Saturday, October 16, 2010

Self-publishing? Can you call it that?

Self-publishing is a concept that's been around for awhile, but the advent of the internet seems to have made more people latch onto it as a viable means of distribution than have in decades and centuries past. Take, for instance, this article from Publisher's Weekly, written by Calvin Reid, on the new service being offered by Borders. Go ahead, give it a read.

Now that you've read it, I don't need to tell you that it's talking about their new partnership with BookBrewer, which will allow bloggers and others to convert their works into e-books and sell them in Borders online store. The author makes mention of a similar (free) service that Barnes and Noble offers, but let's put a pin in that for a moment.

I guess I'm just not seeing where the payoff comes in for authors in this scenario. Presumably, since this service is being marketed directly to bloggers, the person's content is already available online to read for free. I'm unsure on what, then, my insentive is as a reader of that content to then purchase it for money, money that I could just as easily spend on  tickets to see the Mariners lose or Scotch to help me deal with the realities of their win/loss record (over 100 losses? really?). I could understand if this were a self-publishing venture with an Espresso Book Machine or something where an actual physical product would be involved, something that might add value to the blog's content or be a preferable format for reading or re-reading the archived posts, but in a digital medium I'm unsure what the added value of an e-book would be over simply reading the blog from the site, as I can already do on my iPhone or iPad.

Now back to the Barnes and Noble free service versus this service you pay for. I suppose it's possible that the "quality" of the e-book would be nice with the BookBrewer service (though this is something I would have to see to believe), but it doesn't seem like there's a whole lot of incentive to go with a service you pay for over a service you don't. Perhaps the royalties structure is more profitable with the Borders version (I know the Barnes and Noble version is a spilt of royalties; neither launch seems to be particularly forthcoming with the details of how much you'll end up getting paid), but even then, it's hard to imagine most bloggers shelling out $90 for a service which seems dubious at best.

As far as even calling this self-publishing goes, I think I'd have to say that it is more like vanity publishing in my eyes. The Barnes and Noble model, where the author isn't paying the publisher, seems more like legitimate self-publishing, albeit with assistance from a large corporation. The implied contract there seems more like a traditional publishing one; the author and the publisher agree that they think the book can make money and each makes some money based on sales. The Borders/BookBrewer model seems like an e-version of those PublishAmerica scams that were and are so popular, preying on those who don't know the ins and outs of the publishing world well enough to realize that the "publisher" is gauranteed to make money because you're giving it to them. It violates what I am told is the #1 fundamental rule of publishing: money flows toward the writer.

I have some thoughts on legitimate self-publishing, especially in an internet age, but I'll go ahead and save those for another day.

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