $0,99 vs. $25.

    On average you can buy more than ten indie ebooks for the price of one (1) traditionally published hardcover. At those prices you can afford to encounter the occasional dud. But once and again you might stumble over a diamond, in the rough or not.

    Readers love that. Their wallets told us.

    1. They may also be telling us that the distinction in quality between self-published and traditional-published is fading, and in part because traditional publishers are not putting out reliably professional product. Without the added quality supposedly guaranteed by the professionalism of traditional publishers, a great part of the reason for a large price premium disappears.

      Indeed, I’ve bought e-books from the big name publishers that were obviously simple attempts to cash in on the e-book market cheaply. They had spelling errors, repeated paragraphs, mis-formatted lines and paragraphs, etc. And I’m not just talking about the unedited OCR scans of old books foisted off on the public as deserving of premium prices; I mean recent books that were very popular and well-edited in their paper form. If what was being sold were a car, you’d call it a lemon. After sucking enough lemons, readers get sour on paying a premium for product that is at best unreliable. If no matter who you’re buying from, you’re taking a gamble, it’s easier to justify taking a gamble on $4.99, or even 99 cents, than $14.99 (or more) for an e-book.

      In other words, it’s not simply that readers are leaving the traditional publishers; traditional publishers are, and on multiple fronts, abandoning and becoming indifferent to their readers.

  35. I would argue that, while it may not be killing the industry, it is certainly killing the book cover. Too many self-published book covers being designed poorly by someone that “knows Photoshop.” The Goodreads self-published giveaways are very hard to take seriously—and I don’t.

    One rule: if the cover is amateur, the writing will be perceived as such. Hire a professional. Give your novel the proper identity it deserves.

    1. I don’t know about “killing the book cover” but I agree there are too many amateur covers out there. It’s not all self-publishers though – far from it – plenty take a very professional approach to how their books are presented, from editing and proofing to covers and formatting. I think a good cover is even *more* important in a digital world, and I explained a little about my approach here:

    2. Agreed. I have seen many book covers that were painted by the writer, or a friend or relative. Much of it looks like what a very modestly-talented 5th-grader could do. One eye higher or bigger than another, eyelines out of register, indecipherable backgrounds, fonts that look slapped on randomly and are hard to read, etc.

      And when asking for advice on presentation and been told those covers aren’t up to snuff, I’ve seen authors say things along the lines of their being “complete” or “holistic” artists or somesuch, and that their covers are perfect and as much a part of their novels as is their writing.

      In other words, questionable judgment and standards, an almost surreal level of fooling themselves over how good their covers are, and defensiveness and rationalization when given anything less than completely complimentary feedback.

      When I see covers like that, I lose faith in an author’s judgment. And that makes me less interested in reading their work and more likely to think of it as simple vanity product best suited to a small circle of friends and family.

      I’m not saying all covers need be top-flight. But that covers have to be looked at for what they do for the reader, not just whether they please the author. Building up your friend’s ego by letting her contribute a free watercolor for your book’s cover is a friendship goal, not a professional goal. Thinking a sloppy cover is great just because you made it, and you just adore painting and need to express that love for the whole world to see, is an ego process, not the result of a professional choice.

      It’s hard to remove oneself from one’s works enough to make well-considered choices. That’s one reason people should strongly consider what their goals are in every aspect of their self-publishing endeavors, and get a truly unbiased eye (or dozens) on their work to keep them on the level, with their goals and what they’re actually doing in alignment.

  36. davidgaughran:
    “With regard to formatting issues in particular, my personal experience is that books from traditional publishers are *much* more likely to have issues”

    I suppose it’s the luck of the draw (in respect to titles we read) however I’ve never experienced a formatting issue yet I read about a biggie with Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling. Tech and publishing housing doesn’t come naturally.

    “Badly scanned OCR jobs are an issue with backlist titles too. You would think they would proof the books *after* formatting, but they often don’t seem to bother.”

    I’d agree there and I think many of these “scan jobs” assume that you will only want to read it on the PC, its the only reason I can think of for some of the poor efforts I’ve seen..afterall its a very easy job to convert/format for the Kindle/Nook or anything else, there’s even an OSS package called Callibre thats free, so there’s no excuse!

  37. Because of self-publishing, I’ve noticed a large number of people I know who weren’t very interested in books before becoming very interested because eBooks are easily accessible. I think that’s a wonderful thing, and even though I’m holding out hope for a traditional publishing contract one of these days, I’m no stranger to the self-publishing route and find a lot of worth in it. Thanks for the very informative post and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    1. All the evidence seems to suggest that when people switch to e-books, they read more. Whether it’s the cost (indies at least are significantly cheaper and there are lots of freebies), or the convenience (being able to read on your phone, and then switch to your e-reader and have everything sync automatically; being able to buy books 24 hours a day without traipsing to the store), or the selection (e-books don’t go out of print, and they are always in stock), it’s certainly happening.

  38. Thanks for this post. Very informative. As an indie author and vintage paperback collector, it really caught my interest. Today’s indie books, inexpensive e-books and on-demand paperbacks are truly the equivalent of the old paperback book racks you would have found at newsstands and dime stores and liquor stores 50 or 60 years ago, the kind of thing where you could spin a rack and choose from Hemingway to Heinlein, pulp fiction to “Capital L” literature. And as for the publishing industry, they’re going through their version of what the music industry has been struggling with for years with mp3s and indie releases as opposed to expensive CDs. That industry finally seems to be embracing the new technology. I wonder how traditional publishers will manage it.

  39. My biggest beef with self-publishing is the extreme lack of editing. Few authors are willing to pay an editor and self-publishers don’t provide them.

      1. There are a lot more people out there than you know, though. I’ve seen a number of authors argue on Amazon threads that they don’t need editors or can’t afford them or will consider using any profits from a book to go back and get it professionally edited, should they feel that doing so is (only then!) warranted.

      2. What I objected to was the gross generalization. With any open distribution system – whether that’s in books or music or anything else – you are always going to have varying levels of quality and/or professionalism. But these aren’t issues that were born with the digital revolution. I’ve bought more duds than I care to remember from publishers large and small. I’ve seen crappy covers, shoddy editing, amateur typesetting, and books that fall apart after one read. The great thing about the digital revolution is the ease with which customers can share recommendations, and warn each other away from poorly written and/or poorly produced books. One way is through reviews, but another is through sales. Books that are that bad generally aren’t purchased. When they aren’t purchased, they don’t appear on the various best seller and recommendation lists around Amazon. They are essentially invisible. In short, the crap doesn’t matter because you can’t see it.

    1. I must admit I’ve found on a few occasions that to be the case, however sample chapters are often available on self-published titles so if its not had an editor at all (be it partner or paid for editor) then it becomes quite obvious.

