Has Amazon broken traditional publishing?

Posted on 01. Nov, 2012 by in Thoughts

Self-publishing, Indie publishing… whatever you call it, Amazon is making it easier than ever and it’s changing the publishing landscape in ways that would have seemed impossible in a pre-kindle world.

Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing Platform, launched in September this year, offers anyone the chance to self-publish their books on the Amazon Kindle store for free. The enticement is a 70% royalty programme which stacks up nicely against the usual 15-20% royalties available to authors dealing with traditional publishing houses. So why haven’t we seen a mass exodus of established authors ditching their deals with Harper Collins and Random House?

For some successful writers self-publishing is a distasteful short-cut. Although this attitude smacks a bit of “I had to do it the hard way and so should you” there is a valid point here. Traditional editors do the hard work of separating the wheat from the chaff in a way that the ratings system on the Kindle store has yet to match. For example some authors can inflate their ratings with reviews from friends and families while others suffer from low rating not due to the quality of their work but the price of their books. However, this attitude also assumes that traditional publishing is a meritocracy, which anyone can see isn’t the case. Even the lottery winner of the traditional publishing system JK Rowling had her share of rejection letters to contend with before hitting it big with Bloomsbury.  And the question is would she have hit it big self-publishing without a professional marketing team working on her behalf? It’s not a sure thing by any means.

There are notable success stories that come from self-publishers but in most cases the punch line is a big juicy contract from a traditional publishing house. So if high end authors are happy to stick to their printed tomes and newly successful self-publishers are happy to follow them who is benefiting from Amazon’s Direct Publishing Platform? Well, it would seem that mid-level writers who have a loyal if not particularly large readership could start to see this as their way to maximise profits. For them the 70% royalties offer the chance to earn a reasonable living that the higher overheads of print publishers would swallow up. The problem for these mid-level authors though is the sheer volume of work now vying for each reader’s money and attention. After all the market is open to anyone with 80,000 words and stars in their eyes.

The outcome of this wrangle between publishers and authors in the digital age is far from easy to predict. If the reviewing system was refined readers would certainly be more likely to spend their time dipping into new writing. If publishers continue to devalue sales of eBooks over their printed counterparts more and more mid-level authors may choose the economics of self-publishing. If traditional publishers don’t sit up and find a way to co-opt self-publishers into their profit models it will certainly hurt them eventually.

So, just imagine the scene, you are a new author with your first manuscript all typed up and polished. Now what are you going to do with your magnum opus? Are you willing to chance the endless rejection letters and difficulties of the print publishers or is the temptation to upload your work and pin the badge ‘published author’ to your lapel just too tempting?

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