Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The More Things Change, the More they Stay the Same

Source Copyright Square-Enix

E-book (or is it ebook? or eBook?) sales are on the rise.  No doubt, this is causing self-publishing to become an ever more intimidating presence while the publishers are scrambling to stay in the game.  Are publishers on their way out to make way for the new and hip self-publishing?

Allow me to insert and inspect a hypothetical situation here.

Let’s say, in about thirty to forty years, no more physical books are sold.  And more than that, there are no more publishers, and every author self-publishes their books.

That would mean that the market opened for more people (what with no “gatekeepers”).  The editors, book designers and marketers that worked for the publishers before will probably have gone into the freelancing business, selling their services for the self-publishing authors (or flipping burgers if business is tough).  There will be a massive amount of books released every day, of which most will be pretty bad (see my next point).  A lot of people will either have no money or just not feel like it and therefore refrain from hiring an editor or book designer.

Let’s look at the cost of self-publishing an e-book.*  Say $400 for a book designer and $400 for a proper editor.  You can buy an ISBN for $100 via  Then comes the marketing and promotion.  Let’s be very conservative and say good marketing would cost $500.  So, adding it up, you come to $1400 to self-publish.  But let’s be reasonable, giving competitive prices, the prices could come down to $1200 or so.  And maybe the marketers, book designers and editors even join forces and start a company that does all three in a package deal.  So let’s say that brings the price down to $1000.

With that in mind, there would be little chance for a budding author to publish a book unless he’s got a well-paying job (Stephen King and his wife worked for minimum wage and struggled to make ends meet, so they didn’t have a thousand dollars to spend on publishing a book) or financial backing.  So maybe a rich businessman sees the manuscript of a friend and agrees to pay his publishing costs in exchange for a return on whatever the author makes.  I.e. Royalties.

After this happened, someone might see an opportunity and make a company that connects financial backers to authors (with a small usage fee, of course).  Some rich people think that it could be a good investment, but know nothing about books, so they hire an editor/ex-literary agent/old man who reads a lot to tell them if the book is worth investing in.  Because they are desperate to be published, the budding authors send their manuscripts to the financial backers to be scrutinised by the literary experts and given a place in the world via the financial backer’s money.  Maybe the rich man sees another opportunity, calling his old friends, the marketer, the editor and the book designer to join his team.  Together, they form a company and they decide to call themselves a publisher.

In another part of the world, a woman sees the opportunity to make money.  There are so many books out there, and people don’t know what to buy, so she decides that she will get a team who will read books and review them, making a list of good books.  People stream to the website to avoid buying yet another badly written book.

The publishers see this and notice that the woman and her team often miss some of the books they publish and thus create a loss in sales.  To fix this, the publisher asks to get a certification of sorts for all their books so that it is automatically a part of the list (for a fee, of course).  Because of the brilliant editor and all the good books they had published in the past, the woman agrees and puts an entry on her site that says, all books by Publisher X.

End of hypothetical situation.

Though the sequence of events is a bit unlikely, the core of it remains.  You cannot have anarchy in publishing (except for already well-known authors of course).  It will always be a business and there will always be people who need money and people who have money.  Any change in the publishing industry will circle back to a new version of the same thing.

The same equilibrium, but at another level.

* These prices are based on present currency values, so ignore the possible changes in monetary value that may or may not occur.


  1. Well, this is brilliant. Truly. The fact that it will always be a business is the root of it all, absolutely. And the sad truth is that most self-published authors will only publish one book and will probably leave the self-published world and writing all together within a 5 - 10 year period. The serious ones. They will still be around in the 5 - 10 year period, self-published or with a publisher. Doesn't matter. The point is that they are still writing and selling books and making money and being read. It all comes down to the individual. The business end shifts and changes, but the authors - they will always BE.

  2. Yes! The writer stays there, no matter how the publishing world changes around him/her.
    Thanks so much for your comment.