      The books I’ve read which have had a few errors do not detract from the enjoyment and when you consider the value these indi books offer then I’m happy to let it go.

      To be fair I’ve found some horrendous errors/issues with big name name titles from the big publishing houses.

      I think that there are many people frightened of what indi-publishing is doing to the industry. Most notably those that make money off the back of others work. I expect a big deal will be made by the publishing housing in the future of this very issue.

      1. You make a good point. On all the major retailers – including Amazon – you can read the first 10% of the book before purchasing. This allows anyone to avoid any poorly edited, non-proofed, badly formatted books, or something that doesn’t suit your tastes.

        With regard to formatting issues in particular, my personal experience is that books from traditional publishers are *much* more likely to have issues, as they tend to take shortcuts involving automated conversion tools which aren’t up to the job. Badly scanned OCR jobs are an issue with backlist titles too. You would think they would proof the books *after* formatting, but they often don’t seem to bother.

        In my experience, indies have higher standards in this regard.

    2. No… they use editors. They source them for $20 on Elance and Freelancer and ODesk. Their “editors” are often ESL speakers without the skills to edit a children’s book. When told that a decent editing job for a book costs over $2k (and it should cost that much – a good editor will have to work at least 2 weeks on a book to get it ship-shape), they sneer and say; “but I’m only publishing an e-book” – as though this excuses it.

      1. I’m sorry Nick, but that’s rubbish. While I’m sure there are some self-publishers who take an unprofessional approach, none that I know (and I know a lot of self-publishers) take that kind of approach to their work.

        Penguin or Random House might be able to get away with publishing duds but self-publishers can’t. Their name is their brand if they put out a substandard product, readers will never purchase anything from them ever again.

      2. “No… they use editors. They source them for $20 on Elance and Freelancer and ODesk. Their “editors” are often ESL speakers without the skills to edit a children’s book. When told that a decent editing job for a book costs over $2k (and it should cost that much – a good editor will have to work at least 2 weeks on a book to get it ship-shape), they sneer and say; “but I’m only publishing an e-book” – as though this excuses it.”

        I’m afraid I have to agree in part with Nick here, though his mention of using $20 editors who aren’t native speakers is simply hyperbole. There are as many levels of editing as there are levels and personalities and priorities of writers. Some obviously take writing as an endeavor, and as a representation of themselves, in which anything the application of anything less than high professional standards would be anathema and perhaps render the entire endeavor pointless, as if one were writing a resume in crayon.

        Yet there is no shortage of those who do not engage with others before publishing, be it in the form of beta readers, writing groups, input from a valued mentor, use of an copy editor, use of a line editor, the employment of someone competent at formatting tasks or with cover art, or some combination of the above opportunities to improve one’s work product.

        I’ve seen people ask why their books don’t sell who are told — although in what attempts to be a more kind way — that it is because their cover art looks like a five-year-old’s watercolor and is barely fit to grace a refrigerator door, which simply doesn’t appeal and may even lead people to question the author’s judgment and professionalism. More than once, by the way. And seen the author respond that their artwork is part of their spirit or whatever, and of equal value to them as the book, and something they would never change. Well then … you get all kinds of authors, with all kinds of motives. You get those who not only do a poor job but will defend doing so. The painting examples above aren’t ones that don’t apply to attitudes about writing. Some authors complain they are being picked on when readers point out everything from confusing punctuation to confusing plotlines. Self-publishing is the wild wild west. Of the best and the worst, there is plenty and perhaps neither is representative. They just stick in the mind more easily. The vast majority of self-published work is likely, as are most things in life or in any field of endeavor, unexceptional.

        I wouldn’t say the major publishers have carved themselves out a place as unique exceptions, either. Especially with the miserable laziness of the unedited OCR scans of works both old and new that they put out, often while still charging premium prices.

  40. The article for me hits all the right points. Of course the indi publisher is not killing the industry and this year, my favourite reads have been self published works. So to people who self-publish – keep producing the material! We’ll be buying it and getting excellent works at very fair prices. Everyone wins.

    As I step towards completing my own work, it will be interesting to see this debate from the other side (as a writer) I’ll be self-published.

    Great article, great read. Thanks.

  41. Hello everyone!
    I just want to tell you about FeedARead. It is a paperback print on demand site. You can get distribution too for a one off affordable fee. It is evidence that not all trad publishers are anti indie authors. While I admit it is a trawl net for Orion who support the venture, there is evidence that attitudes are changing. Art Council England fund this and anyone can do it! I am on on the Nanowrimo work in progress page. And I have TWO novels soon to be published online. I think we can take heart, good storytellers can change the world, ALL of us.

    1. I have a number of concerns about

      1. Royalties are far lower than if you upload directly to Amazon itself using Createspace.

      2. Createspace is free. FeedAReed charges fees.

      3. FeedARead only pays royalties twice a year. Amazon/Createspace pay monthly.

      4. Amazon/Createspace let you order author copies at cost (usually $4 or $5 each). FeedARead only give you 5% – 20% off (depending on how much you order).

      5. You don’t have direct control over pricing, and must contact them if you want to change from their recommended price. On Createspace, you have full control.

      All of the above is reason enough to avoid FeedARead and go with Createspace.
      Of greater concern than all that, however, is that FeedARead appears to have arisen from the ashes of YouWriteOn, and the troubles with them are documented on this lengthy AbsoluteWrite thread:

  42. I think it isn’t the self-publishing but personal bloggers putting out their words for free vs. paid journalists some who are formally trained to write and to get paid for it. The value of the paid journalist’s word has gone down. We know a few free-lance journalists.

  43. As an aspiring/emerging writer (just when does one go from aspiring to emerging anyway?), I appreciated reading this.

  44. Great post! The core idea of self-publishing is “disintermediation” — removing the middle man and selling directly to the consumer. And the middle man here needs to your work to meet some highly unrealistic standard of success to subsidize their bloated infrastructure. A thousand dollar profit on a book to them would be a joke, that doesn’t even pay the janitor’s salary to come in and swamp the office toilets. For an individual author, a thousand dollar profit could be a godsend, and that’s hundreds of potential fans to sell the next book to.

    How many fans and dollars do you get with your manuscript sitting on an editor or reader’s desk, unread? Zero.

    That’s not our fault they’re clinging to a dinosaur of a business model that’s increasingly unsustainable, or that they turn away potential new revenue streams by expecting authors to have their hard work tied up in limbo for months, even years, while it sits in a slush pile. They won’t read it, but they won’t ‘allow’ you to show it to anyone else while it’s under their ‘consideration’ (read: taking up space on their desk for months).

