Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos once said. "We want to make every book available—the good, the bad and the ugly."
Bezos’ company has moved a long way towards doing that, leaving the world of traditional publishing and book selling largely a shambles along the way.
Amazon’s success has prompted a good deal of hand ringing and concern for the future of books and even culture itself. The most recent such pained analysis of what’s happened to the marketplace is Steve Wasserman’s article in the June 18, edition of The Nation titled The Amazon Effect. The subtitle poses a question, “Amazon got big fast, hastening the shift to digital publishing. But how big is too big?”
We leave that question to the economists and MBAs. We’ll focus instead on two questions often posed by first time authors seeking to get into print.
The first is, should I self publish or seek a traditional (some authors we speak to say a real) publisher? They are concerned that the stigma which once accompanied self publishing will attach to them and their books. They needn’t be. Wasserman explains the dramatic changes Amazon has triggered in the way books are sold evident in the demise of Borders and the disappearance of a rapidly increasing number of independent booksellers. The same rapid change is rapidly occurring in the way books are produced.
“What is clear is that “legacy publishing,” like old-fashioned bookselling, is gone,” says Wasserman. “Just as bookselling is increasingly virtual, so is publishing. Technology democratizes both the means of production and distribution. The implications for traditional publishers are acute.”
The stigma of self publishing no longer exists. Wasserman says, “Today, whether writers will continue to publish the old-fashioned way or go over to direct online publishing is an open question.”
The second question authors are increasingly posing is, “What about ebooks?” Wasserman provides some statistics that make the answer pretty simple. 28% of adults now own some kind of e-reader. Ebooks responsible for 25-30% of the overall revenue for some publishing houses with as much as 60% of the revenue in some genres coming from digital publications. Soon one out of every three sales of adult trade titles will be in the form of an e-book. Amazon now sells more ebooks than paper books.
The questions authors are asking are really the wrong ones. In the world Amazon has wrought, self publishing and ebooks are a major part of the publishing landscape. The question authors should be asking is, What is the best deal for me? That means exploring options and determining benefits for both types of publishing and formats. They may find that the answer may vary from book to book.