Who Needs a Publisher? Exploring Self-Publishing From Content Creation to Distribution

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May 02, 2012

May 2012 Issue

Article ImageIn the traditional publishing model, an author with an idea would need to attract the attention of an agent or publisher who would evaluate the idea and the author's credentials and abilities in order to make a decision. Stories abound of frustrated authors who faced rounds of rejection before finding a home for their work-or simply giving up. Some of those rejected had truly brilliant insights and, ultimately, popular prose to offer. Notable among them are Stephen King, George Orwell, and J.K. Rowling.

While self-publishing traditionally has had somewhat of a stigma attached to it, Jared Kuritz notes that there are some widely known and highly regarded books that were self-published. Kuritz is the director of the La Jolla Writer's Conference of San Diego; a managing partner for STRATEGIES, a literary development, project management, and public relations firm; and a frequent instructor at the University of California-San Diego, where he teaches about the various publishing options and changes in the publishing industry. He points to the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series, all of Ken Blanchard's books, and What Color Is Your Parachute: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers to name a few.

So, while self-publishing is really not that new, it's a concept that is rapidly expanding and being fueled by a growing interest in ebooks, driven largely by mobile devices such as the iPad and the Kindle. The number of self-published books has grown by 160% from 2006 to 2010, according to R.R. Bowker, LLC. And, The Association of American Publishers indicates that ebooks grew from 0.6% of the trade market in 2008 to 6.4% in 2010.

Today, gone-or almost gone-is the stigma formerly attached to "vanity" publishing-authors who paid for the prestige of being published. But now, the definition of being published has become quite murky. If literally anyone can wax eloquent about anything and distribute their musings to the masses, what does it mean to be an author? Most importantly, does it matter, and to whom?

Opinions vary, and in the final analysis, there may well prove to be a very important role for traditional publishers, but within a decidedly different business and distribution model.

What Does It Mean to Be Published?

Today, says Kuritz, "There are a lot more opportunities to get published than there have ever been and that's a good thing both from the consumer standpoint, because there will be more stuff out there to read, and from the author's standpoint because it's not just an old boy's network for traditional publishing where only the few and the proud get published."

Of course, some might argue that only the few and the proud were published because there were only a few that deserved to be, and they should, therefore, be proud of their accomplishment.

Peter Winick is the principal of Thought Leadership Leverage. He works with a variety of nonfiction/business authors helping them produce and share their content through various means. "Self-publishing used to clearly have a stench of amateur," acknowledges Winick. "I don't think that's the case anymore." But, he adds, "That being said, I think you do need to be aware that there is a lot of crap out there."

And, it's becoming increasingly challenging to sort through that crap. Winick points to a TechCrunch article that indicated that more books were published in 1 week in January this year than in all of 1950.

On the flip side of this concern though is the recognition that the ability to self-publish allows more people to share their knowledge. "Everybody has a story," says Thomas E. Bright Sr., COO of Lulu Enterprises, Inc., which created a new model in publishing-open publishing-back in 2002. At Lulu, authors can create anything from hardcover books to ebooks, as well as photo books and calendars. They keep all rights to their work and retain 80% of the profit they generate. They may, if they choose, pay for additional services through Lulu, including cover design, editing, formatting, and marketing.

By allowing people to stray from the traditional route to publication, says Bright, companies such as Lulu provide a valuable service: the ability to deliver content (Bright makes a distinction between "books" and "content") easily and inexpensively.

"One of the things that we've learned at Lulu is that there is no such thing as a ‘book.' Everybody picks up different books for different reasons," says Ryan Bloom, vice president of product development at Lulu. One person might sit home at night and read a traditional fiction novel for enjoyment. Another might access a technical ebook online. Lulu thinks not of books but of content, and that distinction serves to open up a range of new possibilities for publishers, authors, and other content providers.

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