    Recently I decided to ressurect a comic book I created, wrote and had published through traditional industry channels in the mid 90s (which the artist that I worked with on the book and I never saw a dime for, despite having crossed sales thresholds where there should have been some small profit, because fine print in our contract allowed them to charge us for promotional considerations — which mean our profits went to ‘purchasing’ a postage-stamp sized image of our cover on a house ad for the publisher in other comics they published). We’ve got enough exisitng material to publish a decent-sized graphic novel of about 160 pages or so.

    My collaborator had a contact at a small print publisher he’d met at a convention that had expressed interest in the work, so we decided to see if they were interested, put together a formal pitch for them, submitted it . . . that was four months ago. Still haven’t heard from them. This publisher has their own graphic novel division and seems very proud of their efforts in that space, clearly wanting to capitalize on that sector. They said their best selling book was in the 500 copy range, and I thought, well, they’re just getting started with doing graphic novels, and given that we sold a few thousand individual copies in standard magazine format issues, we could likely be ‘stars’ for them. The work is 98% completed, except for a few pages of unpublished material we wanted to include that needed lettered and inked, so we were essentially ready to roll, we could’ve been ready for press in maybe a month.

    In the meantime, while waiting it out — keeping in mind this was completed material that would’ve taken a total of an hour to read, if that, and say yea or nay, no sifting through a script and trying to determine what the final product would look like — I started looking over some sample contracts on their websites and really didn’t like what I saw: no advance, we get 8% of gross, which, comparing what our book would’ve been in terms of size and format to what they’ve already published in terms of price, would have gotten us maybe a little over a dollar in profit to split between two people. We can purchase copies for 30% off the cover price. If we do a promotional signing, the retail location can arrange to purchase copies at a discount but have to go through a formal process — so not only to I have to try to talk someone into letting me do a signing, then I have to hit them up to do additional paperwork and hassle. This publisher did not at all deal with the traditional distribution systems that all comics retailers use, so for every single shop I wanted to do signing at, this would be an issue, they couldn’t even order the book at all through the usual channels.

    And the contract is standard, non-negotiable, take it or leave it. And I also had other serious issues with the contract and unclear language as to several other matters, including making sure we kept full control and ownership of the IP. So this was strictly amateur hour, the “oh-my-God-someone-wants-to-publish-me-where-do-I-sign.” (Been there and done that.)

    To the point, I did my homework, and found a way to do print-on-demand that will allow us little overhead and the opportunity to make $3 plus in profit per copy of a physical edition. I can buy as many copies as I need at a steep enough discount to make retail promotional signings and direct sales at cons far more attractive. There’s also a downloadable e-book version we can offer. And we’re also going to present the material in a webcomic format with the potential to subsidize that with advertising revenue — probably a long shot there, but you never know. There’s quite a bit to learn going into DIY, but it’s not anywhere nearly as difficult to find the resources and information as I thought it might be. Pulling it off smoothly might be another matter but at least I’m not sitting there waiting for a response from someone who ‘expressed interest’ in the material in the first place.

    I have no idea why, with all the tools and technology at our disposal, you’d spend all the time and effort to create something and then jump through the insane amount of hoops expected just to get the validation of a publisher. Yeah, a more traditional publisher might get more eyes on your work than if you do it yourself — IF they bother to read it and make a decision on it in the first place.

  45. Whoever first came up with the idea that self-publishers/indies are killing the publishing industry has definitely invested huge amount of money in the industry & they’re nervous that more writers will eventually resort to self-publishing. Haha They’re just pissed off that writers don’t come to them for financial machinery. Indie writers just make do.

    1. The record industry killed the cheap single. Apple iTunes’ 99-cent “a la carte” MP3’s filled the vacuum.

      The traditional publishing industry raised the price of paperbacks. Amazon’s low-priced e-books filled the vacuum.

  46. I agree with you. New writers are bringing new ideas and challanges which is good for any industry. I just self-published a children’s book. It is such a competitive genre that if I tried to go the traditional route it would take years to get it published–if ever.

  47. I think it’s an exciting time to be a writer – there’s opportunity available out there for everyone if your words are good and you have the drive.

    1. I don’t know anything about cartoon ebooks, so I could be totally of base. That said, tons of people are publishing free novels, too. Readers still pay money for the ones they want. If you’ve got cartoons with appeal, I think people will pay money for them even if they can get other works for free.

      1. Thanks Anthea. I had a swift glance at that blog and have marked it for next year.

        Life’s in-tray is rather overloaded right now, but I have ambitious plans for next year which include ditching the in-tray, and residing in my out-tray (if that makes sense).

        Thanks again, and if you come across any other helpful websites, please send me the link.



  48. Nice write up, and I agree that self publishing is an overall good thing. As an aspiring writer, it’s easier for me to justify putting time into longer projects. I know that sending the manuscript in to a big publishing house, and hoping it’s one of the few that doesn’t get thrown in to the trash bin, isn’t the only hope of ever having someone read my work. I think self publishing’s greatest virtue is that it gives young, and aspiring writers hope that they might actually reach an audience without jumping through the hoops of a publisher.

  49. I love “Indy” stuff, it often feels so genuine. Not only does it make projects possible that would have been hard to stem otherwise, but “Indy” guys still have that magic creativity, because they don’t have to “streamline” so much.

  50. The larger an industry gets, the more difficult it becomes for them to adapt quickly. Decentralization of the publishing industry will help new publishers, new authors, new readers. The only ones that get hurt are the publishing giants and their slow-moving bureaucracies. Great article.

  51. Excellent article! As a freelance writer and literary editor specialising in new authors, I have been recommending self-publishing for several years. A friend of mine once likened publishing houses to pimps. Authors do not benefit from a contract with one of the BIG HOUSES as much as some might think. Not saying that you should never look toward traditional publishing, nor that there are not benefits, but the thing I find most important about self-publishing is CONTROL. I won’t go into my dissertation here; you know what I’m talking about. I am excited about the new opportunities for up-and-coming writers that digital media and the new attitudes toward self-publishing offer. Going to forward to your blog to a couple of author friends I know who are working on new books. 🙂

  52. A publisher has kept me dangling for months now with a promise to make a decision about my manuscript “next week”. What is a reasonable time to wait it out? I am leaning towards self-publishing however I find the different packages offered by Amazon confusing and complicated.

    1. There must be self-publishing author communities or forums someplace online. Maybe you can ask around and see what packages other people have tried and liked?

      Personally, I’d be tempted to do this research, make your decision, and then tell the publisher, “I’d really like to get this book out, so I’ve decided to self-publish in two months if you can’t give me a definitive answer by then.”

      Definitely ask around and see what others have done. Or else go to Amazon’s self-publish area, look through the self-published books until you find ones that are in the same genre as yours, and choose the same package those folks did.

