E-book self-publishing tempts authors large and small

Image: Seth Godin intends to be a best-selling author without a publisher...

Seth Godin says that he’s going to publish his next book himself. Rather than sending his next manuscript to his publisher he told the Wall Street Journal he is going to hire an editor and a designer to format the book and then he’d be on his way:

“After those fixed costs, your idea is packaged as you want, and it can then be put on sale next to other potential best-sellers on Amazon and elsewhere,” he said. “The business race is on to have the relationship with the reader.”

Having had my first experience of publishing a book over the last year, I’m fascinated by his approach.

Being of a geek-ish disposition, I was as delighted when my publisher issued the Amazon Kindle version of Me and My Web Shadow as when I got the first hard copy in the post. Since I got an iPad I’ve been reading a lot of books on it – I love the convenience of being able to buy and read books instantly, to carry several different books when I travel without extra weight in my bag and the ability to read in the middle of the night without having to turn on my lamp.

So, as a consumer, I’m an e-book fan. As an author, I’m more wary for now. I don’t have the kind of “direct relationship with my readers” that Godin has built up over the years. The book was aimed firstly at people who would not be likely to be regular readers of my personal blog, for a start. It’s also been useful to have been published by a reputable publisher like A&C Black, not just for distribution but for the association with the brand: it’s legitimising in a way.

For a first time author expecting reasonable but not stellar sales, the incentives to self-publish may be growing. One of the most interesting approaches to self-publishing I’ve seen recently is Ian Ozvald, who publishes The Screencasting Handbook as a kind of serialised PDF and Wiki membership.

While I was in the final stages of getting my hardcopy book published, Ian was publishing his own online. Around the time that my book hit the shops and I got my modest first-time author’s advance, we had earned almost exactly the same from our respective labours.

The technical barriers to publishing your own e-books are lowering all the time,. (a new iWorks update will let you publish in the EPUB ebook format straight from your word processor) but finding readers may be harder. Godin’s last book, Lynchpin has sold 50,000 copies, while his blog readership is 438,000. I’d imagine he would be able to sell more books online at a lower price and increase his revenue. How will it be before more mainstream authors follow his pioneering lead?

Beyond how I will publish my future books (I’ve got a couple in the pipeline at the moment that will be destined for publishers, I hope), I’m really interested in the different e-book publishing models that will emerge. There’s bound to be some interesting new ways of making money out of e-books (e-book advertising is already in its way) and independent e-book led publishers trying out new ideas. I expect we will also see e-book publishing beign added to the repetoire of other media owners, businesses and brands, whether to add a new revenue stream or find a new way to win attention.

For all sorts of reasons, the publishing industry and e-books is going to be a really interesting area to keep an eye on the next couple of years…

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