Wednesday, April 4, 2012

What's the New Self-publishing Trend?

I think we're all aware of the self-publishing e-book trend that is taking the industry by storm at the present. It really had it's beginning roots in POD (print on demand), which really began to take off over a decade ago. The technology allowed just about anyone to set up a publishing company and print books to order, rather than using the more expensive offset, which requires some hefty capital upfront to print hundreds, if not thousands of books. Amazon and other vendors came along with a process by which any writer/author could format their books electronically and list them for sale online, while giving up a percentage of the cut. As a result, we are seeing a tidal wave of new authors, a veritable blitzkrieg of material hitting the electronic marketplace. Everything, it seems, it fair game: poetry, scripts, fan knockoffs, public domain, non-fiction, novels, memoirs, short stories, novellas and novelettes.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), depending upon how you look at this trend, the end is not in sight. In my opinion, it can only get worse, with the addition of millions of more books vying for attention in an already crowded marketplace. One of the biggest industries that has resulted as an offshoot of e-book self-publishing has been the emergence of small and large companies who provide formatting and cover art services. These services can range anywhere from $79.95 on up to $400 and more. Equally compelled to take advantage are the marketing, publicity and promotion outfits that offer packages designed to create a buzz and get your books reviewed and noticed, by literally spamming the WWW. The alternative to making these types of investments, of course, lies with the writer-author who wishes to handle the preparation, editing, and marketing themselves, which is a full-time job, by the way, with no guarantees that they will sell enough books to recoup their invested labor time. And you can take it from me, promoting and marketing a book is a full-time job that will have you pulling your hair out and stealing your valuable writing time.

I've seen and heard self-publishers, time and time again, proclaim that the path to sales is not necessarily story quality, but the amount of material that you can list. Quantity equates to more sales. Forget two or three books that are written and edited well, with compelling plots and memorable characters. Ten books, with so-so editing and slipshod formatting, will apparently out-sell the two or three of better quality. Twenty will outsell ten, and thirty will outsell twenty. It's a numbers game, and books are falling into a deep pit, which has them indistinguishable from nuts, bolts, and carburetors. Book are becoming, not works of art or entertainment, but faceless products. The more you have for sale—the more you get in return. It's very close to the Wall-Mart K-Mart mentality.

I'm going to look into my crystal ball and make a next big-trend, self-publishing forecast. Or, at least, a big sub-trend forecast. Let's say we have an author with several trunked novels or stories sitting on their hard drive. All attempts of publishing these trunkers have met with rejection from all publishers. They're dead, hogging up megabytes on the computer. Let's also assume this author has no desire to re-edit, format and create cover art for these titles, nor does he-she wish to pay for those services. These works of literature are just products to an energetic e-publisher, correct? So what's to stop this author from selling these trunked books and stories for a flat rate, to someone who wants to add inventory to their e-published list? All that's required is to officially release the rights to the material, so the new owner/author can add, subtract, modify and re-edit the material to their heart's content. The buyer can change the title, by-line, character names, or even revamp the plot. They'll have that right, since they officially own the property.

The books and stories are just products, remember? Something to be sold on the internet. Who cares who wrote it. If the buyer can easily format, edit and provide cover art for minimal outlay, how can they lose? More is better, right? It's almost like buying out a storage bin and reselling the objects. How much would you charge to sell a trunked novel or short story? A couple hundred bucks for an average novel might double or triple your money, if you slapped it on Amazon with some catchy cover art and a solid tag line. Conceivably, you might end up with a best-seller on your hands, from a book you didn't even write.

Kind of sad to look at this type of trend catching on (hope you're catching my sarcasm). But how much of a stretch is it, when you consider what's happening now? Can you imagine small companies soliciting trunked books and stories in bulk quantities, for the sole purpose of re-packaging and reselling them on the internet? It's not as far-fetched an idea as you would think, considering the glut of the printed word that is presently being listed. 

I think we're already in trouble as far as literature losing its creative expression and uniqueness. But if we see this type of commercial mentality take hold, you can bet that we can bid farewell to the publishing industry and meaningful literature as we know it.

Planet Janitor: Custodian of the Stars (Engage Science Fiction) (Illustrated)

Planet Janitor: Custodian of the Stars (Engage Science Fiction) (Illustrated) [Kindle Edition]

Chris Stevenson , Toni Zhang

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