    2. I think you should give the publisher (and yourself) a deadline for an answer. In the meantime, check out this page which covers the basics of self-publishing:

      You will note that I stress that writers should avoid self-publishing service companies. IMO, even the packages from Amazon don’t provide great value for money. You can do it much cheaper yourself, and get a better looking book out of it too. It’s not as hard as you think – anyone can do it – and you can get lots of help where you need to, and outsource to experts where necessary (e.g. cover design and editing).

      Come back if you have any questions.

    1. Heavens no! It’s to sell more books on Amazon *and* B&N, Kobo, iTunes…

      I started exploring this last week after seeing an unsourced claim that the price of books had risen well beyond the pace of inflation. I was very curious if that were true. In the course of hunting that information down, I turned up all this other stuff that I thought was really cool. Way too cool to not share. Since I had a sale coming up, and I’d already been talking with David about all this stuff about price and paperbacks and ebooks, we coordinated to run this post to coincide with the lowered prices of those books up there.

      That’s how it went down. I’m sensitive to the crass or mercenary side of all this, but the post wasn’t written to sell books.

    2. The irony here is that your comment – which has about 0.0001% of value of the post above – links straight back to your commercial site.

      What exactly is it that you object to? That I urged people to check out Ed’s (excellent) books below his post. Do you think all blogs should be free of any commercial content whatsoever? How do you propose bloggers get recompensed for the content they produce?

      I suspect you don’t have answers to those questions and you are just trolling. If I’m wrong, I’ll be intrigued to hear your response.

      1. I am really not sure what you are asking? Looks like you want to fight me or what. I guess I didn’t get the point of your blog then sorry. Maybe I should just stick to doing art!

      2. I’ll calm my wild Celtic blood so 🙂

        I was under the impression that you objected to the buy links at the bottom of the post. If I’m mistaken – apologies.

  53. Thank you Ed and David.

    For some time now I’ve suspected that, at least for fiction, ebooks will replace printed books. There will probably always be a market for ridiculously overpriced luxury editions of e.g. Lord of the Rings and boxed sets of Harry Potter. Also luxury lifestyle-books, historical atlases, books on architecture and art…

    We will own far fewer but more valuable physical books. For “daily” reading ebooks are more cost-efficient. They’re also better for the environment.

    Traditional publishing has seen the digital writing on the wall… and ignored it. This was probably not the first mistake of that kind either.

    I think that when Herr Gutenberg started his little revolution, a lot of people looked down on printed books. Serious writers were hand-copied on parchment, with hand-painted illustration and under the guidance of the gatekeepers of the time, the church. Now any Tom, Dick and Harry could have their rambling scribblings printed in hundreds of copies and have them sold by the printer for very low sums. The Amazons of that time printed their books in the back and sold them in the shop in the front of the house.

    A lot of the snooterati must have thought this new-fangled thing would never catch on.
    It’s actually eerie how history repeats itself over and over again.

    A question: can anyone explain to me why agents and publishers still treat authors, the creators without whom their businesses wouldn’t exist, as dirt?

    1. Totally agree with the historical perspective …

      I think they treat authors like commodities, and that translates into treating them like dirt. “If you don’t jump when I say jump, there’s twenty people behind you more desperate you’ll do as I say.” Now, there aren’t — those twenty people, along with you, aren’t in line anymore. They’re all in lines of one.

      1. That’s very well-put. It’s resulted in a complex system. Some not-yet-published authors still think trad is the only path for them. Others consider trad a waste of time and go straight to self-publishing. Meanwhile, people are switching from one group to the other all the time.

        Presumably, the ability to leave that long line toward traditional publishing will pressure publishers and agents to treat authors better. But it’s so mixed up, who knows whether there will be any equalizing of the relationship.

  54. Well, self-publishers ARE killing the gatekeeping industry, yes. Like light bulbs killed gaslamps.

    The thing is, the gatekeeping industry and an industry of printing one’s ideas down in squiggles of ink and then selling them are not necessarily the same thing.

    Jesus, this is the same as the music industry. It’s NOT a music industry. It’s a legal, bureaucratic, and office work industry that grew up around music, and THAT’S dying. Let it.

    And the classical music industry. No, classical music is not dying. One instantiation of its most recent delivery mechanism may be under some serious threat, but no — classical music itself is not dying. Bach survived centuries of plagues, wars, genocides, and revolutions. Ipods ain’t gonna kill it.

    The publishing industry will not die until AUTHORS cease to exist. The music industry will not die until MUSICIANS cease to exist. Classical music will not die until Mozart, Beethoven, and those guys cease to be remembered, and until people stop writing music that is so good that we keep wanting to hear it a century later.

    What IS dying — or at least undergoing a serious readjustment — are the industries of legal and office work or the very circumscribed delivery vehicles that grew up around these things. The things themselves will steam on ahead just fine.

  55. Ah, we were given the tools for desktop publishing and some do. This is great post, especially that independent/self-publishing is one way to break-up monopolies of corporate greed. We need all options available to promote literacy. Thanks Mr. Robertson for post and some facts to back up opinions.

  56. Not only is it about competition, but also about convenience. I love it! I remember driving all over Boulder looking for some $32.00 book that I finally had to order. I bought a Nook and life has been so much easier.
    I can understand how some may be worried, but I am with you. E-books and self-publishing, gives the writer options and will ultimately keep the prices from going sky high.
    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  57. Interesting economic analysis, to be sure.

    I think what is so wonderful about self-publishing with amazon is that it is like being on the frontier. Who knows what lies ahead, over the mountains and through the dark? No one. And if no one knows, then we are all explorers; and why would you ever want to deny the report of what another adventurer wants to tell you?

    At this point in our human journey, why should anyone not be allowed to tell a story around the campfire of humanity? Sure, some will not be able to deliver panegyrics at the bonfire, but many will be able to talk with an intimate audience at smaller fires along the parameter. And just because you start at the margins or the center, doesn’t mean you will be moored in that location for the entire time you wish to tell stories to your fellow human beings. So far, it seems like the algorithms work earnestly to bring writers and readers of similar interests into contact with one another, and are attempting to create a fluid list of authors with fresh insights and interesting stories to tell.

    This is the way publishing should have always been.

    In ancient Greece and Rome, authors used to stand on the corner and shout at people and read aloud from their books. While they might have had a patron supporting them and introducing them to others, they didn’t have a marketing department give them a thumbs up or down deciding whether or not their ideas would be allowed to be expressed. (This is oppression by stooges in the worst possible way. It is a GREAT thing that we are moving away from this model with the demise of traditional publishing.) Like the ancients, we all have patrons now: we ask interested parties to help pay for things like editing and cover art in exchange for enhancing and an enhanced product.

