The explosion in self-pub ebooks continues, and shows no sign of abating. JP Locke has become the first self-pub author to join Amazon’s Kindle Million Club, alongside the likes of traditional authors such as Stieg Larson and James Patterson. Have the major publishing houses taken note? You betcha. Are they quaking in their boots? Nope.
Don’t get me wrong, the Big Six are very much focused on ebooks, but their focus is primarily on how the ebook phenomenon affects the monetization of their authors’ works. In other words, they want to get all the milk out of their cows that they can. Pity the poor cows!
So what effect, if any, is there from this surge in self-pub ebooks? Three major results come to mind immediately, and I’m sure there are more (since I’m not that bright). The surge in self-pub ebooks: helps bypass the gatekeepers, provides an avenue of growth for emerging writers, and fosters new markets.
Traditional publishers have been scrambling, at least since November of 2007, when Amazon introduced the Kindle. When you sell water in the desert, you don’t want anyone else’s hand on the spigot. They didn’t joust at windmills. They knew the lessons of Sony v. Universal Studios, a 1984 Supreme Court case that found VCR time shifting, or recording of TV shows to watch later, was not a violation of copyright. The poor networks were afraid their business model was going the way of Uncle Miltie, with people being able to fast-forward through commercials. An ill-founded fear. Last time I looked, the big networks are still around. The lesson: embrace and exploit new technology, and don’t try to keep the genie in the bottle.
And what about the movie studios and their reluctance to embrace video tape? Anyone remember when a copy of a movie cost upwards of $80? (Dating myself here.) But along came E.T., with its $20 price tag, and voila, the viability of home video sales as a profit center was proven. Years later, most movies made more money from DVD sales than from the box office. The lesson: instead of ruination, a new market was born!
So, how does this affect the Big Six? Well, they were mainly concerned with ebooks not cannibalizing paper book sales. Amazon wisely went to school off the iTunes model and gave the copyrighted material some proprietary protection to deter piracy, but the Big Six wanted more. After an initial push where Amazon subsidized sales, capping the price at $9.99, the Big Six wanted, and got, higher prices for their ebooks. What’s a book lover to do?
Enter self-pub ebooks.
As any ambitious Big Six mailroom clerk will tell you, quality is not guaranteed when you purchase a self-pub ebook. This is not a lie. The imprimatur of a major publishing label is a promise of a measure of quality and thorough vetting. But let’s be honest, it is not a guarantee. Promises are occasionally broken. While agents and publishing houses do serve as gatekeepers against the barbarians at the transom, they are also profoundly interested in branding and synergy. The Patterson Inc. books, with its universe of coauthors, are evidence of this. And try to find anything of merit in a Kiyosaki book. I dare ya!
Self-pub ebooks, with all their flaws, bypass the gatekeepers. Writing which never would have seen the light of day in a commercial format now has an outlet. The gatekeepers still keep their eyes open, and will cherry-pick the ripest fruit, such as in the case of Amanda Hocking. But by and large, these books escape the gatekeepers’ scrutiny.
What are you telling us, John? We should rejoice that there are lesser quality books abounding and now available?
No. First off, they are not all lesser quality books. Most of them are not. And I’m telling you this is something to celebrate. Think of this as a rebirth. We have returned to the halcyon days of true pulp fiction, an era which ended in 1957 with the liquidation of the American News Company. Those glory days brought us the likes of Lovecraft, Chandler, Hammett, Bradbury, Heinlein, and many more.
The low entry costs of self-pub ebooks, along with the promotional leverage of social media, have created an era of New Pulp Fiction (minus the pulpy paper from which the moniker derives). Emerging writers have a venue to ply and perfect their trade. Gone are the months long process of sending inquiries to agents, and mailing off three chapter packets only to receive Xeroxed rejection letters. Now writers can get near-immediate feedback on their work, and develop the crucial confidence built on the satisfaction of knowing that someone found their work worthwhile.
Furthermore, self-pub ebooks are not stealing market share from the Big Six. The Big Six will not suffer or wither on the vine. This is a new market. The type of reader who will roll the dice on a 99-cent book from a previously unpublished author is a risk taker, a gambler. Such a reader is a sunny-eyed optimist who is willing to search for that particular new author whose writing strikes a chord within his or her breast. And when that chord is struck, there follow repeat sales of other titles.
Besides sunny-eyed gamblers, there is another important segment of this new market, and that is self-pub authors themselves. A writer writes, and a writer reads. I buy and read self-pub ebooks for enjoyment, to further my understanding of the market, and to improve my own writing by observing what does and what doesn’t work. I am sure that I am not alone.
Sure, the quality can be uneven. And sometimes I pick a lemon. But I liken the experience to attending community theater, where I don’t expect Broadway production values, and I don’t expect Broadway ticket prices. Or it’s like buying something at a craft fair. A homemade tchotchke might not have the machine-straight sewing lines of a factory produced item, but it has character and heart, as the work of an artisan always does.
Viva la ebook! Long reign the New Pulp Fiction!