Per a recent press release posted online, Author Solutions–owner of a number of print-on-demand publishing services, including AuthorHouse, Xlibris, iUniverse, Trafford, WordClay, and Palibrio–has just issued another whitepaper.
A previous whitepaper, released in early 2009, attempted to re-brand AS as an “indie” or “independent” publisher (see my debunking of this co-opting of terms with already-established meanings that don’t fit the AS business model at all). In the current whitepaper, AS announces “The Democratization of Publishing,” crediting “the historical convergence of three technologies for bringing about the end of the publishing ‘aristocracy.’”
Which three technologies? Well, first, desktop publishing, which “replaced traditional typesetting, [and] meant an individual could design a book more quickly and cost effectively”. Second, print on demand technology, through which “copies of a book could be printed individually, at costs comparable to traditional, large offset runs” (actually, this isn’t true; low setup costs make digital printing cheaper for one-at-a-time production and small print runs, but offset printing, which can benefit from economies of scale–i.e., the more you produce, the lower the unit cost–is far more economical for runs of more than a few hundred). And third, the Internet as a distribution channel, which “leveled the playing field for authors who wanted to distribute their books broadly and cost effectively.”
The result? “These technologies, all developing at the same time, meant the elite no longer held the power. Authors now had it. This fundamental shift in control has transformed the publishing industry.”
Here’s the proof of this seismic change, according to Author Solutions:
While this revolution has been taking place for over a decade, this year marked a milestone. Publishers Weekly, the leading industry periodical, published an article titled “Self-Publishing Titles Topped 764,000 in 2009 as Traditional Output Dipped” essentially declaring victory. Reporter Jim Milliot states the latest Bowker data, the industry measuring stick, shows “the number of ‘non-traditional’ titles dwarfed those of traditional books.”
There’s just one problem with these figures (which I analyzed in much more detail in a recent blog post). More than 697,000 of those non-traditional titles weren’t self-published at all, but reprints of previously-published works (most in the public domain) put out by reprint specialists such as BiblioBazaar and Kessinger Publishing (despite its misleading title, the PW article makes this clear). According to the statistics PW provides, self-published titles from the largest publishing services, including two of the Author Solutions brands, actually numbered around 77,000. That’s an impressive figure, but even if you double it to account for the many smaller publishing services that PW doesn’t mention, it’s still considerably fewer than the just over 288,000 titles issued by “traditional” publishers.
A “victory” for self-publishing? A pie in the face for the elitist traditional publishing industry? Not so much.
Not content with its skewed presentation of facts and figures, Author Solutions next pulls the trick of the non-comparable comparison, invoking nonfiction author Seth Godin, who recently made the decision to bypass his trade publisher and self-publish his next book. “In other words,” Author Solutions declares, “he is taking his message directly to the people.”
Now the question remaining is how many other authors like Mr. Godin will follow his lead. Is he a lone rebel or the first one to take advantage of the new freedoms afforded authors? Time will tell, but one thing is for sure: The walls have come down. Publishing is no longer a closed society. As Mr. Godin stated in a recent interview, “[After the fixed costs of an editor and book formatting,] your book is packaged as you want, and it can then be put on sale next to other potential best-sellers on Amazon and elsewhere.”
In other words, there is equal opportunity for authors to be successful and achieve their dreams. Long live the revolution!
Now, I really don’t think I need to get up on a soapbox about how Seth Godin–best-selling author of numerous books, with a high profile, a huge platform, and (presumably) substantial financial resources–differs from Joe First-Time Author or Jane Midlist Novelist. Godin’s choice to self-publish (and the choices of other well-known authors who are bypassing the traditional system in various ways) says a great deal about the changes that are currently rocking the publishing industry, and the ways in which savvy, entrepreneurial-minded writers who are already successful can use their existing platforms to exploit the opportunities offered by the free-for-all of the Internet and the burgeoning world of digital. But it says nothing whatever about the viability of self-publishing for writers in general (for a succinct analysis of why, see this blog post from Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt).
Nor does it demonstrate that publishing has been democratized (or that it would be a good thing if it were), or support the claim that the accessibility and relative inexpense of digital printing–which hasn’t so much transformed the publishing industry as created a brand-new, parallel industry–equates to providing writers with equal opportunities for success. Digital technology has made it possible for just about anyone to turn their manuscript into a printed book and offer it for sale via the Internet–but it has not solved the problem of how to grab reader eyeballs. If anything, by vastly increasing the number of new books in circulation, it has made that task even more difficult.
I am sure it won’t be long before an Author Solutions staffer stops by to chide me for my negativity. But even if you ignore the misrepresented facts and misleading comparisons in this latest whitepaper, AS does writers an extreme disservice with its glib presentation of self-publishing–all upside, no downside, suitable for anyone no matter what their needs or ambitions. Rah, rah! Vive la revolucion! Cue clenched fist! But the truth is that the choice to self-publish is a complicated one that should be made only by writers who have studied the alternatives and clearly formulated their goals. Too many writers fall into self-publishing out of ignorance, unrealistic assumptions about its potential benefits, or misconceptions about traditional publishing.
Judging from this latest whitepaper, that would seem to suit Author Solutions just fine.