    More and more I see the current system (the one that is perishing or changing) as a long, unfortunate, but necessary detour to our modern publishing landscape, where technology was finally able to help the humanities and the spread of ideas. Amazon and self-publishing present not so much a demise of publishing, but an effulgent rise of new ideas, new ways to express those ideas, and new ways for people to find and engage with those ideas.


  58. Thanks for collecting all of those facts and sharing them.
    Have you or has somebody else checked how much (incl. inflation) profitability went up?

      1. The old supply chain was. The digital one is very short in comparison.

        Before, books went from writers to agents to publishers to distributors to booksellers to readers – and everyone took a slice of the book’s selling price along the way. The author was usually left with the least of all, but couldn’t really do anything about it as he had no way of reaching readers without all those middlemen.

        Since the rise of e-books, authors can go direct to readers and keep 100% of the price they set. Power has shifted completely to the author (which is great). As such, all those old middlemen have to prove to the author that they are worth a slice of the action. In my opinion, the only people making a convincing case right now are retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Kobo. It’s worth giving them a 30% cut to get access to their customer base (and have someone else handle the transaction). It’s much harder to make the case for giving a cut to an agent or a distributor in a digital world.

        Perhaps that’s another explanation for the rising price of books over the years. Perhaps as publishers got larger, a book went through more hands – and all that time has to be paid for. While some of that might be stuff that adds value to a book (like editing, proofing, cover design etc.), some might be stuff that’s strictly down to bureaucracy (like a lengthy back-and-forth between the Acquisitions Dept. and Sales & Marketing about whether a given book should be published or not, or how much of a marketing budget it should get).

    1. It is a new frontier, and it’s fascinating to watch groups of authors experiment with different approaches to publishing and marketing and sharing results. It’s such a motivating experience; I’ve had a real blast.

      Best of luck with your novel, Rami. Pop back if you have any questions.

  59. Seriously great post. I’m not much of a writer, but I am a musician and a lot of the same things have been said about the music industry and recording. I agree that ebooks and mp3s have helped boost sales for a lot of writers and musicians, but it is also easy for that source of income to end up online for free as illegal downloads (much to our dismay).

    I know this is a bit unrelated to the post as it is not those trying to make money writing or creating music that post content this way, but I would love to hear your thoughts on all of the “free” content available online, especially that which is put there illegally. What are your thoughts on combating this?

    1. Its up to each creator to decide their own approach, but I don’t worry about piracy at all. I don’t view a pirated copy as a lost sale – I think that person wouldn’t have purchased anyway. And, to be honest, obscurity is a far, far greater threat to me than piracy ever will be. If anything, piracy *might* be beneficial to me, as it might act as a form of free advertising.

      Let’s say 10,000 people pirate one of my books. Let’s say 1,000 of them ever get round to reading it. Let’s say half of them enjoy it, and half of *them* enjoy it so much that they tell a couple of friends each. Now I’ve get 500 new people hearing about my book that wouldn’t have heard of it otherwise. Plus some of those pirates might actually purchase something in the future.

      Some authors – such as Joe Konrath and Neil Gaiman – have conducted limited experiments which would seem to suggest that piracy can actually (maybe) boost sales.

      1. I agree that obscurity is a significant threat to sales and that in ways, piracy can help earn your book exposure although I still hesitate to believe it is a “good” thing. I think it would be interesting to read more about the experiments by Gaiman and Konrath. Do you have links to anything they published on the results?

    2. Another musician here, just getting started in the whole “sell my stuff” thing, and FWIW I intend to make some of my stuff deliberately available for free. I don’t doubt that if it catches on, it will probably be shared for free at some point; I almost HOPE that I get to be a big deal enough that someone will think to steal my stuff, as galling as I admit it feels reflexively.

      But I think that, if it’s going to happen, it might be worthwhile to just take it into account as part of the product distribution channel. Assume that some of your stuff will be passed around for nothing, and see if you can’t develop a product model — not just a business model but specifically a product model — that takes it into account. It’s not quite “combating it” so much as “planning for it.”

      1. Hi FireandAir. Yes, you are right. There really is no avoiding it, but I think it is possible to make an effort to try to prevent some of it.

        I do have some of my music available for free, but I offer it in exchange for things like signing up for my mailing list or as part of other promotions.

        I also agree that there are business models where offering music for free works and is a necessary part, but at the same time I’m hesitant to say that “all piracy” is “good”. I guess you could say “any news is good news” or “any exposure is good exposure,” but that could be argued as well.

        I appreciate your input and I wish you the best of luck with your career and music!

      2. Oh I don’t think all piracy is good — on a reflexive level, I dislike it. If you like the music, take some g/d dosh out of your pocket and thank the person who made it for gawdzsakes. Even the convenience argument is b/s in my opinion; it takes a LOT more time and effort to rip something off at this point than it does to google a band’s name, visit their site, and click the ubiquitous “download” button.

        What I’m saying is that maybe if people ARE going to act like that, the best answer may be to shape the behavior in a less damaging direction than to try to prevent it altogether, which I’m not sure is possible.

  60. Cool stuff, thank you Ed and David. To me – and I’m an independent writer, too – we are living in fascinating times, full of new possibilities opening up each and every day.
    I do like that a lot of the traditional filters that kept some people from expressing themselves with books and pushed others to the top, don’t work a smoothly as they used to do.
    To me the new opportunities, and I’m thankful to Amazon to what they are doing, enable the qualitiy of books to actually go up.
    Let’s be honest crap books don’t sell well, unless they are really funny 🙂 and nowadays many quality books make it out there that would never have been published by the old conservative publishing industry of last century.
    Keep rocking!

  61. Very informative article. If it wasn’t for my Kindle and indy publishers I wouldn’t have read over 100 books this past year. People are reading more because it is so accessible. Download and read. We are a busy society and why go to the book store when you can do it from your bed in your pjs. Keep up the great work. I am glad I found you.

  62. Reblogged this on Amsterdam Assassin Series and commented:
    Instead of complaining about the death of publishing, Publishers should’ve learned from the past, as this article by Edward W. Robertson proves. The similarity of publishing reaction to the rise of paperback novels in 1939 and the new rise of self-published e-books is uncanny.

  63. Reblogged this on Author Jolea M. Harrison and commented:
    This is an excellent article on the state of publishing today. A must read for authors and informative to the reader. I remember those inexpensive pocket books. My attic is still full to the brim with them!

