by Catherine Rayburn-Trobaugh
Last week, I read an article that claimed that the e-book “fad” is just about over. [i]Specifically, the argument was that the self-publishing bubble is about to burst. With either claim, I saw flaws in the logic and the comparisons the author used. I won’t do a line-by-line dismantling of the author’s viewpoint, but I do want to state some of my own thoughts about self-publishing and e-books.
With the recent announcement that Amazon is now selling more e-books than physical books, it’s doubtful that e-books will simply go away. In a recent survey, it was found that 21 percent of Americans have read an e-book. [ii] Taking into account apps and cloud readers, it’s nearly impossible to estimate the number of devices in use, but the survey estimates that nearly 30 percent of Americans have either a tablet or dedicated device that can be used for e-books. It’s difficult to see that this kind of investment is merely a fad.
On the other hand, the idea of self-publishing is probably more attractive in concept than reality. With new authors having visions of following in the footsteps of Amanda Hocking’s success, it’s easy to get caught up in a frenzy of publishing mania.[iii] There are a few issues with self-publishing that can make this dream crash to earth.
The physical act of e-publishing isn’t as easy as it sounds. There numerous problems that can make a beautifully laid out manuscript come out looking like gibberish. And wading through user boards and help databases are often frustrating and fruitless processes. It doesn’t take long for many would-be published authors to get frustrated and give up.
Part II of the self-publishing dilemma is marketing. I think somewhere in the back of a writer’s mind is the thought that he/she has a great book and just getting it out there will be enough for people to take notice. But there are many great books that aren’t selling just because no one knows they’re there. Marketing and sales tends to make writers squeamish—the thought of setting yourself up for criticism is a scary proposition and it can be baffling to put together a good plan.
There are other options too—vanity presses that charge to do all of the legwork for you, traditional presses, or small e-publishers like Word Branch.
The positive side to the argument is that yes, there is a glut of e-books right now. Some of them aren’t very good, but some are very good. Often these are new authors who may have never found a traditional venue for publishing, and we would have been worse off for never getting to read their works. I find this very exciting--almost frontier-like.
Despite the drawbacks, it’s a pretty hasty statement to say that e-books and e-publishing will be just another bubble that will burst. Certainly, there will be changes, and many of them we’ll all be grateful for. I expect there will be a leveling off period too where the cream will rise to the top. But remembering the words of the CEO of IBM many years ago that the world only has use for five computers at the most, I think it would be foolish to say that this is an industry that is going to go away. [iv]
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