Online Publishing: The New Frontier

Is Your Job Already Outsourced? (part 3 of 3)

(Click here for part 1) (Click here for part 2)

From the start of this century the publishing world has gone in two distinctly different directions.

On the one hand, the number of traditional printed-book publishers has shrunk. American book publishers have been swallowed up by media conglomerates, most of them foreign.

On the other hand, brand-new electronic-book-reader technology from American chain bookstores and computer manufacturers has blossomed. And reminiscent of the “mimeo revolution” of the 60’s and the desktop publishing revolution of the 80’s, downloadable-print-publishing via the Web by self-publishers has exploded too.

Publishing means promotion not production

Up through the 20th century, publishing was classed as part of the manufacturing sector. Publishers typeset, bound, and distributed books. Sometimes books were marketed via publishers’ catalogs and review copies. But promotion was a nominal part of what publishers did.

In the 21st century, almost anyone can publish and distribute a book. Promotion, rather than production, is now key to online bookselling in this era. And publishing is now a part of the Entertainment and Information sectors instead of Manufacturing.

The traditional (i.e., “printed book”) publishing industry charged high prices, yet never paid its workers well. The median return to authors for a published book has hovered around $3,000 for decades. Royalties to authors are often not paid until a year after the book is published and the publisher deducts all costs. Royalties are usually not itemized or ever reported in total on royalty “statements.”

For less than $3,000 an author now can publish and promote their own book and keep 100% of the gross royalties rather than settle for the mere 7-10% net royalties traditional publishers typically pay. Authors can keep their own copyright or creative commons rights to their work. Most importantly, an author can see who is buying their book and even market another book or other kind of product to those buyers.

While media giants scramble for blockbuster print book moneymakers such as the $10 million Springsteen autobiography reputedly in the works, these publishing companies leave many authors out in the cold.

But now authors left out in the cold have many alternatives: they can self-publish their own books; create POD books, books that can be printed-on-demand as readers buy them; or write e-books.

But what do we mean by “e-books”?

As I described above–there are two publishing sectors. The corporate sector aims at “wealth-building” for the few. Simultaneously, there is an economic sector referred to often as “the long tail” [wags the dog] sector. The goal aimed at in this sector is for all in it to “make a decent living.”

So, e-books can refer quite different things, depending on which economic sector you’re talking about.

Electronic-reader e-books

E-books can be books published or repurposed for corporate electronic readers sold by via the Web by large booksellers such as Amazon or Barnes and Noble (i.e., Kindle and Nook). Apple too has jumped into this market with its new iPad, and PC makers are quickly following suit.

These corporate-published “electronic reader e-books” are being made for students in colleges and schools as well as for the general public.  The Financial Times reported on October 26, 2009 (p12) that “A pilot scheme to evaluate e-book technology in the classroom is underway at six colleges and business schools.” Last year governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called for all of California’s public school textbooks to become electronic.

PDF e-books

But e-books can also refer to a booming trend of professionals creating downloadable PDF files for online distribution.

Many of these downloadable e-books, formatted for printing out, are free or low-cost “loss-leaders,” intended to start “selling conversations” with prospective clients for services offered by the professionals who wrote the e-books.

Some of these downloadable e-books are workbooks sold through shopping carts. Others are full-priced multimedia kits one buys online. The word, “e-books,” also encompasses chapters of self-published books that are offered for free or at a lower price to entice new customers to discover an author. Some online “serial” e-books are even supported by reader donations.

Both kinds of e-books are new, but they arise from two very different business models. In their stories about “e-books” traditional corporate media, i.e., newspapers and television, usually are referring to books published by retail book and computer companies for the new electronic readers these corporations sell. PDF e-books, on the other hand, belong more to the blogosphere.

Alternative and corporate and publishing combined

However, these two business models do sometimes overlap. The tail sometimes wags the “master.” For example, a self-publishing writer may use the traditional Hollywood movie “trailer” or a TV appearance to promote their new book.

It’s an individual choice as to what vehicle for promoting a book works best for each author. For example, in the last century Joyce Carol Oates switched back and forth between large American publishing houses and independent small press publishers to get all of her novels out.

Authors today may enter self-publishing with a goal of eventually becoming picked up by traditional publishers or getting their work put out for electronic readers. Other self-publishing authors have no interest at all in getting an agent, publisher, or e-reader book contract. They’d rather be on their own. For all self-publishing authors it’s a brand new frontier out there on the Web!

Be The Media

For a comprehensive look at traditional and new business models on the Web for creative people, providers of services for them, and community-based organizations that use media, see David Mathison’s Be The Media. David was a client of mine, and I’m proud to be an affiliate seller of his book. We have similar work histories and think much alike. David’s book is simply the best coverage of what’s happening with alternative and mainstream media today.

Nancy Humphreys © 2010


There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment