Although it seems to have maintained a persistent online presence in recent months, today I felt as if the stars aligned to bring to head the ebook/self publishing debate. Everywhere I looked, it was bam! bam! bam! with pro ebooks, boo ebooks, pro publishers, boo publishers. My brain had to switch to autopilot just to get through the day without having a nervous breakdown from opposing information overload.
I wrote an article last year on the traditional vs new forms of publishing debate, but back then most of the talk seemed to centre around whether or not traditional books would survive this new age of online publishing. Apparently we’re over that now, with many, myself included, agreeing that ebooks are here to stay but also that books are not likely to become obsolete any time soon. There are too many of us bibliophiles out there to allow such a travesty to take place.
The debate no longer doubts the obsolescence of books, but the bypassing of and questionable necessity of the publisher. Not only that, but there seems to be some concern over exactly how beneficial this new age of self publishing is to the reader. Let’s not forget about him, he’s pretty important.
So what seems to be the problem, officer?
Well, first of all I bring to your attention this article published on the online Guardian newspaper today; Now anyone can ‘write’ a book. First, find some words…
I suspect the reaction to the title of this article went something like this:
- YES! I have words! Now I can finally get published! (99% of readers)
- Great….now my carefully written, scrupulously edited, well developed ebook will be lost in the masses of crap published by any Tom, Dick or Harry. (1% of readers)
Herein lies the crux of the problem. Where although it might be argued that publishers have in the past held an unseemly amount of authority over what does and doesn’t get published, publishing what a few well-paid people deem to be a ‘bestseller’, and claiming a contentious amount of what some would claim to be the author’s earnings, they have nonetheless provided a benchmark for the quality of writing being released on the bookshelves. Although many excellent writers suffer from this system (the downside), whether it be from seeing their publisher’s pockets grow heavier than their own, or from not even being able to break into the publishing scene, it has nonetheless been of benefit to the readers (the upside), who could purchase a published book with the assurance that it had been proofread, edited, proofread again, and above all, selected by a group of ‘professionals’ as being worthy of their hard-earned cash.
Now, I’ve never been one to overlook both sides of the argument, and I realise the publishing gods have not always done us proud. I, for one, can count on more fingers than I actually own, the number of books that a big respectable publisher has deemed deserving not only of publication, but of at least $25 out of my wallet, only to find that I had paid said amount for a bound collection of paper better employed as kindling for the fire. Undoubtedly, it’s at times like these that aspiring writers such as myself scream at the heavens “Why! Why do you torment me publishing Gods?! My writing is a kajillion times better than this piece of crap!” Followed by a few angry stamps of the foot and an angry punch to the air.
Cue the invention of ebooks and online book sellers such as Amazon, who, like the aforementioned article claims, allow for anyone with words to publish a book, within a matter of minutes. MINUTES?! Yes, minutes.
With my recent purchase of the Scrivener word processor, I soon discovered it had a function which gave me the opportunity to publish something I had written, in a number of ebook formats. Me? Publish an ebook? Pfft! I scoffed at my machine. But the curious girl that I am, I Googled ‘Scrivener tutorials’ and watched a brief video on how I could transform a story into an ebook. Within 20 minutes (Shock! Gasp!) I had a short story on iBooks and was reading it on my iPhone.
Now, for those of us who like to think our writing is worthy of publication, this is fantastic news. We bypass all the middlemen, do all the marketing ourselves (which, let’s face it, we probably would’ve had to do anyway), set our own price for our baby and watch the profits roll in. If this is you, writers, then read the following excellent article/interview with bestselling author Michael Levin, and jump with joy at this publishing revolution, because now you have not only the resources, but the power to become a published author.
via Bo’s Cafe Life
Readers, cower with mercy, since it is ye who shall suffer.
If you’ve read the article, you might have already read some of the comments, or should I say concerns, below the text. Correspondingly, the earlier Guardian article touched on the same unease, pointing out the following statistics:
…Nearly 2.8 million non-traditional books, including ebooks, were published in the United States in 2010, while just more than 316,000 traditional books came out. That compares with 1.33 million ebooks and 302,000 printed books in 2009.
With such an extraordinary number of ebooks being released at an increasingly rapid rate, how exactly are the poor readers supposed to navigate this tsunami of books to get to the good stuff?
Although I’m sure that a great deal of new publications are from writers who probably deserved to be published a long time ago by the publishing gods (here I have to mention Angela Wallace, whose ebook Phoenix Feather I read recently and is an example of how exactly the ebook revolution can benefit magnificent writers with remarkable stories. Check it out here), I’m just as sure that a great deal of these new publications are absolute rubbish, or worse, plagiarised. Without the middlemen, where lies the quality control?
Again, from the Guardian article:
It’s only when one peruses the cornucopia of literary productions available on the Kindle store that one detects the first scent of rodent. One of the most prolific self-publishers on the site is Manuel Ortiz Braschi. When I last checked he had edited, authored or co-authored no fewer than 3,255 ebooks. Mr Braschi is clearly a man of Herculean energy and wide learning, who ranges effortlessly from How to Become a Lethal Weapon in Two Weeks (£1.40) to Herbs 101: How to Plant, Grow & Cook with Natural Herbs (£0.70) while taking in Potty Training! The Ultimate Potty Training Guide!(£0.69).
Having inspected Mr Braschi’s The Miracle of Vinegar: 65 Tried and Tested Uses For Health and Home! (which, at £0.69, works out at about 30p per screenful of text), I can testify that he is no Delia Smith. But at least he appears to write – or at any rate compile – his own stuff. In that respect, he represents the quality end of the Kindle self-publishing business.
I’m sorry, what? The man has authored/co-authored 3,255 ebooks?! I’m doubtful at the quality, but as the article states, at least the writing appears to be his own.
Ultimately, how are the readers expected to have confidence in anything that sits in the midst of such questionable standards? I feel that I am considerably immersed in the world of readers, writers and books, and yet still I struggle to determine what in the ebook world is worth reading. Word of mouth is clearly a well-founded prerequisite to marketing your ebook, but I wonder, just as the works of great writers are lost amongst the less-worthy publications, won’t such be the case also for self promotion of the same. With everybody shouting the loudest, how can we possibly determine the Rowlings from the Manuel Ortiz Braschis and his 3,255 books?
Sooner or later somebody is going to realise that no matter how high those ebook figures rise, no matter how many outstanding writers self publish their bestsellers, if the readers can’t navigate the market, if they don’t actually make a purchase, or rather, spend their money where it is least merited, then readers, publishers, writers alike…everybody loses.
What are your thoughts on the ebook/self publishing debate? Please, add to my brain hemorrhage and discuss.