I Gave Another Knock To The Publishing Business

September 4th, 2012

Now I really understand why the business of publishing books using a traditional publishing house is in deep crisis. And I will tell you why. Yesterday I’ve officially launched my book as a paperback edition in addition to it being available on the iBook Store.

How much money does it cost? Zero.

Yes, zero. I’ve used a service offered by an Amazon-owned company called CreateSpace. Basically it’s a company that enables self-publishing of real paper books, giving you a tons of options to choose from, again: for free.

Of course there are more advanced services and add-ons available for a premium charge, but I can assure you that the basic plan is more than enough for an amateur writer like me and like the majority of the self-publishing people out there.

The process is quite simple: you have to upload your text (it has to be at least 24 pages long) and go through a series of proof-reading and style adjustments in order to make your book compliant with a number of publishing standards. The book itself is also reviewed by the CreateSpace own staff to assure a minimum level of quality and an additional proof-reading experience.

You have full control on the format of the page, the dimension of the book and the creation of the cover. Once everything is setup you are good to go.

You have the option to choose where this book will be available (in my case it will be distributed by the CreateSpace store as well as by Amazon worldwide) and you can even set your price.

Pricing is probably the only “downside” of this service, if you’re planning of making a living out of your sales. As I said before the service is free but the platform itself will take a lot of money out of the price you’ll set. Based on the dimension of the book they will assign you a minimum price (it shows all the different currencies automatically generatd based on the $ price). If you leave it like that you’ll see that you won’t get anything from the sale of a copy. Since I’m not planning to make a living out of my book “Up In The Sky”, I’ve just moved the price up so that I will get around $1 for each copy.

To me this is more like an experiment to see if a short novel self-published by an unknown author could sell at least one copy (exept the one that I’m going to buy for myself!).

Because of course, the weak link in the self-publishing process is promotion. Promotion is still the big value of a Publishing House, even if this value is getting lower and lower thanks to the rise of different social networks.

If you score a traditional contract, you will be able to use the promotion power and distribution pipe of your publishing house. These two elements still account a lot into the success or failure of a book, but they don’t came for free. As Amazon/CreateSpace does, every publishing house takes almost all the money from the sell of a book, leaving the author with his basic contract plus some royalties.1.

Despite that, the rise of importance of tools such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+ is creating new landscapes. Nowadays if you have a decent group of followers across your social networks, you can achieve pretty good results. I can give you my numbers, which are not to be taken as absolute but they can give you a good picture. As you know I have three books on the iBookStore and they are all standing at about 6/7 downloads per day. Now you have to consider that all of these titles are available for free, so this can change the perspective. That’s why I’ve put my second best-seller (Lost In The UK) on sale on Amazon as a Kindle title. Using the lower possible price point ($0.99 with next to zero profits) the downloads rate dropped to 1 per day. The reasons for this drop are essentially two: the new price (going from free to almost $1) and the difference in the catalog size. The iBookStore is still farely a young marketplace with a limited number of titles available and this makes the discovery of new titles a possible mission. On the other hand, the Kindle store is simply huge: between hundreds of thousand of titles it’s more difficult to find something if you’re not directly searching for it.

Those are the reason why a strong social audience can make the difference. In my small world of less than 300 followers on Twitter mostly active (look for my username @matteodallombra here) and a lot of friends on Facebook, I was able to spread the word about my books enough to make other people share the news with their networks, obtaining a nice cascading effect.

If I was able to achieve these results with limited resources I don’t see how more famous authors with a bigger audience couldn’t achieve the self-sustained self-publishing status, dropping the services offered by a Publishing House.

There’s no doubt that the market has dramatically changed in a very short period of time, with traditional publishers unable to keep the same pace. They need to adapt to the new rules and the first thing they should do is to embrace the digital and social revolution by making all their titles immediately available as a digital download for a significantly smaller amount of money. Cutting the middle man will account for more direct profits, eliminating the huge costs of the printing world.

But what about libraries? As they’re concived now they have no future. They’re going to experience the same transition that music shops had to suffer. The majority of them will close and only some will survive as a vintage club where paper lovers can gather to satisfy their needs. To survive today, they should probably reconvert to official ditributors of e-readers and their accessories, with staff still book-savvy being able to suggest the best titles to their customers. Instead of picking the volume from they shelf, they will email the Amazon link from the smartphone or tablet that has become a mobile POS.

I know that me announcing the availability of a paperback edition of my book clearly denies the majority of the last paragraphs, but I’m still a person of a middle generation, born with paper all around and then quietly converted to the e-ink. I still enjoy a real book, even if I love the extreme portability and the immediate availabilty of a digital title.

Me publishing a real book is more a way to satisfy my ego than an attempt to revitalize the deeply troubled publishing business.

  1. I don’t know the exact numbers, but a friend of mine who writes for living he’s not super happy with the figures he receive (he can’t really discuss all the details of his contract).