  64. I am all for indie publishing if this is what it means, sticking it to the man ;P i considered the idea of not just “Amazon” or “LULU” but starting up a rogue Indie house myself for publishing small things and whatnot. I just love how this proports big publishing houses are being jack-asses about the new industry, because THEY are losing money 😉 OCCUPY THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY! *cough* Anyways, i believe in our craft, and i beleive this is wonderful news 😀

  65. There is a very simple and obvious (if you’ve ever experienced a big corporate merger) reason for the connection between rising book prices and merger mania in the industry. Merging two organizations is a costly endeavor. Not necessarily from a cash perspective (although it is often that, too), but from a process efficiency POV. The merged company is inherently less efficient than its predecessor companies. Always. It’s an iron law of bureaucracy. Everything from the big picture corporate culture issues to the tiniest details of who approves my expense report know and what kind of documentation do I need. The easy answer for corporate management is always to make every process more complicated than before. Productivity falls as more and more of the employees energy is focused on learning the new rules.

    If most of the value of the company is in its processes (which is absolutely the case with a publishing company), there’s only one way to make a merger pay off: Extract more dollars from the reduced production. So the merged companies look for ways to raise prices. I’ve seen this happen over and over. If the rest of the industry goes along, the mergers can “pay off”. If the company’s competitors don’t want to raise prices, the merger becomes a textbook case study in failure. But the “success” of these mergers is dependent on the decisions of people outside the company and they are never good for consumers.

    1. I’ve been making the same point since I heard about the Penguin/RH merger. The folks touting that as positive for either company, or the industry at large, are kidding themselves. I watched consolidation run rampant virtually gut the newspaper industry and the results were pretty common across the spectrum: product quality suffered, job losses happened at the creative levels mostly (the people most responsible for product quality) the acquired papers saw sometimes dramatic price increases forced upon them but simultaneously suffered from less resources because the central corporate entity drained ever more revenue out in mystical budget lines like the absurdly vague “management fees.” The consolidated industry had little flexibility and couldn’t adequately respond to the rapidly changing digital landscape. Subsequently, half their business vanished in five years. If this merger is the start of a consolidation run on the traditional side, and I think it is, that means publishers are further expediting their own declines. But the folks at the top of these corporate beasts will make a quick killing on the way down at their authors’, employees’ and readers’ expense.

  66. Reblogged this on Words on the Page and commented:
    Wonderful article. As I get older, I find my pet peeve collection growing, but as a new (by thoughtful, researched choice) indi author, I am both amused and frustrated by the “you’re killing the industry!” mantra, along with the “all indies are crap” mantra. I especially hate when it comes from traditionally pubbed authors, like someone somewhere writing and publishing crap (it happens in traditional publishing too, btw!) effects them in any way at all. Ugh.. don’t get me started! I’ll just reblog this and shut up now!

  67. Dave, fascinating to see those prices translated into contemporary dollars. Thanks for doing the numbers and sharing them.

    I know that my own reading habits have changed since the dawn of indie publishing. I read more books and more widely in different genres. Price, convenience, exposure to more books all work to move ebooks — it’s all very different than the brick-and-mortar era. And for those of us who write as well as read, it’s a great thing!

  68. Indie publishing killing traditional publishing? E-Books plunging printed books into obsolescence? I don’t think so. Since I got my Kindle less than a year ago I’ve built up a small library of mostly cheap and free books, but quite a few higher priced ones as well–lots of indie stuff too. But the truth is that I’ve purchased MORE PRINT BOOKS than ever before! This is just one person’s evidence that Indie publishing and ebooks are here to SAVE traditional publishing. We might succeed if the myopic boardroom denizens don’t sabotage themselves.

    1. Larry, out of curiosity, are the print books you are still purchasing of a certain genre (like, say, non-fiction or recipe books that often work better (IMO) in print)? Are they all new releases or second-hand?

      I’ve had my Kindle for 10 months now, and I don’t think I’ve bought a print book since. I’ve read plenty, but I don’t *think* I’ve purchased any.

      1. My print book purchases are usually for titles that are not available as ebooks. Most of them are either in the speculative fiction genre or are books on writing. A few non-fiction titles round this out. There is a mix of used books and new in-print books.

        Your are to blame for a lot of this because after reading your book on digital publishing I realized that I could actually self-publish and maybe find a reader or two. So, I’ve taken a Gotham Writing course in spec fic, read and studied and begun writing. And I’m reading more, of course.

        I wonder how many writers have been so intimidated by the daunting process of “breaking into print” that they just never write? That wasn’t entirely my reason, but I think it was a factor. Some of my non-fiction projects may not have an audience big enough for a traditional publisher to invest in them, but now they can find their niche.

  69. Back when I had an agent and was on submission to the Big Six, several editors who had requested the manuscript never bothered to respond to my agent. Not even to say, no thanks. BTW, agent was at one time head of the AAR, and yet they snubbed her as well as me.

    This is part of what’s killing traditional publishing: contempt for the writer.

    1. It’s somewhat amusing to hear that editors treat agents like agents treat writers. I’ve no problem with agents not responding to every single random query, but when they request a full, then don’t respond at all, that’s just rude (and happens all the time). It’s part of the reason why writers don’t have massive reserves of sympathy for those who are being disintermediated by the digital revolution. That and the whole screwing writers with crappy contracts thing.

      1. Oh yeah, I hear you. In my agent search I encountered more than a few who wore that moi-crown. I was lucky to have found an ethical and responsive agent….even better, she was the one who got fed up with non-responding editors and urged me to go Indie.

  70. Thank you Ed and David, I’m a little author and self publisher, my work would never have seen the day if self publishing did not exist. As a reader I’m ecstatic that all the .99 to 4.99 e-pubs I’ve purchased aren’t ruining the industry. To my mind, lower prices and more books definitely means more readers and so yes, feel we are helping save not only the industry, but reading itself.
    Lovely informative writing by both of you; can’t wait to delve into your books, Ed.

    1. One thing that’s often overlooked in all the debates surrounding the industry is that people read more once they switch to digital. This should be celebrated! It’s the first turnaround in reading numbers in a long time. While there are other factors involved (such as convenience, selection, ease etc.), price has to be a huge factor – and it’s primarily indies who have been driving down prices.

  71. Of course the established and entrenched pieces of the publishing industry try to devalue the new processes that make the chase easier for authors like me. I might never get published in the traditional market, but with self-publishing I have a genuine chance!

  72. Reblogged this on Ontext ghostwriting and author mentoring and commented:
    I read David Gaughran almost every day. He has his whole hand on the pulse of the self-publishing and independent publishing industry. He’s an independent writer and a man with a ton of common sense and insight. Here’s some valuable information from his friend and another inde writer — Edward W. Robertson — about pricing your books and how we are NOT harming the publishing business.

