Monday, January 9, 2012

Will Self-Publishing Compete with or Complement Traditional Publishing?

I ask myself this question after reading a variety of articles on the future of self-publishing. The statistics show that it isn’t something traditional publishers can ignore any more. Publishers Weekly shows that in 2009, 76% of newly released books were self-published.
Self-publishing has certainly come a long way. An article from the Wall Street Journal made this observation: “Much as blogs have bitten into the news business and YouTube has challenged television, digital self-publishing is creating a powerful new niche in books that’s threatening the traditional industry. Once derided as 'vanity' titles by the publishing establishments, self-published books suddenly are able to thrive by circumventing the establishment.”
But is self-publishing really a “threat” to traditional publishing? In a Wall Street Journal poll, the majority at 49% said that it is a “big threat” – probably due in large to the increasing popularity of digital books and electronic devices that lend themselves well to accessing self-published works.
Yet there also appear to be ways in which the two poles are trying to connect.
HarperCollins launched a writing community called In their FAQ page, they explain their purpose is “to find new, talented writers we can sign up for our traditional book publishing programmes.” The community invites unpublished and self-published writers to participate.
There’s a novel idea.
Yet a community like this does run the risk of becoming a popularity contest with writers vying to reach the editor’s desk. Author Carla Acheson warns of some potential problems users could encounter with the community in her post Is Authonomy just a Con-omy?
Will traditional publishing and self-publishing camps continue to compete or find ways to work together? Will traditional publishers get creative and discover fresh talent from the pool of self-published authors? Will self-published authors start to view themselves as independent of traditional publishing or look to publishing houses to one day pick up their works?
I don’t know the answers to those questions, but one impression my research left me is that digital publishing is going to play an ever increasing role in how books go to market.
Would you agree?
Perhaps digital publishing will be the tool that brings self-published works a larger readership and the attention of the traditional publishing establishment.
Time will tell.

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