Books written by Ray Sullivan

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Self Publishing Bubble Question

An interesting link stumbled across my Twitter feeds today (via ebookrevolution).  It's an article by a Guardian writer Ewan Morrison who has spent the last six months wondering about the future of print books and the digital age versions.

You can read Ewan's article here.

The thrust of Ewan's argument is that ebooks are following a pattern that can be analogous to a Bubble, that infamous economic curiosity that leads to the loss of massive amounts of money invested in tulips, dotcoms, subprime mortgages and Bazooka Joes.  Only one of those bubbles has failed to cause inordinate pain to many people.

Ewan makes a good argument, although it isn't universally supported by his readers - if you go to the article, hang on to the comments at the bottom, it's a right old ding-dong.  But then again, if he's right and we are in some way heading for a Bubble situation, the reality is that anyone seriously investing in that Bubble (and here's where the analogy does seem to falter a bit, because the main investment involved is effort, not cash) then we should be in a bit of denial.  I can claim to be on the moral high ground here concerning most previous Bubbles because I've been raised to believe if something seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is.  And I believed they were way too good to be true at the time, however I'm arguably stuck in the middle of this Bubble, if that's what it is, so my judgement may be flawed.

I'll leave you to weigh up Ewan's thoughts, but will offer just a couple of points; and these are ones where I really do agree with Ewan.

The first is that very few eBook self publishers will make any money out of the industry, and that almost certainly includes myself.  The  market is crowded, there appears to be no end of new writers producing books every day.  It's been said for a long time that everybody has a book in them; nobody seemed to take that too seriously until the technology to self publish for free came along, then it seemed we all decided now was the time to prove the saying.  In my defence I had written three books before I looked at epublishing and had gone to the trouble of self printing them on A5 sized paper back to back and spiral bound for distribution with friends since 2004.  For a silly price, I'm prepared to sell one or two of the original books, but please note they are a bit dog-eared - the time, effort and cost involved in producing them made it compelling to turn them in to personal library books.

The weakness I have to acknowledge is that not all the books coming out are deserving of readers' time and effort, although some established writers are starting to demonstrate a similar tendency, which is irritating me somewhat at the moment.  For those of us with an excuse, the cost of a professional editor is currently out of our reach given the sales we are likely to make and I'm certain that our books suffer to some degree for that.  I think that there will be a reasonably priced independent market in talented editors that will grow to counter that in time.

The second point I agree with is that the print publishing industry is going to decline - hardly a major insight, given the results from the last year or so.  And I guess I am part of the reason for that, along with hundreds of thousands of other self publishers.  Not all of it, though, and I didn't start this ball rolling.  We can't uninvent the technology that has made this possible and I guess the ham-fisted approach and attitude of the print industry that has milked the book market for ever has to take some responsibility.  I've commented on several occasions my views on the print industry; its consistent failure to gauge the needs and desires of the reading public, its high handed attitude to publishing that has focused on what it saw as safe bankers, the system that makes it almost, but not entirely, impossible for new talent to emerge.

So I don't know if we're in a Bubble, although I suspect we're not.  I don't expect to retire to a life of writing any time soon on the back of my book sales, but more than happy for you guys and gals to prove me wrong.  And I expect the print media to all but disappear in the reasonably near future.  How we will sort out the chaff from the wheat in the eBook industry is a problem that exists now and will become more difficult as we go forward.  The challenge is not how to avoid getting burned in a Bubble, because when it bursts it's about how we can manage the eBook explosion that has already started.


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