  73. Thank you for posting. I really agree with you. Personally, I wrote a novel six years ago and had it not been for the self publishing sites, my manuscript would still be sitting on the shelf. I was so grateful that i could finally tell my story. I believe that a lot of talented writers are self publishers or have gotten their start in that manner. In a fact, a couple of my favorite authors began in that same manner. Again, thank you for your blog.

  74. I could not agree more. Well written. Excellent point made re: hardcover/paperback.
    I am SICK and TIRED of the elitist, high brow, stiff upper lip “traditional” publishers rejecting COUNTLESS good works. Harry Potter (rejected 12 times), Stephen King’s “Carrie” (rejected 7 times), Twilight (14 times) –> yes I know *Twilight*. But it was marketable and had HUGE sales potential and yet 14 idiots rejected it. Down with the establishment. And long live Amazon and Smashwords and WattPad and all those other great sites. (ahh, there, rant done.)

  75. An excellent post which puts the neurosis about indie writing into a proper historical context. In our imaginations we can go even further back, of course.
    ‘Father Ted, do you hear what that feller me lad Richard Caxton is doing? In one day he’s printing a book which it would take a whole monastery of scribes three months to copy and illuminate.’
    ‘Don’t worry, Brother Thomas. It’s a fad, it will never catch on. The books have no lovely pics of dragons in the margins. They’re too cheap in any case. Believe me, people will soon be eating their fish and chips out of these new fangled books.’
    ‘Made from potatoes. Or they will be when Walter Raleigh gets round to being born and bringing them back from America?’
    ‘Just shut up and sharpen your quill.’

  76. “For whatever reason, the publishing industry failed to keep their lowest-priced books anywhere near the prices they’d maintained for decades.”

    “Whatever reason” probably has a lot to do with changes in the logging, paper-making, and printing industries. Before people thought much about environmental damage, paper was a whole lot cheaper to produce. I don’t have numbers — a quick Google search showed me only that I could spend $2400 to subscribe to historical data, which seemed a little much — but based on my time in the industry, I suspect that paper costs have also risen at a rate dramatically higher than the rate of inflation. Personally, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. The process of making paper is terrible for the environment (see so the sooner we stop, the better. But when I worked in publishing the annual increases in paper costs were like annual health insurance hikes — much dreaded and way higher than inflation would account for. One year our paper costs doubled. That’s extremely painful for P&L statements.

    1. (Because the internet is terrible for communicating tone: consider the following “musing” rather than “argumentative”.)

      Rising paper costs could be a factor.. but over the same period, the relative cost of hardcovers actually came down from about $40-50 to $25-35, in adjusted dollars.

      Meanwhile, we’re told one of the reasons that traditionally published ebooks only cost marginally less than physical copies is because the physical distribution costs are minor–10-15%, as was repeatedly thumped into my head. On an $8 paperback, that’s roughly $1. And, according to people in the industry, that $1 in includes shipping, warehousing, etc. Even if physical production costs in 1939-1961 were zero, that additional dollar to modern prices would leave paperbacks priced in the $4-5 range.

      I’m very curious about where these price increases came from, but from my outsider’s perspective, I don’t see how rising physical production costs could make up the difference.

      1. Totally agree with you, Ed. What amazes me the most is that publishers have been caught so completely unaware. They should’ve learned from history, i.e. the rise of paperback novels, and from competing media, LP>CD>MP3, which exposes the same problems and pitfalls as well as the same solutions. Sony went after Napster instead of buying into the new media like Apple did with iTunes and the iPod. Because the music market was broken open, lots of new artists have been discovered by a new generation who finds their heroes through FB and Youtube. And a new generation of readers will find their authors through the self-publishing channels like Amazon, Kobo, Sony and iTunes.

      2. When I worked in a chain bookstore in the 80’s, we were told that mass market paperbacks cost about a nickel to make. Every week we stripped the covers off dozens of them and threw them away, sending back the covers, as I recall. They were so cheap an actual physical commodity that they were quite close to free. Not worth the shipping costs to send back and try to sell elsewhere, nor the costs to recycle. Into the dumpster they went. And not as a painful last resort. Simply anything the managers decided wasn’t moving quickly, including stuff we knew would eventually sell just fine.

        Paper costs have indeed risen a lot — it’s been a steady complaint for decades. But considering the tiny part of overall costs they comprised, and how carelessly overprinted paperbacks were, paper costs weren’t much of a factor in costs back then and would have had to increase by countless multiples to match the increase in paperback cover prices over the next few decades.

      3. Agreed. I think what happened was an explosion of readers among young people in the 60s and 70s and the resultant increased demand caused a rise in prices. I think today’s Indies have it wrong in not understanding a book is worth whatever a reader thinks it is worth.
        An ebook at $10 will give 24 hours entertainment on first read and many days on 2nd, 3rd, 4th reads. In other words, it is a lot cheaper than a movie, rock concert or football game. The only reason it may seem expensive to some is the reader is a participant in the entertainment and does not get paid (in cash) for their part. Book lovers know that a great book is priceless. I only want to see good writers make a comfortable living from their craft.

    2. The last EPA extension on pulp mill cleanup was the green flag for selling to foreign owners, who the EPA couldn’t make. at the same time, the Forest Service said clearcut permits would not be auto-extended. So, they cut as much as fast as possible, shoved it through as fast as possible, made the cheapest high-acid paper possible and then, paper went up.

      1. Oh, forgot to mention EPA exclusion of hazardous waste for book printers was on the outs, too. So, there was a mass marketing paradigm restructure. Spider Robinson wrote an open letter to his 60,000 fans telling them he couldn’t get more than a 30,000 print run and he couldn’t make a living like that. Publishers said, “You will write what is selling or you will not get a contract anywhere,” and Stephen King published on the net. Look at who was put in charge and what was done in publishing houses and what the goal was. The blockbuster method of entertainment investment selection is very thoroughly explained in Comm Intro to Media texts. Mass market economics required. My husband worked for the Alaska DEC and my B-i-l worked for the Forest Service. When I began to write in ’92, style and content were for electronic publishing and e-reading devices.

  77. I won’t lie.
    I was one of those that turned away from indie, and put all my faith in Trad. Recently, I’ve changed my viewpoint. I see coverage for both, and am going to put heart and soul into giving epub a damn good go.

    Why the change of heart?

    Because – I’ve realised that for every bad book out there, there’s a good one too. Many go the extra mile to have their work edited and proofed, with a killer cover (or not), and produce outstanding stories that wouldn’t have been give a breath of air from an agent or publisher because it didn’t fit with their current model.

    I’m not a fan of vampire novels… but they sell, so if you write it, people will buy.

    Publishers are trembling at the impact on their profits, and most seem to only encourage big name authors or celebrities. Eventually like all things, even they will go down the epub route. Look at how some bands are releasing entire albums online, and totally bypassing the middle man.

    Publishers won’t go all dodo, but they will become endangered unless they bring down their prices.

    5 years ago, ebooks were scarce.
    Now they’re as rampant as a pensioner with remote controlled wheels loaded into their zimmer frame.

    I see a bright future for ebooks.
    Great post.
    One that makes me want to pursue this great adventure even more.

    And by the way … flipping epic covers!
    Who are they by???

    1. Looking inside my copy of Melt Down it names the cover artist as: Stephanie Mooney.

      Regarding what sells and what doesn’t, the beautiful thing about digital publishing is that costs are so low that *every* niche becomes (potentially) profitable. Think about it. If you are making roughly $3.50 a sale (if you are selling at $4.99), you only need a small number of readers to make your niche sustainable. Indies can make nice money at sales levels that publishers wouldn’t be interested in – because we have a much smaller cost base.

    2. Yep, my artist is Stephanie Mooney of Mooney Designs. She does stellar work.

      This business is already tougher than it was just a year ago, but I think that if you can create a book that looks as good and reads as well as a trad-published book–but costs half or a third as much–then it’s a truism that you can compete.

  78. Great post. I would like to add a few comments if I may. I have started a niche business based on self-publishing. What I do is take edited, proofed manuscripts and turn them into POD books and eBooks for authors. I found that many self-published books although good books were poorly formatted and laid out, with poorly designed covers. So I have offered the service, at roughly 1/7th what createspace would charge, to format, layout, provide covers and even create websites.
    I get the ISBN numbers at no charge, and charge not royalties, only a low flat rate. All my clients have been ecstatic with the results. I will not provide info on my business because this is not meant to be self-promotional, but just felt it necessary to say that if an author spends hundreds getting a manuscript edited and proofed they should also spend a few hundred to get it professionally published as an eBooks or POD.

  79. Penguin and Random House have been among the worst in doing everything they can to prop up overly inflated ebook prices. Penguin’s recent purchase of Author Solutions, a company known for underhanded dealings, for an incredible $116 million, only further demonstrates just how out of touch they are with reality. Many jobs will be lost from this merger. How many of those people, be they editors, formatters, or artists, will turn to the Indie rabble, looking for work?

    If someone’s book brings a measure of joy to a reader, how does that harm others?

    1. That’s interesting since Penguin – in its infancy – was accused of killing the book industry in the UK by introducing the sixpence paperback in 1934. Only Woolworth’s stores picked them up at the beginning because they only sold inexpensive items.

      This is what happens when people forget their roots…

      1. It’s fascinating to go back and look at the quotes surrounding the launch of paperbacks in both the US and the UK. They were pronounced cheap and tawdry – something no serious writer or publisher would be associated with. Or a fad, which would fizzle out, and people would return to “real” books, i.e. hardbacks. As they got more popular, they suddenly become the harbingers of doom, set to destroy an industry. They didn’t, of course, and actually achieved the opposite – increasing readership and revitalizing a stagnant industry. The parallels with today and e-books is uncanny.

  80. The fallacy I find in many of the doomsayer articles is that they say publishers are struggling to save the book industry (and culture!). Except, they aren’t. The big publishers are struggling to save their infrastructure–high-priced offices, executive perks, inefficient production methods, absurd distribution channels. They have missed the point and continue to ignore the truth is that books don’t matter. There will always be people who collect and treasure printed books as beautiful objects, as artifacts. There are people who collect illuminated manuscripts and papyrus scrolls, too. What readers want, what they’re really after are information, education and entertainment. While printed books make excellent vehicles for those, they are not the only vehicles and perhaps not even the best.

    Smart businesses ask themselves, “What do our consumers want? What’s the best way to give it to them and maximize profits while keeping costs low?” I keep reading articles by people who truly believe there is something special about publishing. That the rules of commerce and the free market somehow do not apply. They’re wrong. Anyone who believes their business is somehow exempt from market pressures is going to go out of business. Even if the entire traditional publishing industry collapses, people will still demand information, education and entertainment. Smart money is on those who find the best way to provide it.

    Marvelous post, as usual, David.

    1. Well said, Jaye.

      I find it amusing that self-publishing isn’t considered part of the industry. It doesn’t matter to me one bit – I couldn’t care less in fact – but it is funny. I hear these conversations going back-and-forth about the percentage of the market that e-books have taken, with no mention of self-publishing where most people seem to sell 90% to 95% ebooks versus paper. Lack of hard numbers makes it quite tricky, but it’s not impossible to estimate the size of self-publishing. Kobo said that the size of their self-publishing business is roughly equivalent to one of the Big 6. And if you look at the Amazon charts, self-publishers regularly between a quarter and a third of the Top 400 or so (and that proportion *seems* to hold further down the rankings).

      If they don’t want to count our sales as part of the “industry”, that’s fine. But it’s pretty dumb to make pronouncements and projections about how much of the market will eventually go digital without factoring in those numbers.

      But hardly surprising 🙂

      1. Well said, both of you. It’s true. There is a lot of snobbery out there in the literary world when it comes to indie-pubbed books. I feel as if these people have started a campaign to convince readers that all indie books are poorly-written, shabby versions of their trad-pubbed competitors. That there’s a reason the prices are so low. That they aren’t worth the price of traditionally published books. I even see indies buying into this by trying to make their covers “look” traditionally published or setting their prices higher to try and “fool” readers (as if that could be done.) I think that’s rather pointless. Self-publishing has already dramatically changed the publishing industry and in today’s economy, it’s business model is working. My only concern is the channel through which authors sell directly to readers. As of now, Amazon appears to be king. Amazon is a good company, but I worry about it becoming too powerful and about indies becoming to dependent on it. That’s my only concern at this point.

    2. SoundEagle agrees with David, Jaye and Melissa. It seems that the dynamics and balance of power between the self-publishing business and the traditional publishing industry are also happening in the music and arts industries. Many songs and albums are priced at a few dollars or even under a dollar.

  81. BWAHAHAHAHA! History repeats, and the people who should have learned, don’t. I wonder if our descendant will be repeating this argument again, 60-100 years from now, with whatever new method of cheap/mass/self/whatever-publishing they come up with.

    1. I realized that ALL of these types of arguments were eternal when I read a book on the operas written by Haendel 300 years ago, and the book quoted broadsheets from a couple decades before the birth of the United States that talked about how opera was a dead art form because it cost too much to put on, people were losing their jobs, and donations didn’t cover the expenses. >_<

      1. See, THIS is the sort of stuff we should learn in history. People keep repeating it needlessly because we’re reading about wars and civil wars. Those aren’t the only lessons we need to hear anymore…

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